Tyrone and Dooher laid down a big marker last weekend


I played a county championship game at the weekend for West Kerry, writes Darragh Ó Sé.We got tanked by Crokes. If I had any doubts about my decision to retire from the intercounty game, they were gone last Sunday night

THIS IS the first World Cup since 1994 that I haven’t experienced as an intercounty footballer. It’s funny being able to pay so much attention.

Back in 1994 my head was full of the green and gold. I remember that summer training away and hardly minding the World Cup at all. The stakes were high for us. Back in the day if you got knocked out of the championship you stayed out. Then you watched it on the bar stool like everybody else.

I remember the Italian game in Giants Stadium though and that Maradona came back. It was a dull World Cup generally. Maradona got done for drug use. The rest is a blur.

Four years later I recall going into Tatler Jacks in Killarney after a county championship game for West Kerry and watching Zidane score his two goals in Paris. Time passes quick.

Four years later again I remember we were playing Cork later in the same day that Ireland went to penalties with Spain in Korea. I was captain that summer. We played Cork in a replay on the day of the penalty shoot-out with Spain. I don’t know if it was focus or what but I didn’t even look at the game that morning as we were playing in the afternoon. We drew with Cork (as usual). Tick Tick Tick.

There was a time when people used to worry about how World Cups would impact on the GAA. They haven’t really impacted at all except as a way of measuring out your career. Even in the days of the ban the influence was mainly harmless. On the great Mitchel’s team of the ’60s for instance Niall Sheehy who took the kicks was known as Eusebio.

Not many of today’s intercounty players will remember playing as far back as 1994. Looking at the games we had at the weekend I was delighted to see the likes of Brian Dooher and (the week before) Eamon O’Hara coming out and giving fine performances. The first day this summer when I saw Dooher against Antrim, he looked old, as old as I often feel. I thought maybe he’d made the wrong decision playing this year. I saw him again on Saturday against Down. He made the right decision.

To be fair to Tyrone they laid down a marker last weekend. They will be around for the summer. Their big guys are playing well. Conor Gormley came back in and did a job. The two McMahons are playing good football and so is Seán Cavanagh. To top it all off Dooher is flying.

Dooher is a dangerous animal this year. He knows that Mickey Harte is clever in how he will use him, so Dooher can spend whatever he has in his pocket and then get pulled ashore. There’s no lack of glory in that. The same with watching O’Hara. I enjoyed him the last day, I liked imagining what he is putting himself through.

It’s a strange time of life to be involved in big games. When I was just at the end of my career I found myself thinking to myself that there was no pressure on me. Not like there was in those years when I was 25 to 30. When I was young, I was fit and healthy and people expected lots from me. When you get older the expectations aren’t so great. It’s a novelty that you’re getting around at all! People make allowances. It’s hard to push on sometimes like that.

They are right to make allowances though! I know myself from playing at that age that the following day every part of the body will be aching. Pure pain. It’s a perverse thing. You walk and every ache and pain reminds you of the ball you shouldn’t have won the day before. It’s a nice way to be satisfaction-wise.

When I walked away from the intercounty game lots of people said I should stay or at least take a little break and come back. Did I want to? I did and I didn’t. I thought about it alright. A lot of people said I could play a role.

The management would have used me the same way the lads are being used. I just felt that for the contribution I was going to make that the effort I would need wasn’t worth it.

From the ages of 30, 31 and onwards you go out at training for the kick around and you have to do your own mini warm-up before you can go near a ball. And you are looking at young fellas coming out and kicking ball over from 40 yards without warming up at all. I’m looking and saying to myself if I did that my leg would finish up over the bar.

Anyway I played a county championship game at the weekend for West Kerry. We got tanked by the Crokes. If I had any lingering doubts about my decision, they were gone last Sunday night,

The likes of Dooher and O’Hara and indeed Anthony Rainbow put themselves through so much to keep themselves in that sort of shape. It’s amazing. Being on the field of play with 20,000 looking at you is the easier part. It’s the hard miles away from everyone that hurt. I couldn’t imagine at training on Monday that Brian Dooher was as lively as he was in Casement Park on Saturday. It’s impossible.

My only regret in that regard with Kerry was that as a county we didn’t get more out of a player like Maurice Fitz. If we had managed him better coming on in cameo roles like that we would have got more. The game is changing. It’s no stigma to be a sub now. A different set of rules. Guys come on and go off again.

Look at Mickey Harte and the brilliant way he used Peter Canavan. Being a sub didn’t diminish Canavan’s responsibility.

It creeps up on you the age issue. You realise one day at training that you are making new friends with the fellas who are always at the back of the pack. You develop little tricks.

You’re gone in the sprints just before the whistle blows and not just after it. You always find out how many sprints you have to do so you can parcel out the effort! And what’s coming after?

It comes into every aspect of your life. You come home from training and you are picking up your little girl and she seems a lot heavier than she was the day before.

You go for a few pints. As a young fella you did that and it never bothered you. Now you go and you feel bad for two or three days after it. And you are looking at the young fellas to see if there is a bother on them. Nope!

You get older and you are more conscious of how your body is and how you are feeling anyway. Being a player just makes that more intense. Food is crucial. You have to eat well and at the right times. I martyred myself to a sweet tooth. You look at the lads still going strong and wonder if they are doing everything right or do they have their weaknesses.

I found with all the advice, etc, that when you get late in your career you know what you have to do and eat and drink yourself anyway. If you are training at seven you have your dinner a little later in the day. Water becomes a huge part of your life. Two or three litres on board during the day. Huge difference.

We’ve lost a few faces in Kerry this summer but in Tyrone if they keep getting it out of Brian Dooher, the experience he brings will be a massive boost. Tyrone will continue to be afloat above almost all other teams. Experience gives you that.

They are different. When Kerry win All-Irelands they shuffle things up with new faces. A Tommy Walsh. A Donaghy. Tyrone stick with the guys they have and just get the maximum out of them.

Dooher justifies that approach. He wants nothing handy. He goes for everything hard. He’s a nightmare to play against, getting around, winning ball he shouldn’t win, taking tackles, dispossessing fellas. They have certain guys within the game plan who for want of a better word are mavericks. They are let away to do their own thing. Seán Cavanagh is one. Dooher another

That’s what makes winners though. The difference. The desire. Look at Henry Shefflin who has achieved so much. If he retired tomorrow he would go down as one of the greats. In trying to stay ahead of the posse though he keeps improving, keeps making himself part of it. He knows that when he finishes there will be an emptiness there and he won’t know the magical hour and half you get after a great win. The satisfaction.

The idea of not playing anymore? For me there were guys who had gone before me and were better than I ever would be, guys like Séamus Moynihan and Maurice Fitz. I thought the world would stop spinning when they went but Kerry went on and won a few more All-Irelands. That helps you get over it very quick.

The season bursts into life, it’s another World Cup year. A few months on and you’re the only one even thinking about the old fellas and who’s playing and who isn’t and how they must ache!