Alan Brogan: After 14 years and 70 Championship matches I have no regrets
A couple of weeks ago I spent a weekend with my wife in Amsterdam. Sitting outside on the Saturday afternoon watching the canal boats float past, my thoughts drifted to Dublin's championship preparations and I wondered if I would miss it.
Would I rather be heading for a training camp than people-watching on the banks of the River Amstel? It might seem strange to some, but the answer was an emphatic 'no'.
I'm very fortunate to have been able to make the transition easily from being an inter-county footballer back into normal life, especially with the memory of an All-Ireland win still fresh in my mind. Add to that the fact that we beat Kerry in the final and kicking the last score in the game to all but secure the win and it all makes for a cake with cream and sugar on top.
I've already been asked many times if I regret retiring, could I possibly have squeezed another year out of my Dublin career? But how could I have regrets? After 14 years and 70 championship matches, the opportunity to leave on my own terms was too good to turn down. I'm sure as summer rolls along and the excitement builds towards September, there will be times when I'll feel the pull to get back out on the hallowed turf, but I just wasn't prepared to risk missing the fairytale ending that 2015 offered.
Playing with Dublin was everything to me. It weighed heavy at times, especially when we struggled to make the breakthrough. To the media I always played this down, I even played it down to my family and friends. My standard line after losing four All-Ireland semi-finals was always, 'We'll get back on the horse and give it another shot', but deep down those defeats really hurt.
The truth is that I craved an All-Ireland medal. I'd visit my mam's town, Listowel, in those years from 2002 to 2010 and act as if I didn't mind that Kerry were beating us on a regular basis. I knew friends like Billy Keane, Jimmy Deenihan and Noel Kennelly respected me very much as a person, but as a footballer I felt I needed the medals to really stand on a level footing with the great Kerry players we would discuss.
Anyone I ever met on my travels in Kerry was always very gracious when they had the upper hand, and I hope they think the same of me. My relationship with Listowel and Kerry through my mam and my football is something I cherish very much now that I've hung up the boots.
The breakthrough All-Ireland victory in 2011 was the pinnacle and everything that happened after that was a bonus for me. The manner in which we won the game added to the sense of euphoria. Many people have said that Kerry threw that one away, but I don't believe that. We went and won the game when it was there to be won.
There was nothing lucky about how we turned a four-point deficit into a one-point victory. Everything that happened in the last 10 minutes that September afternoon came about because of the work we had done during training and in the meeting rooms in St David's.
For example, in the lead up to Kevin McManamon's crucial goal we turned over Killian Young. We had practised the forwards filtering back into the defensive line to put real pressure on Kerry when they reached the middle third. They looked in control, but our mass of bodies forced a turnover. Isolating Kev Mac late in the game when bodies were tired was also a ploy we knew could bear fruit.
Memories like that and 2015 are what made it easy for me to walk away. The hunger was satisfied.
It wasn't all about the medals though. While I agree with some of the points Joe Brolly has been raising in terms of the life being sucked out of inter-county footballers, it's not all bad. I won't miss the winter training, the fitness tests, phases of gym programmes, prehab, rehab and all these other fancy protocols presented by trainers and strength and conditioning coaches.
What I will miss is the time spent with guys chasing a common goal. Inter-county football was, and is, a serious business - at times too serious - but there was always time for a joke. Dressing rooms at that level tend to be full of intelligent, witty men and this makes for plenty of laughs and slagging which I was always happy to be a part of.
Playing with Dublin gave me a great purpose in life. I gave it everything I had, maybe got obsessive at times but that is what is required to deliver All-Ireland medals. They don't come easy, they don't come without sacrifice. That's what made it all worthwhile.
For now I am ready to embrace the next chapter, happy with the medals, the friendships and the memories. My love for Dublin football started with me sharing a seat in the Hogan Stand with my cousin James watching the team of the early 1990s.
I won't be sharing a seat anymore, but after what I saw in last night's easy win over Laois I am looking forward to rekindling that love as a supporter this summer.
Sunday Indo Sport