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Mayo retirees opt not to fade away

Sport

SHADOWLANDS The Mayo team run on to the pitch for their team photograph prior to the National League match against Kerry at MacHale Park, Castlebar last March.  Pic: Sportsfile

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Colin Sheridan

ON ‘The Press Box’, the popular American podcast on the Ringer network, hosts Bryan Curtis and David Shoemaker have a frivolous segment called the “overworked twitter joke of the week”. As gimmicks go, this one requires no explanation; it does exactly what it says on the tin. For the past four years, Trump has provided ample fodder for the segment.
Last week, as the lunatics finally overran the asylum in that nation’s capital, it should have been the President’s coup de twitter-grace. Unbeknownst to Trump, however, there was a bigger, imminently more tweetable joke to overwork. That joke, inspired by a quartet of Mayo footballers handing in their guns and badges, started something like this: “I’d like to announce my retirement from...”
Like the novel Coronavirus, there was a myriad of variants to the joke, all of them highly contagious; the “random punter who never kicked a ball but wanted to make the joke” variant being the most common, followed by the “self-effacing inter-county footballer from another county, who ordinarily would never make such an announcement, but wanted to make the joke and announce their actual retirement” variant.
There was a sub-outbreak of memes and gifs, a sure sign the contagion was spreading.
You know what? They were quite funny! In the context of the social media maelstrom of misery we all inhabit, the “I’d like to announce...” tweets were victimless crimes of lockdown comedy. They were almost novel in their earnestness.
I was actually sorry I wasn’t quick-witted enough to shoot one off myself.
When the dust settled, and the John Kings amongst us closed off our final tallies, we were left with four Mayo players who officially announced their retirements from inter-county football. They were the facts. The controllables. Subjective analysis of the careers of each of the players – Donie Vaughan, David Clarke, Tom Parsons and Seamie O’Shea – have received justified airtime and column inches, the majority of which have been deservedly complimentary in their tone. Their immense contributions to arguably the most prolific period in Mayo football since the early 1950’s are undeniable; each one beginning their senior careers began at a time when Mayo football was far less sexy a vocation than it is now. All four lived through the Longford debacle in 2010, an evening which stands as an outlier in our memories of this county’s contemporary history, and serves as a reminder of the cyclical nature of the fickleness of sport, and the support these players enjoy.

Grumpy old man routine
I MUST admit to being a little old-school in how I like my retirements. Not so old-school that I reckon players would be better off running more laps than crafting self-eulogies (they are retiring after all, so running or kicking more would serve no discernible purpose), or calling for an all-out ban on the exercise as one commentator has, but I’m old-school nonetheless. My grumpy old man routine, perhaps accelerated by my recent descent into my forties (itself, a retirements of sorts), is likely a by-product of watching too much of the BBC sitcom, ‘The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’ in my youth, in which the protagonist retires from life, faking his own death by walking into the sea.
I want to hear about retirements at mass, in confused whispers after communion. Or, at a wedding, on a high stool in the sanctuary of the front bar, in between the first dance and the cocktail sausages.
Best of all, I want to learn one of my beloved players is no longer available for selection the night of a National League game, which I am myself attending, by lamenting the fact that such-a-player is not getting more game time, only to be told, “Nah, he’s not coming back”. It would be left to me, then, to process this bombshell, reminisce (and greatly inflate) all they had achieved, while contemplating what life without them.
I still hold out hope Kevin Cahill might return to the full-back line, as he never formally announced his intention to retire, unless it got lost on his MySpace or Bebo pages.
‘Ok Boomer!’ I hear you say. And, you are of course correct.
My curmudgeonly desire to see - or rather, not see - my heroes walk off into the Atlantic without so much as a backwards glance is much more a reflection of some latent loathing of self on my part, than a slight on those players who exercise their hard-earned right to quell church/mart talk as to whether they’re going back in for another year.
Indeed, as there’s no mass, weddings, marts or Coachella ongoing anyway, their use of social media to articulate their thanks to team-mates, family, adversaries and supporters is quite an obvious development in a world where the high stool at the front bar is nought but a pipe dream anyways.
This voyage of discovery I have been on throughout the writing of this article has ironically gone full circle, as I will likely take to social media myself to promote this very piece, sating my own fickle ego in the process. At least the recently-departed foursome left it all on the field. How they announced it will be the last thing we remember them by.

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