'I didn't think twice about coming back to take that trial' - Parsons
Published 27/05/2016 | 02:30
It's been the longest road, both literally and metaphorically, for Tom Parsons.
Having made his debut in 2008, he's one of the senior men in the Mayo team. But it's not that straightforward. It rarely has been for the Charlestown man.
Parsons has come the road less travelled. From the middle of 2011, he was deemed surplus to requirements by James Horan before the same man drafted him back in for a second look in 2014. In between almost everything changed in his life. Work as a civil engineer here dried up and soon he was on his way to Cardiff to try something new.
The cord was never completely cut however. Driven by a sense of duty, he'd fly home to play with Charlestown.
"At one point in Cardiff I flew back nine weekends in a row to play with my club," he says. "That was over a winter period."
He was in the stand too when Mayo contested the All-Ireland finals in 2012 and 2013. From the outside looking in, Mayo had moved on without him but privately Parsons never let go of the dream. If anything, living abroad stoked the fire in him even more.
"I suppose in the two years I was away from Mayo they featured in two All-Ireland finals and I felt there was something I had to offer to that Mayo team. I worked extremely hard in Cardiff. I took up different codes. I took up boxing, athletics and soccer which helped develop me as well. And I came back in 2014; when I did get the opportunity I came back with a heightened motivation."
By the time Mayo had lost the 2013 final, Horan was combing the county again looking for the missing piece of the puzzle. Charlestown had reached the senior semi-final with Parsons to the fore and Horan offered him a trial in an FBD game. Still Cardiff-based, he didn't hesitate.
"The years gone previous, we had won a county and Connacht (intermediate) title (in 2012).
"In 2013, we got to the semi-final of the club senior championship. I got the opportunity to play against the Breaffys of this world. It's those big club games where a manager might be influenced over giving you an opportunity to play with Mayo.
"It was an FBD game against Roscommon I didn't think twice about coming back to take that trial and play. And I played that league campaign travelling from Cardiff. And I suppose I lived over there with my partner Carol and we always had a grá to come back to Ireland.
"I think when you move abroad you realise how magic a country we live in, that special community that the GAA has to offer is very hard to replicate when you leave Ireland."
For those six months, the commute home took around 12 hours door-to-door. Drive to Bristol, fly to Dublin as the times into Knock didn't suit. Then navigate cross-country to wherever Mayo were training.
Despite the travel he was part of the championship squad. Soon Cardiff was in the rear view mirror for good. Since then he's been glad to have Mayo and Mayo have been glad to have him too as last year he was nominated for an All-Star.
And on Sunday things come full circle. He was dropped from the squad in 2011 and a few weeks later Mayo and James Horan escaped London.
Mayo head back to Ruislip this weekend and when the team was named yesterday, no one was surprised to see Parsons at midfield. After all, he has started every game for the Connacht men this season.
"I suppose taking a step back from football in your mid-20s definitely gives you a chance to get more balance in your life," he reflects now.
"I have certainly come back to really appreciate the prestige and honour to represent your county."
The longest journey but for Parsons, the joy is in the destination.
Meanwhile, Evan Regan will make his championship debut in Sunday's clash with new boss Stephen Rochford opting for 10 of the side which fell to Dublin in last year's All-Ireland semi-final replay.
Injury has ruled out Young Footballer of the Year Diarmuid O'Connor, Ger Cafferkey and Barry Moran while Seamus O'Shea, with veterans Andy Moran and Alan Dillon are among the substitutes. Aidan O'Shea is named at No 11 as their bid for sixth consecutive Connacht SFC.
In Ulster, Cavan manager Terry Hyland has handed debuts to corner-back Padraig Faulkner and midfielder Liam Buchanan for Sunday's quarter-final with Armagh at Kingspan Breffni Park while Rory Dunne, Feargal Flanagan and Niall Murray come into the defence.
Kieran McGeeney has handed goalkeeper Patrick Morrison his first championship start for Armagh while defensive duo Ciaran McKeever and James Morgan return from injury.