Tuesday 16 January 2018

Even men with a middle name of 'Og' discover what it's like to grow old

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

We are in the early days of the transformation from winter to spring. Night and day are nearly equal in length and so we have the perfect metaphor for all sports. As the gymnast said when she fell off the beam, it's all about balance.

Very often in the days close to the equinox there can be a week of truly horrible weather. This morning the winds are howling in from the Atlantic and the duvet is a tent. It's as if the old season is making a statement. I'm not finished yet and even though I might huff and puff at times, I can still blow your house down. We are reminded of Brian O'Driscoll's man-of-the-match performance against Wales.

Change can be turbulent. Babies always cry when their nappies are replaced and so we have the nappy metaphor. More people say we must embrace change. It's good for us, they say, and life would be boring if things stayed the same. Most of us of a certain age have endured some cataclysmic event that has changed our lives forever. Little did I think all those years ago when I set out for UCC with my satchel under my arm that some day I would end up writing for this paper and running the family pub.

I love both jobs, but it was never the plan. Back then in the giddy days before my personal equinox and subsequent winter and the spring that surely follows, I was sure some day I would be Taoiseach, at the very least. But life is a journey and to have any hope of surviving the ride through the rapids, you have to accept not only your circumstances, but yourself.

I have seen so many players who have fallen off the cliff unable to make the transition from Ireland's idol to a former great. Unable to accept the new life and the lack of the buzz.

Then there's the age-old dilemma faced by New York subway cops 'did he jump or was he pushed?' So few players choose their own time to go and so few retire on top of their game. The truth is, most are pushed.

Acceptance is the key to moving on. As is the realisation that small things really are the big things. There may not be the roar of the crowd, but the first words of a small baby beat any sideline chorus. So many sportsmen never really get over the end of playing the sport they love. It's as if the best days of their lives are over and done within their early thirties. So sad. And for many the only way out is by staying in and reminiscing with hangers-on over too many beers. What to do when you do retire?

It's not easy when you have to go on the jobs market for the first time in your early thirties. By then, most of your contemporaries are well up the ladder and you are a rookie all over again. At least the GAA players have been building a career side-by-side with playing.

This will come as a great shock to those of you who follow this column and have attributed to its wisdoms a certain infallibility. But yes we are less than perfect.

Because of this, there are times when we have pulled back from criticising young sportsmen. Some say we are too soft on these highly-paid athletes, but I have always taken the view that just because someone is well paid, doesn't mean you have a licence to in some way dehumanise your fellow man.

In recent years, many sportsmen I have spoken to felt in some way diminished during their declining years, in their opinions of themselves, and their place in sporting history by the savagery and inhumanity of some. Particularly the internet sheep worriers.


Rugby takes on different buzz words just to give the bulls*****ers who know nothing about the game a hook to hang their bluffs on. The big one now is 'leaders' and sometimes we entrust the hopes and dreams of a nation on leaders who aren't even old enough to run for President. You have to be 35, by the way.

We impose on our sportspeople standards and expectations we would never impose on ourselves or our own kids. O'Driscoll has been savaged this week for a stamp on an Italian player who was breaking the rules. The timing was unfortunate. It might well be Brian's last game for Ireland.

And while Brian didn't exactly clean his shoes on the Italian like you would on a doormat, he certainly didn't deserve to be outed as some kind of criminal who gave bad example to the kids of Ireland. Brian is young. He made a mistake.

Yes, it is a time of change. Donal Og is gone and so too is Sean Og. Even with a middle name of Og, both men have discovered what it is like to grow old in sporting terms at a young age. They, in their own different ways, have made it easier for gay kids and kids of mixed race to become part of the fabric of the GAA.

This week Isa Nacewa announced he'd be retiring from Leinster after five years of polished brilliance. Leinster will also lose their greatest leader Leo Cullen at the end of this season.

We wish the retirees well, but how will they cope? Very well we hope. The transition will take time and getting used to. In the meantime we savour the memories of their greatness and wish those still in the fray a safe and happy journey to the finishing post.


The Ballybunion 10K and half marathon takes place on Easter Saturday. There is no better or more beautiful course. I know every inch of it – from driving. The sea air and the scenery will carry you on and on. The event supports local charities and is superbly organised. There's no better way to finish off Lent.

Irish Independent

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