'Life already much better' - Former inter-county star O'Rourke on relief at end of county career
Former Meath goalkeeper Paddy O'Rourke has spoken of his delight at the decision to end his inter-county career - and he believes more players will follow suit, especially in counties with little chance of silverware.
O'Rourke revealed a conversation with manager Andy McEntee last year in which O'Rourke asked how he could justify giving up so much of his time to the inter-county cause, and ended with him realising his days with Meath were finished.
"The idea that I had to walk away from inter-county football was nagging at the back of my head in the months before we lost to Donegal last summer," O'Rourke told Shane Stapleton on the AIB GAA blog.
"If we're honest in Meath, we're not getting any closer to where we want to go. Winning Leinster again or challenging for an All-Ireland doesn't look realistic any time soon, and in fact it feels like it farther away than ever. In my year on the panel, in 2009, we made it to an All-Ireland semi-final. A year later, albeit many Louth fans will still be sore over the circumstances, we lifted up the Delaney Cup, and made an All-Ireland quarter-final after it.
"From 2011 to now, the commitment levels have gone through the roof but we've had nothing to show for it. Our seasons have been over by early to mid-July. Last year we lost to Kildare, which suggests we're slipping in the province, while Dublin are well out in front, and then this new Super 8 won't help any team outside the elite.
"So I finally came to a decision: this is not worth it. Because when you think of the consequences of the incredible commitment levels required, you're losing so much of your life. Never mind the amount of evenings you're spending training and at the gym, it means you end up isolated from your family, your friends and your club. And for what?
"How can you justify training five or six nights per week for eight or nine months of the year, without a realistic chance of winning anything? I just can't do it any more."
O'Rourke believes that the problem will only get worse with only a select few counties exempt from their players making similar decisions.
"Maybe four counties are exempted from that, the ones who can genuinely look their players in the eye and say there is a real chance of winning an All-Ireland title. You've Dublin and a couple of more that can win it, that's it. Otherwise, there are no fluke winners, or teams even getting to the final in unexpected fashion.
"All that training and commitment for one or two big championship games, so many other players must also be hating it. I honestly couldn't tell you what motivates the rest of them," he added.
"The Super 8s take the biscuit though, because it makes the game more elite-focused than ever. The Division 1 teams can compete and maybe a few from the second tier, but no one else can after that. The strong will get stronger; the weak weaker. Where else would you see this sort of misguided structure? I honestly don't know, and can't understand how it makes sense for the future of the sport across Ireland.
"How can a Carlow or Leitrim, for example, expect to make their way into a Super 8 group, beat a Tyrone for example, and then push on after that? They can't. Maybe a secondary championship would make more sense, but once you get knocked out all you want to do is focus on your club at that point.
"Because pretty quickly, it'll be October and you'll be staring down the barrel of inter-county pre-season again. The cycle starts over.
"I'm finished with that now, and life is already much better.
The 28-year-old also spoke of his delight being back with his club Skryne.
"I haven't regretted my decision for a moment, and I can't see myself ever going back. I've been made Skryne captain and it's been fantastic reintegrating back into the scene, and getting back to being good friends with these lads I grew up with. The isolation is now over. No longer am I away from it for months at a time, just to parachute back in briefly for the county championship.
"There is the huge upside of not being tied down to the Meath schedule for at least five days per week. I no longer wake up thinking about what I need to get through the next 16 or 17 hours."