Decorated veterans still answering the call to arms from their clubs
Former inter-county stars Kevin Tucker, Alan Kerins, John Paul Mone and Dermot Earley all in action this weekend
Goalkeeper Liam Donoghue and Alan Kerins celebrate Clarinbridge’s All-Ireland club hurling final victory over O’Loughlin Gaels at Croke Park in 2011. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Winter falls and the club championships are the collar we turn up against the cold. Huddle up for warmth a few more weeks and stave off the season’s end a little while longer. It’s what we do every year; the comfort of routine and all that. And we’re just the hangers-on.
Trace a finger across the team lists in the 15 county finals – football and hurling – this weekend and you’ll find names of players whose careers are hitting winter in every sense.
Monday’s papers all carried pictures of Shane Curran’s victory roll after St Brigid’s gathered up a fourth successive Roscommon county title, the sort of heels-over-head effort that in an ordinary 42-year-old would be likely to preface a call to the chiropractor on the way home. Of course it has long been established that Curran is anything but your ordinary 42-year-old.
Last Sunday’s county final came a whopping 23 years after his first. Back in 1990, he was a flame-haired teenager playing in the forwards for Castlerea St Kevins and not getting a kick as Clan na Gael summarily picked off their seventh title of a famous eight-in-a-row.
To be still fishing out the gloves and tracksuit bottoms nearly a quarter of a century later takes a special brand of madness.
Yet he’s not unique. One of a kind in most respects but far from the only one ‘keeping on keeping on’ in this one.
In Thurles tomorrow, Nenagh Éire Óg’s Kevin Tucker will line out for his fourth Tipp county final 20 years to the weekend after his first. He was a minor then and nicked a point at corner-forward in a thriller against Toomevara.
Nenagh lost out by just a point in the end but were back two years later for what still stands as their only county title.
As Tucker, now a 38-year-old midfielder, said in these pages yesterday: “If you’d told me back then that 18 years later I’d still be waiting for my second medal I don’t think I’d have believed you.”
Right across the county on all points of the map, old soldiers are still sharpening their bayonets and going over the top. In Sligo, Eamon O’Hara will tog out for his tenth county final with Tourlestrane having played in his first away back in 1994.
In Galway, 36-year-old Alan Kerins is still the steadying influence in the Salthill-Knocknacarra forward line when they take on Corofin in the county football final. It’s 16 years since he appeared at corner-forward for Clarinbridge in his first hurling final.
That same gap is bridged by former Monaghan defender John Paul Mone. Brother of All Star nominee Dessie, Mone didn’t actually play for Clontibret in the 1997 county final but did feature in their Ulster Club Championship defeat to Errigal Ciarán a couple of weeks later. Since then Clontibret have gone on to feature in seven more county finals and he’s picked up six medals along the way. Tomorrow they play Scotstown, aiming for number seven.
In Newbridge, Dermot Earley will likely feature at some stage for Sarsfields in the Kildare final although it’s highly unlikely that he’ll have the full hour in him. Another who played in his first county final 16 years ago, the ravages of time and tear have had their say. He made an appearance in the semi-final win over Naas though and will surely raise a roar at some stage in St Conleth’s Park tomorrow.
“Realistically, I have been back training properly with them for five weeks or so,” he says. “I kept my fitness but there is a big difference between spinning on a bike and going out on a pitch. Look, if they ask me to start I will start and play for as long as I can but probably realistically I will come on at some stage and hopefully make an impact.”
All these years and all these miles later, he’s just trying to make a mark like all the rest of them. The pipe and slippers must surely have seemed attractive at some point, yet he swears that nobody has ever told him it’s time to pull stumps.
“No. Family maybe. You’d have aunties and uncles saying, ‘Would you give up that football’. But it’s easier said than done. I said I’d go back and I wasn’t putting any pressure on myself but it is only when you get back and start feeling good that you know.
“It’s myself, I said I’d play. The club didn’t pressure me, friends didn’t – they left it to me. You’d be conscious you wouldn’t be playing the way you did a few years ago but you are still able to add something to the team. Just by being there it helps as well.”
Truth be told, they’d never be anywhere else.