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mass exit Mayo aren't unique in trend of losing players who've grown impatient of chasing Dubs


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Séamie O’Shea is the latest Mayo footballer to announce his retirement from county football since Sunday. He follows team-mates Donal Vaughan, David Clarke and Tom Parsons in stepping aside. Photo: Sportsfile

Séamie O’Shea is the latest Mayo footballer to announce his retirement from county football since Sunday. He follows team-mates Donal Vaughan, David Clarke and Tom Parsons in stepping aside. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Séamie O’Shea is the latest Mayo footballer to announce his retirement from county football since Sunday. He follows team-mates Donal Vaughan, David Clarke and Tom Parsons in stepping aside. Photo: Sportsfile

Peter Canavan was always blessed with masterful timing. When to pass, when to shoot, when to take on his man and win a free.

And when to retire.

Peter the Great had the wisdom to appreciate there would never be a more opportune moment to step off the inter-county carousel than on the very night you've just won your second All-Ireland SFC medal.

And so this Tyrone legend bid his farewell at the team's 2005 banquet, after an absorbing final where he started, 'passed' to the Kerry net for a sublimely finished goal, was taken off and then reintroduced, adding a crucial point in his second coming.

Canavan's swansong campaign even had the bonus sequel of a sixth All-Star (albeit controversially awarded, at the expense of his teammate Brian McGuigan).

In other words, he bowed out at the pinnacle, but at a time when he knew that his then 34-year-old body had shipped more than enough punishment. As he told the cheering masses in Aughnacloy that Monday night: "I'm happy enough going out on this note. No better way for a man to finish his inter-county career."

But here's the thing. Most players don't get to pick and choose the moment of departure in such perfectly scripted fashion.

Minimal

That reality was emphasised repeatedly this week as a slew of retirements were announced by veterans who didn't bow out on an All-Ireland high . . . and who, in most cases, saw minimal game-time in the winter championship just gone.

There are exceptions to the peripheral rule: David Clarke played all 350 minutes of Mayo's latest, ultimately, doomed quest for Sam Maguire, and he departed the Croke Park stage with his head held high, his final kick-out stats offering a powerful rebuttal to all the pre-match talk of a Dublin assault on his restarts.

But as we write (and this could change any minute soon), four stellar Mayo servants have called time on their county careers and only their departing netminder would have been perceived as a player likely to contend for a place in James Horan's championship team in 2021.

Donal Vaughan was first to cross the Rubicon on Sunday; he has been followed in a (presumably choreographed) daily routine by Clarke, Tom Parsons and, now, Séamie O'Shea.

It's a wonder some wily turf accountant hasn't opened a book on which Mayo veteran will be next to hang up his Predators or Puma Kings.

Even with four gone, several more candidates remain, most notably the thirtysomething trio of Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle and Chris Barrett.

Higgins will be 36 next month, but while the four-time All Star made Horan's match-day 26 for all five SFC games, he was confined to one late cameo against Galway. With no guarantee of more minutes, might he be tempted by one last hurrah with the Mayo hurlers instead?

Boyle only made the bench for the first two of those games - against Leitrim and Roscommon - without seeing any action. Like Higgins, he's a four-time All Star who has won it all bar the big one. Yet, given all the sacrifices made in 2020, battling back from a serious knee injury sustained last February, there is a suspicion that the 34-year-old may well hang on in the hope of forcing his way back into contention.

On face value, Barrett still has plenty to offer, having featured in all five SFC outings, starting four. For all that, it wouldn't come as a shock if he departed: not just because he turns 34 in April, but because (like O'Shea and Parsons) he is based in Dublin. It's a really long haul to the west, with no guarantee of ever catching Dublin.

In all of these Mayo examples, those who have gone and those perhaps mulling that all-important decision, there are different factors at play - be it young kids and family commitments, work load in the real world, daunting commutes. And yet this week's 'end-of-an-era' feel masks what was an already established reality in the Mayo dressing-room.

While injuries were clearly a factor for Vaughan and O'Shea, neither made any match-day championship 26. Parsons, who overcame all odds to recover from his knee injury horror in 2018, made the bench for Mayo's last three outings. However, he stayed there for the entirety of the Connacht and All-Ireland finals, which meant his last Mayo appearance was as a 55th-minute substitute against Tipperary in a semi-final whose outcome was long since decided.

Just two of Horan's old guard 'back-up' (Higgins alongside either Boyle or Parsons) made the bench for every championship round. In effect, this necklace of retirements merely confirms what 2020 had already told us: this is a new Mayo era, even if some survivors from the last one (Aidan O'Shea is 30, Lee Keegan and Kevin McLoughlin are both 31) remain intrinsic members of Horan's team.

But Mayo aren't unique in this trend of losing players who have grown impatient of chasing Dublin and, then, perhaps even more painfully, chasing a jersey that is no longer theirs. Already this new year has ushered in a trio of Kerry retirements: Jonathan Lyne, 'keeper Brian Kelly and, now, Shane Enright.

Bit-part

At least, unlike their Mayo counterparts, they depart with a Celtic Cross from 2014. And when Bernard Brogan bowed out 15 months ago, the fact that he had fallen from prolific mainstay to bit-part player under Jim Gavin was countered by all the happy memories associated with seven All-Ireland triumphs.

Still, even winners don't always get to choose their moment quite like Canavan. Enright summed it up best this week as he recalled walking off Páirc Uí Chaoimh after Cork's stunning November ambush.

"I knew that was it," said the 2015 All-Star defender. "I could tell from the way the two previous league games had gone. Between those two games and the Cork game, about 25 or 26 fellas saw some game-time and I saw no game-time, so I knew straight away that it was probably time to go."

Players know, better than anyone.

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