Martin Breheny: As DJ proved and Lar may find out, it’s staying away that’s the hard part
Published 08/02/2012 | 05:00
THE similarity is uncanny. In the first week of February 1998, DJ Carey stunned the world of Irish sport by announcing his retirement. "The appetite is gone and when that happens, it's time to move aside. It wouldn't be right to go on if I wasn't 100pc committed to it. I've had great times, but overall I am happy with the decision. If I felt that I would come back at any stage in the future, I wouldn't go now. No, I won't be back," he said.
Eight weeks later, at a packed press conference, Carey declared: "I'm back in the sport I was born into. I'm going to play it and enjoy it from now on."
He went on to win another three All-Ireland and seven Leinster titles, as well as three All Stars and one Hurler of the Year award, before departing for good, aged 34, at the end of 2005.
In the first week of February 2012, Lar Corbett exited the Tipperary camp, largely echoing Carey's sentiments from 14 years earlier.
"Well lads, I'm sorry to say that I have withdrawn from the Tipp panel. I know this may come as a shock, but after careful consideration I know that I cannot give the 100pc commitment that is required. This decision was one of the hardest yet I look forward to the second Sunday in September when I will be shouting on the players and the team that I love," wrote Corbett in a text message to his team-mates.
Eight weeks later at a packed comeback press conference, Corbett declared: "I never realised I would miss the inter-county scene so much. Also, I was overwhelmed by the reaction of Tipperary people and the way they wanted me to come back. I've had time to think; I'm refreshed and ready to go."
Okay, so the last paragraph is made up, although it might be prudent to store those quotes, in the event of them becoming relevant later on. Age is the only obvious difference in the premature departure of Carey (then 27) and Corbett (30), but it's not anywhere near enough to be a career-breaker. After all, it's not as if Corbett has struggled in recent years.
On the contrary, he was Hurler of the Year in 2010 after scoring 6-11 in the championship, a yield he surpassed by a point (7-9) last season. That he should now leave the scene, citing an inability to give the required commitment, raises legitimate questions about the demands placed on players.
The departure of one player, even a man of Corbett's stature, is not in itself sufficient reason to castigate the training regimes of an entire organisation. Nor does it reflect specifically on the Tipperary model, even if that does involve five nights per week at present.
However, there are other counties who are doing even more, including pre-dawn and twice-a-day sessions. Throw in the added demands on U-21 and third level college players who are serving three managerial masters, all focused on their own specific targets, and the environment is all but unbearable.
If that wasn't wearing enough on players, they are then expected to live totally abnormal social lives. Heaven forbid that an inter-county player would be seen with a bottle of beer during the season. At the very least, he could expect to be attacked by the toxic sewer life that populates some message boards. Contrast that with rugby and soccer players, who openly enjoy a social life without the risk of being classed as wasters, unless, of course, the jollity extends to tossing dwarfs.
Corbett's decision to quit has, inevitably, attracted massive attention and will undoubtedly raise the question of the level of commitment now expected from players. That's no bad thing, because when it comes to squad preparation, all sense of proportion has been shed, maybe not everywhere but in enough counties to make it a serious problem.
I sat beside Corbett on the All Star flight from London to San Francisco last November and he certainly didn't sound like a man who was contemplating leaving an arena he has adorned so spectacularly since 2000. However, he did talk of the challenges of running a pub in recessionary times.
For now, at least, it seems that combining sport, business and personal life left him feeling that something had to give. Hurling has been sacrificed but, as Carey discovered in 1998, announcing your departure is a whole lot easier than sticking with it.
Apart from the headlines, the analysis, the goodwill cards, the pressure -- subtle and otherwise -- from friends and supporters, plus the non-stop queries about a possible return, Lar will come face-to-face with one powerful reality.
As the days lengthen and the pulse rate increases with the approach of the championship, will he able to beat the addiction that has dominated his life for so long?
My guess is that he won't. Expect him to be back on board when Limerick come to Tom Semple's field to play Tipperary on May 27.