Wednesday 21 February 2018

I feel lucky to walk away on my terms, says Cullen

Bryan Cullen
Bryan Cullen
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Bryan Cullen doesn't have to look too far for perspective. Across the room, Galway's Michael Meehan is explaining the ins and outs of his injury nightmare that has dogged him in recent years, and Cullen quickly realises he's one of the lucky ones.

The pair are of the same vintage, both lauded underage stars who played together at U-17 level for Ireland back in 2001.

Cullen misses football and he misses the Dublin set-up. And he'll miss it more when they run out to a heaving Croke Park in the summer but, unlike Meehan, he got to go on his own terms and there's a comfort in that.

"It'd be great to be 19 forever and play away and have no concerns," Cullen said at the unveiling of Eirgrid as the new sponsors of the U-21 football championship.

"There's a lot more going on in my life now compared to when I was 20/21, even into my mid-20s.

"There's other things I want to do with my life as well and I've given 10-12 years to Dublin football. I'm very lucky with what I've got.

"I looked at Mikey there. Myself and him are the same age. The poor fella is riddled with injury, he hasn't got to play near amount the football that he would have liked.

"I've been the opposite, I've been very fortunate so I can't have too many complaints.

"Yes, I would have liked to have played more in the last two years but it hasn't happened and that's life."

After captaining the Dubs to All-Ireland success in 2011 he gradually slipped down the pecking order. Last year he made just two championship appearances off the bench - he didn't appear after the Leinster semi-final as Dublin manager Jim Gavin looked to youth rather than experience.

And while he agonised over the decision to pack in a senior inter-county career that started under Tommy Lyons back in 2003, he's convinced now that it was the right call.

Factor

"It wasn't the sole reason I decided to walk away but absolutely, it was a contributing factor in my decision. Had I been more involved, it definitely would have been harder to walk away," he reflected.

"In an ideal world everyone wants to go out on a high. But in reality, it doesn't really happen for most athletes. Most footballers, generally, finish up on the bench. That's what happened me.

"But I had a fabulous 10-12 years playing for Dublin. I'm lucky enough to be walking away with a bunch of provincial medals, National League titles and All-Ireland medals.

"Again, I felt I wasn't chasing any titles towards the end of my career, I was happy with what I had achieved. I suppose that made my decision a little bit easier."

Family, Skerries Harps and his job working on the conditioning of Leinster rugby's youngsters have quickly filled the time once taken up by the pursuit of medals with Dublin.

His profession means he's well placed to comment on the demands placed on GAA players nowadays. The required effort to operate at the top level of football is comparable with anything, Cullen says, but he stops short of Joe Brolly's assessment that players are like "indentured slaves."

"There's no doubt the demands are high and you do have to put a huge amount of effort in," he said.

"It does take up a hell of a lot of time but players want to do it.

"Players understand that an All-Ireland medal is a very difficult thing to win and you do have to invest a lot of your time into getting yourself in good shape.

"Players are obviously willing to do it. Maybe the language was a little bit strong but I understand what he means.

"You do have to give up an awful lot but at the same time it is for a short period of time in your life."

And there it is again. Perspective. His Dublin days may be at an end but there are other things out there for him now.

"It was very difficult (to walk away). Probably a lot of toing and froing, mentally; but personally I think it was the right call.

"And looking back now, I'm happy with my decision."

Irish Independent

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