When is the right time to hang up those sporting boots?



A couple of weeks ago, the day after Nemo Rangers had given Kerry’s Dr. Crokes a fair old beating in the Munster club football final, I saw a sad headline on the Irish Independent that pretty much said that the great Gooch Cooper was no longer up to it, and that even the club game had now passed him by.

  A few nights ago, not in Creggs I hasten to add, I had a chat, peculiarly enough in a pub, with a lad of 27 years of age, a really good footballer, who told me he was thinking of packing up the game. He had a few niggling injuries, a bit of pressure at work, and he was seriously thinking about calling it a day.

  Now my initial reaction was to tell him to forget about retirement, and to play as long as he was able to, but today, as my two not so new hips carried me slowly on my walk up the lovely area that is Lenamarla, I wondered was my reaction the correct one?

  There was a great hullabaloo when the Gooch retired from intercounty football, with many pundits saying he could play on for a few more years, but the evidence now points to the fact that he was right to go. And, of course, for everyone, including my 27-year-old, that is the hardest part of all – to know when to quit!

  Now I realise that for me to mention myself in the same paper as the Gooch – never mind in the same article – is almost bordering on the sacrilegious, but as the fresh air of Lenamarla filled my lungs and cleared my head, I found myself back more than 25 years ago, up in Enniskillen, still playing scrum-half for Creggs, and, what’s worse, still thinking I was good enough.

  By then I was about four stone overweight, not able to run and totally unfit, and if the pace of the Munster final passed the Gooch by, the Enniskillen match left me stuck to the starting blocks; I was so far behind the play that I could have been playing in the farmer’s field next door, and if the rest of the lads were in 5th gear, I spent most of the day in reverse.

  At the end of the game I knew my time was up, but by the Tuesday evening, I had convinced myself that I was just unlucky – I had just happened to be in the right place at the wrong time (all day), and it wasn’t really my fault, and the next day it would be much better.

  Thankfully, the selectors didn’t see it my way, and on that Tuesday evening as I headed out to training, they paid me the very rare compliment of calling to my door to tell me that I was dropped for the following Sunday.

  Funny enough, even though deep down I knew it was coming – and well overdue – I was gutted and very annoyed, although in hindsight I should probably have gone years earlier! And so, that is why I’m not sure if my advice to the 27-year-old lad is right or wrong. In the words of the song from The Clash, ‘Should I stay or should I go now?’

  As for the Gooch, I think he made the right decision, and as for me, I think the selectors did too. Although in my defence, when the late, great Dr. Joe Daly managed to get my leg across a two-foot high wall at the Galway Sportsground (he nearly needed a hoist), and got me on the field of play in the 1993 cup final as a second-half substitute, I managed to play a small part in bringing the last junior cup that Creggs won back to the village. It’s high time another one came, and who knows? Maybe this could be the year.

A magnificent night at The Green

Sticking with the rugby for another little bit, and on Saturday night, thankfully before the snow brought chaos to the area, we had another magnificent night in The Green when our local lads won a titanic battle with Tuam in a match that was reminiscent of many a tough game in the past.

  The 10 points to 3 winning scoreline was just about deserved, and very important in our quest for league honours.

  Sometimes we get over-dramatic about events that happen on the pitch, but for me, the commitment we showed in the last five or six minutes matched anything I have ever seen on any pitch, at any level.

  Tuam literally pounded our line, and there were numerous times that I was convinced they had to score, but on every occasion someone got in a last-ditch tackle, or a hand in to smother the ball, or just put their bodies on the line. Amazingly, we held out, and I can tell you the wonderful result was celebrated every bit as enthusiastically as the lads had defended.

  With about four or five games to play, we are in a good position in the league at the moment, but whether we win it or not, this team has given all of us old-stagers a huge lift and there is a terrific buzz around the place thanks to their endeavours on the pitch.

  Back to the chaos locally, and St. Ciaran’s’ big U-20 football game against Tulsk fell foul of the weather, as did the Senior Citizens Party! Now I’m sure the details of the re-fixture of the football match is somewhere else in this week’s People, but the good ladies who look after the Senior Citizens’ Party tell me that, weather-permitting, it will go ahead this Sunday, 17th of December in Kilbegnet Hall. Let’s all hope the frost and snow will have disappeared by then.

Great to have seen this duo in their pomp

Changing subjects, and, in the ridiculous world of professional soccer, I am surprised to have seen very little about the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo last week won the Ballon d’Or award, making him the best player in the world for a fifth time.

  Now, what made it so noteworthy in my opinion, is the fact that himself and Lionel Messi have shared the last ten awards between them, which in itself is an extraordinary achievement. 

  However, what makes it even more amazing is that in nine of those ten years, the person who didn’t win it was the runner-up – the only exception being 2010, when Iniesta took the runners-up award.

  So it is unbelievable, in this day and age, with such wonderful footballers all over the world, that two players could dominate world football to such an extent, and I suppose it is our privilege to have been around for all of those ten years, and to have seen those gifted players in their pomp – and it looks as if they aren’t finished yet, as both are still playing at the height of their powers.

And finally…

Finally for this week, it’s now Tuesday afternoon, and while the thaw has set in to some extent, parts of the roads – and indeed the footpaths – are still ‘lethal’.

  Earlier, as my wife Carol was walking on a slippy footpath in Roscommon, she almost fell over. A gentleman who was walking behind her, whom she didn’t know, told her to hold his hand, and he brought her safely to the car.

  Once again it shows that the age of chivalry is not dead, and small acts of kindness mean an awful lot, so, on her behalf, thanks to the unidentified Good Samaritan – you made her day.


‘Till next week, Bye for now!