James Stafford comes out of retirement to rejoin Wicklow

John Evans says of 35 year-old midfielder; ‘It was an obvious decision to ask him back’

James Stafford is back in the Wicklow senior football panel after his impressive club campaign in reaching the Leinster semi-final with Rathnew.

New Wicklow manager John Evans has decided that the big midfielder can be an example to the younger members of his squad, and at 35 he will return two years after announcing his intercounty retirement.

Stafford’s last game for the Garden County was in the qualifier defeat to Armagh in 2015.

After winning a fourth county title in five years, he scored 1-2 as Rathnew pulled off a huge upset in beating St Vincent’s in the Leinster quarter-final earlier this month.


However, former Roscommon and Tipperary manager, Evans says that it was more than just his performance in the win over the Dublin champions that has impressed him.

"The Rathnew lads are coming back in after some extra time off and yeah he is coming back in," the Kerry native told The Irish Times. "He's one player I seen in Wicklow that's improved in every game. And I think there's a lot more in him still. I seen him in the Wicklow championship and in the Leinster championship and the thing about him was that he was getting better and better with more games, so it was an obvious decision to ask him back. And he's giving it a go.

“He’s got great experience and he’ll be an example for a lot of the younger lads in the panel. An example for commitment, because if there is one thing James Stafford brings that is commitment, and his skills of course too.”

Stafford had been an integral part of the Wicklow team for over a decade. He wore the number eight jersey when the county won their first match in Croke Park, against Kildare in 2008.

That was under Mick O’Dwyer’s tenure, as were the county’s three qualifier wins against Fermanagh, Cavan and Down in 2009.

Meanwhile a representative of the Wicklow county board has said they are nearing a full resolution to the departure of the Éire Óg contingent from the intercounty squad last month. That is after they were fixed to play vital matches in both the football and hurling county championships within 24 hours of each other.

Guarantees have been sought by the players and met, and already a number of Éire Óg players are back in the panel. Although Darren Hayden is not one of those. It is hoped he will rejoin the current squad in the coming weeks.

“I’m leaving them to sort it out themselves, I’ll leave the politics to the politicians, namely in the GAA that is the county board,” explained Evans. “They are resolving it and have come up with some agreed policies. Some of the Éire Óg lads are in, others not yet.

“There were a lot of lads a bit overrated maybe and dictating policies the last few years, but we have a fresh new panel in this year and a lot of work to do.”

Eamon Donoghue

Eamon Donoghue

Eamon Donoghue is a former Irish Times journalist