Friday 18 January 2019

Dick Clerkin: Bitter exits ignore fact that inter-county players always had it tough

Brendan Bugler and Kieran Bergin have recently lamented the demands placed on inter-county players
Brendan Bugler and Kieran Bergin have recently lamented the demands placed on inter-county players

Dick Clerkin

On Friday night, Stephen Gollogly was acknowledged for his contribution to Monaghan football following a stellar 13-year career. Carefree, with no January training to consume either of us, we chatted over a pint, wondering how we did what we did for so long.

Come Easter we will both have three children, and I assured Stephen that a busy home is the key to a happy retirement. Like many others who have announced their retirement in recent months, Stephen was full of appreciation for the opportunities and successes his commitment to his county provided him over the years.

Recent retirees, such as Alan Dillon (Mayo), Mark Breheny (Sligo) and Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone), have uttered similar sentiments of privilege and pride.

How is it then that more is made of the departing noises of those less enamoured with the lives they are leaving behind?

The recent passing shots of Tipperary hurler Kieran Bergin and Clare counterpart Brendan Bugler sang of a bitterness and resentment towards a game that allowed them to reach the pinnacle of their code.

All-Ireland winners in September is something many can only dream of. Bergin claims that if he were to go back in time, he would not make the sacrifices again to realise that dream.

Mick O’Dwyer, here running the sideline for Kerry, had no problem putting his players through the mill – training the Kerry team for 27 straight nights in 1975.
Mick O’Dwyer, here running the sideline for Kerry, had no problem putting his players through the mill – training the Kerry team for 27 straight nights in 1975.

The stories of Kieran and Brendan are often the preferred narrative of those intent on smearing the modern game. So with such diverging opinions, how do we even attempt to define what is acceptable for the modern inter-county player?

The marvellous 'Micko' documentary, recently aired on RTÉ, gave a timely insight into the make-up of the greatest team the game has known.

In an absorbing hour of TV, not only did we learn about Kerry's golden generation's affinity with Bendix washing machines, we also saw the lengths to which Mick O'Dwyer would push his players in the quest for success.

I wonder what those who sympathise with the demanding schedules of modern-day players, thought when watching how Micko trained his fledglings for 27 consecutive nights in 1975.


It is hypocritical to look back with rose-tinted glasses on Micko and his methods as the game's greatest manager, and bemoan the similar demands being asked of the stars of today.

In reality, the vast majority of inter-county players depart the scene without any sense of bitterness or regret.

Micko's only sense of regret after a lifetime serving his sport is that old age is gradually robbing him from the ability to serve it how he once did.

Before Christmas I got further insight into a modern-day great, Joe Canning, during his appearance at the Irish Independent sports awards in Croke Park.

Interviewed after receiving his award for 'moment of the year' - his last-minute, winning point against Tipperary - Joe seemed at pains to maintain a cloak of humility around all of his achievements, in the aftermath of what was a defining season for him and his Galway team-mates.

As a long-time admirer, I would have forgiven him had he let loose with a bit of McGregoresque brashness, but not unlike many of his high-flying inter-county peers, he seems determined not to lose sight of his beginnings.

In the same way Micko will finish his days close to the playing fields of Waterville, Canning will likely live out his days in the foothills of Portumna, among his beloved Canning clan and neighbours.

Yet Joe, like many of our top-level players, is able to enjoy spin-off benefits from his fame, while trying to balance an image of humility and sense of place.

However, for all current stars staying true to an amateur game embedded in your community, while jumping into a sponsored car - and possibly wearing a free suit - conjures a conflicting image which many diehards struggle with.

When we saw how Micko unashamedly exploited the exploits and fame of his great Kerry team to their financial benefit in the '70's, Joe and his lofty peers certainly can't be criticised for continuing such a trend.

If it was good enough for Micko and his golden boys, surely it is good enough for our present stars.

Having a dig at Aidan O'Shea or Bernard Brogan for maximising their profile can't be detached from the adidas-wearing Kerry Galacticos from the '70s and'80s.

If sponsored cars were on offer back in the '70s, Micko would have taken whatever was going for his men, albeit in Aran sweaters rather than a three-piece suit.

As an elite sport, the GAA is an oddity for modern commentators, with it left to sail uncharted waters surrounded by various advancing professional codes.

Compounding the problem is that the players have to plough a lonely furrow when managing their image.


With little sense of joined-up thinking from the representative bodies, the GPA and CPA, it isn't surprising that the concept of a modern-day player is being dragged around, when those assuming to represent them can't find a common ground.

It also explains why many will sympathise with the Kieran Bergins of this world, while at the same time drool over the savage training exploits of Ogie Moran, Pat Spillane et al. Putting it simply, we don't know what we want our players to be.

Micko's legendary Kerry team, in more ways than we might have realised, were the blueprint for today's inter-county game.

If statues are being built for those men, we can't berate the modern-day player for wanting to follow in their footsteps.

Canning, more than anyone to my mind, is following Micko's template for what the modern-day player can be.

In time Joe could well have his own statue, after a life divided between family, club and county, with neither suffering greatly as a consequence of the other.

And sure if he gets to drive between all three, well dressed in a sponsored car, does it harm anyone?

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