Raft of retirements highlight top stars' shrinking shelf life
Inter-county careers getting shorter and shorter as pressures of training take toll
Published 26/12/2013 | 02:30
Each retiree has delivered much the same synopsis of their careers. 'Enjoyed it, will miss it but it has got too much' is the general theme of the 30-something Gaelic footballer or hurler who sees life through a different prism than they had done a decade earlier.
Over the last few months the number of high-profile retirements from Gaelic football has underlined how the shelf life of the player is getting shorter.
There are notable exceptions like Tomas ó Sé and Graham Canty but the average career would appear to be 10-12 years at the top now, not the 14 and 16 that Canty and Ó Sé enjoyed.
Ó Sé's departure means that just three current inter-county players have a championship link back to the last century.
The retirements prior to last year's championship of Kildare's Dermot Earley, Louth's Aaron Hoey and Sligo's Eamonn O'Hara left the five time All-Ireland winner as the longest serving inter-county Gaelic footballer.
Now Limerick's John Galvin, Longford's Paul Barden and Tyrone's Stephen O'Neill, who all made championship debuts in 1999, are the only players who began their championship careers in the 1990s.
The age profile of those succeeding at the highest level in Gaelic football does not lend itself to 30-somethings any more.
Take the last three All-Ireland winners: Dublin in 2011 and 2013 and Donegal in between. Of the 45 players that started for the champions in each of the last three All-Ireland finals, the oldest was Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton at 31.
Donegal have had the oldest average age of the three teams, 25.8, but only Rory Kavanagh was 30 at the time. In 2011 only Barry Cahill and Denis Bastick had reached the 30 mark.
Cork have been hardest hit, the exodus of some of their most experienced players in recent months leaving a void far greater even than Tyrone experienced in the wake of their All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Dublin in 2011.
Brian Cuthbert had just been been appointed as new manager when Noel O'Leary signed off and was quickly followed by Paudie Kissane, Graham Canty, Pearse O'Neill and Alan Quirke.
At least that quintet were all aged above 30. When Alan O'Connor flagged his withdrawal weeks later at just 28, citing the logistics of travel to training from his west Cork base, the pressures associated with maintaining a lengthy inter-county career were perfectly crystallised.
Limerick hurler Niall Moran's recent sentiment that the games no longer suit married men or those in full employment is quite a reminder of the demands increasingly being placed on amateurs.
Cuthbert has not been helped by Ciaran Sheehan's decision to belatedly pursue an AFL career with Carlton Blues.
But Cork are not in isolation. Across the border in Kerry the retirements of Ó Sé and Eoin Brosnan may not have been unexpected but they must find defensive replacements nonetheless.
Here, we have picked a team to highlight the quality of the departed -- a team that time has sadly left behind.
Packie McConnell (Tyrone)
Double All-Ireland winning goalkeeper McConnell made the crucial save from Declan O'Sullivan that may ultimately have decided the 2008 All-Ireland final against Kerry. Cork's Alan Quirke and Westmeath's Gary Connaughton have also signed off.
David Murphy (Wexford)
More noted as a centre-back, the former Wexford captain played 180 times for his county, the greatest number of appearances by any footballer in purple and gold, including 47 in the championship. Missed just three championship games in 13 seasons.
Graham Canty (Cork)
Cork's defensive firefighter for so long. When Colm Cooper needed attention he provided it; when it was Kieran Donaghy, Canty turned his hand there too. Captained Cork to the 2010 All-Ireland title. Such a versatile and forceful presence.
Paudie Kissane (Cork)
Kissane is more noted as a wing-back, from where he memorably kicked three points in a drawn Munster semi-final against Cork in 2010. The 33-year-old made his debut in 2002 but didn't make his championship debut until six years later and enjoyed a sustained spell, including being honoured as an All Star in 2010, under Conor Counihan.
Tomas ó Sé (Kerry)
Any revisit to a celebratory best ever team will have this man's name written all over it surely. The best wing-back of the modern era, perhaps the greatest of all time. A record number of championship appearances (88) since making his debut against Cork in 1998. Won five All-Ireland medals.
Eoin Brosnan (Kerry)
Brosnan re-invented himself as a half-back for his 'second coming' after stepping away from inter-county football for more than 18 months in the middle of the 2009 season. He hadn't been enjoying his football as a forward but playing as a half-back revived him. Won three All-Ireland medals.
Noel O'Leary (Cork)
A firm favourite with the Rebel faithful, O'Leary spent 13 seasons with the Cork senior team, joining within months of winning the 2000 All-Ireland minor title.
Alan O'Connor (Cork)
At 28 he is the youngest on this particular team but the logistics of travel to training was clearly impacting as he made his way from west Cork. O'Connor debuted for Cork in 2008, having previously won two All-Ireland junior medals.
Martin McGrath (Fermanagh)
Came through some adversity in his time, from testicular cancer (he put off an operation in 2008 to play in the Ulster final), a cardiac defect and being struck in the head by a JCB in a work place accident, to play for Fermanagh. One of only three from his county to win an All Star, he spent 11 seasons with Fermanagh.
Redmond Barry (Wexford)
Like his county colleague Murphy, he contributed to 13 championship seasons, the 32-year-old excelled at rugby and pole vault at schools level and spent a year with both football and hurling squads in Wexford.
Pearse O'Neill (Cork)
Another Cork player who really only blossomed under Conor Counihan, his Aghada clubmate. O'Neill was a late developer, only joining the Cork squad in 2006 at the age of 26.
Ronan Sweeney (Kildare)
Sweeney walked away after 14 years which began with a bang when he was part of the squad that won Kildare's second Leinster title in three years in 2000. Was a highly adaptable figure within the Lilywhite team.
Gary Hurney (Waterford)
Arguably Waterford football's most accomplished player over the last decade since making his debut in 1999. Knee and back problems have brought his career to an end. He spent three seasons with the Waterford hurlers too and was part of the 2008 All-Ireland final squad.
Padraig Clancy (Laois)
One of the longest serving players around, his inter-county debut was in 1999 and since then he made 57 championship appearances, mostly at midfield but latterly at full-forward.
Owen Mulligan (Tyrone)
We should be careful with this one and point out that while Owen Mulligan has accepted he won't be part of any future Tyrone squad, he hasn't retired on his terms. One of the smartest and most skilful forwards of the era with three All-Ireland medals to reflect on.