'I thought I wouldn't miss it, but I really do'
Galvin and myself are going through 'cold turkey' as our former team-mates open their campaign with a trip to Ennis
I could have sworn the sun was making faces at me about retirement this week and it got me thinking about something former Ireland soccer boss, Mick McCarthy, once said.
I mean, what a week to be heading into Killarney with your game-head on? Looking out at the big, blue sky, I nearly had a physical ache to be back in the cocoon of a Kerry panel, getting ready for battle.
The Ulster championship warming up was always a sign for us that it was time to roll.
And that time is now.
I talk to my brother Marc every day, but have steadfastly avoided asking him anything specific about training. Like it or lump it, I'm on the other side of the fence now. Or, as McCarthy once put it so colourfully, "outside the tent p*****g in!"
I thought I wouldn't miss it, but I really do. And, funny, the thing I'm really missing is that feeling of being absolutely shattered coming off the field after a hard session. Just that lovely sense of having the work done. Being ready.
I'd be onto Paul Galvin a fair bit and I suppose we're both going through the same kind of cold turkey now. He said something interesting to me recently. He said he's been reading these columns and they nearly got him down because they trigger a sense of what's been lost.
Not so much the winning even, just the talk, the banter of a tight dressing-room. With Kerry training behind closed doors now, I've been following various debates online about what kind of team Eamonn Fitzmaurice might put out against Clare for the game in Ennis. The talk in the county is about a need for leaders. People are saying they're not there anymore, but I disagree.
The one thing I would say is fellas have to set a standard this weekend and not be thinking they can just flick a switch if they get to a Munster final. I'll say straight out that Clare should not be beating Kerry. But you can't disrespect them, because the one thing I can guarantee this Sunday is that two or three Kerry players will get an absolute skinning from their markers.
To me, Clare football is hard football. I remember when our club was maybe at its strongest, we played St Senan's of Kilkee in a Munster Club final. Now we had maybe five of the top inter-county footballers in the country at that time, but we got nothing easy that day.
In the second-half, I took an unmerciful clatter and, a few seconds later, I was on the ball again and got a crack across the head that actually concussed me. I didn't know where I was for a few minutes and actually started running the wrong way with the ball, the boys roaring at me, "Tomás, for f**k sake, Tomás"!
Believe me, Clare have five or six footballers that could make any team in the country. I mean, I knew plenty about Gary Brennan before I met him. But I'm desperately trying to put a name to a face and I remember playing the Railway Cup in Armagh one year and I didn't actually know what Gary looked like.
Now he's a serious footballer and, as I now know, a sounder man you could not meet. Ulster beat us this same day, but – for a while – Munster had them on the ropes. And the main reason we had them on the ropes? Gary Brennan's performance in the middle of the park. He just had this attitude of not giving a damn who Sean Cavanagh was or any of these other big names from Ulster. Gary just horsed into it and, inside, I remember David Tubridy having a great game too.
There's no doubt in my mind that Brennan will give Kerry's midfield bucket-loads on Sunday.
That said, I like the team Fitzmaurice has picked. And strange as it might feel for me to be looking at the No 5 jersey on someone else's back, I really like what I see in Peter Crowley. He was excellent last year, marking Paul Flynn – who is the main man in that Dublin half-forward line – out of the All-Ireland semi-final.
I think Peter gets flak that he doesn't deserve because people don't watch him closely enough. Personally, I've never seen a fella to time a shoulder like he does and I hope he's one of those who drives on now and becomes a leader in the team. By the way, I don't judge leadership by how much a fella bawls at others in a game. I judge it by what he does.
Speaking of leaders, I thought Tyrone lacked a few of the breed against Monaghan last Sunday.
Now, I have massive time for Mickey Harte, whose record speaks for itself and I wouldn't be writing them off. But I thought, if anything, the scoreline flattered Tyrone in Clones
One issue for them is that Sean Cavanagh, their key man, hasn't been at his best. For Tyrone to do anything, they need Cavanagh running at defences, dominating games. To me, he's a unique talent. Get 70 minutes out of him and it might change the whole dynamic of this Tyrone team.
I couldn't believe some of the rubbish he put up with last year after pulling down Conor McManus. Listen, if I could have brought Kevin McManamon down and prevented that goal in the 2011 All-Ireland final, I'd have done it in a flash. I'd have happily taken a red card if it meant I was going to have a medal in my pocket. Trust me, any player in the country would.
The bottom line with Cavanagh is he's a clean player, but I just think Tyrone have, maybe, never needed him more than they do now. I get the impression there's a bit of confidence gone out of the team. Niall Morgan only kicked two long kick-outs in the entire first-half last Sunday. Two. That, immediately, was like saying "right Monaghan are too physical for us around the middle, we'll try to protect possession this way"!
So, they were kicking it short, working it up the field until the Tyrone half-forward line would meet a wall they just didn't have the players to break down. Stephen O'Neill, to be fair, owes them nothing. But it strikes me that, if Tyrone are depending upon Kyle Coney for the future, how come he was starting on the bench?
They went with the old heads and I think it cost them. Monaghan dominated, but Harte can justifiably argue that there was only a point in it at the end. On the scoreboard, at least, his team wasn't that far off. It strikes me that Ulster is, by far, the most interesting province in that sense.
When you look at it over the last three or four years, Tyrone seemed to have it over Monaghan; Monaghan seemed to have it over Donegal; Donegal seemed to have it over Tyrone. That, I don't think happens in any other province. Compare it, say, to Leinster. Look at what Meath did to Carlow, then think what Dublin could do to Meath if they're on fire.
For me, Monaghan are the most physical team in the country and I've great time for their manager, Malachy O'Rourke. He's a sharp man who has managed to keep them hungry despite having led them to their first Ulster title in a quarter of a century.
I was particularly impressed by their young full-back line and the team, in general, look very comfortable in themselves. But they will know, too, that they have huge scope for improvement.
The Clones factor could be massive in their efforts to retain that Ulster crown, but I think to show that they're really on the top rung now, they've got to get into an All-Ireland semi-final at least this summer, because Croke Park is where the really big dogs come out to play.