By Catherine McGourty
AS a player you have probably heard many people say to you, “play for as long as you can” or “ you are a long time retired” or “ you will miss it when you finish”.
For me all of these points are very valid, but I am now at the stage of my playing career where I am thinking about the end.
For the past four or five years plenty of my friends have said why are you going back to play for Down? Are you not too “old” for that now? However, as long as I felt that I could contribute something in a positive way, and try and help the team to be better, I have wanted to be involved.
Playing inter-county sport has completely changed from when I started playing in 1999. Our games have changed so much with teams developing different ways to make sure they win.
No-one can rest on their laurels because eventually you will be caught. For four or five years we all thought that the six in-a-row Dublin football team would never be caught but teams eventually caught up, with the past two winners, Tyrone and Kerry, adapting their style of play to overcome the Dubs’ dominance.
Following Tyrone’s most recent win in 2021 we saw a lot of players “retire” or “step away” from the inter -county set up. It is not a surprise to me that this happened.
These players, although they probably could have continued, had to weigh up their involvement in these almost professional environments, while also keeping up with their full-time jobs or studies.
Over the next year are we going to see more players unable to continue to play for these intercounty teams. With the cost of living rising and the unpredictability of the cost of fuel how are these players able to afford to continue?
I know that for a lot of male teams the county boards help out in paying travelling expenses to players. With the GPA also issuing grants to all codes this definitely helps, but it does not cover all of the costs, in particular for the female players. I have often wondered how students afford to play.
For others though, it is life that begins to get in the way. Performers tend to be of the age when they are getting married and having children. For players this often makes the decision for them as it is very hard to leave a young baby for the weekend to travel say to Galway or Cork for a game. Having to depend on grandparents and other family for help is really the only way that they can continue to play.
There are also players that people think are never going to give it up. I am probably one of them.
As I sat on the bus to our last away game this year to Limerick on June 25 it definitely made me wonder is this the last long journey I am going to make with this group of players and this team?
I thought about what was keeping me playing and it all came back to the fact that I love wearing the Red and Black jersey, but mainly it’s because of the teammates.
I have been unbelievably fortunate to play with some outstanding players, but the friendships that I have made with all players is what has made me want to continue. Although no decision has been 100 per cent made, my playing career is coming to an end and to all those players that I have shared the field with I can only say thanks, I love you all.