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Trips away, loyalty and setbacks: An inside look at the careers of 6 retiring Mayo greats

The recent spate of retirements in Mayo has an end of an era feel to it.

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LIKE THE REST of us, inter-county players are creatures of habit.

Often times a new member of a squad will arrive into the dressing room for the first time, plonk himself down in a seat and remain in that spot for the remainder of his days on the panel.

The same applies on the team bus.

Everyone approaches game day differently. Some players tend to have a chat or a laugh on the bus journey to keep their minds relaxed. Others prefer to get pumped up by listening to music or sit silently with their own thoughts.

In the back two seats of the Mayo bus on away days, you’d generally find Chris Barrett and Seamie O’Shea.

They liked to keep quiet and focused in the build-up to matches, but if there was a joke being cracked they’d happily join in on the action. 

Keith Higgins could also be found in the second or third row from the back, where the conversations were usually far from serious. 

Further up and sitting alongside one another were Tom Parsons and David Clarke — two very different characters. Parsons would normally be full of chat, but he enjoyed the quiet space beside the veteran netminder on the way up to the capital to prepare mentally for the battle ahead.

Donal Vaughan’s spot was up near the front, in the seats that faced one another with a table in between. He’d be tucked in alongside Andy Moran, Colm Boyle and masseuse Joe Dawson. On the occasions Mayo travelled up to Dublin the day before big games, soccer was usually the main topic of conversation between that crew.

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When Mayo eventually get back on the road for 2021, the team bus will have six vacant seats for the first time in years. They’ll be without half a dozen men who became central figures in the Westerners’ sustained challenge for All-Irelands over the last decade.

On 3 January, Vaughan confirmed his retirement after making 117 appearances at senior level since 2009.

37-year-old Clarke, who played in 133 competitive games after being first called up as a schoolboy in 2001, followed the next day. Then came the announcements of Tom Parsons and Seamie O’Shea, with 83 and 96 appearances logged respectively.

Nine days later, it was Chris Barrett’s turn to pack it in after 85 league and championship games. On 23 January, Keith Higgins announced his departure following 16 seasons of senior inter-county football.

He made a whopping 256 appearances between the county’s footballers and hurlers, a figure unlikely to ever be topped.

“He’s not too far behind Andy [Moran] for the overall football appearances and when you put all his hurling appearances in with it as well, it’s absolutely incredible,” former Mayo defender David Drake tells The42.

He’ll rejoin the hurling squad this year and add a few more games to that tally before his time is up. 

Of the side that started the 2017 All-Ireland final, seven have now retired when you include Moran who packed it in at the end of 2019.

the-mayo-team-before-the-game The Mayo team before the 2017 All-Ireland final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It’s a state of flux only comparable to the great Kilkenny hurling team that lost five stars to retirement in the space of a fortnight in 2014. And to the Cork football squad that saw six All-Ireland winners hang up their boots at the end of 2013, while they also lost Ciaran Sheehan to the AFL.

The retirements have not come as a shock. Vaughan and O’Shea battled injury throughout 2020 and failed to make the matchday panel for December’s All-Ireland final loss to Dublin. Parsons and Higgins weren’t summoned from the bench against Dublin. 

“When a game is in the balance and a manager looks up and casts his eye past you when he’s looking for reinforcements, it leaves you under no illusion as to where you stand in the pecking order,” says ex-Mayo forward John Casey.

Barrett and Clarke were the only pair of the six to start a championship game in 2020. Both were at the top of their games right up until the end, as evidenced by their All-Star nominations last month. 

Despite the reduced game-time the majority of the retiring crew saw in 2020, their loss will be greatly felt in the dressing room and on the training field. It’s perhaps not something that can be fully appreciated from outside the camp. 

The six men typified the unquenchable Mayo spirit, the extraordinary levels of commitment and resilience to keep coming back year after year.

“It’s sad to see all them fellas go really,” says Casey. “The shift in dynamic is going to be huge.

“If you were sitting in a dressing room before a big game and you’re looking for fellas who had your back, and you see Vaughan, Clarke, Parsons, Seamie O’Shea, Higgins and Barrett not there anymore. You’d think, ‘Who’s going to get my back here?’”

As a man who soldiered alongside them for six seasons, Drake believes the retirements will leave a huge hole behind. He recalls the void Barry Moran left behind after stepping away in 2018.

“When he left you noticed him gone, so to have six big personalities leaving it’s going to leave a massive gap there for other guys to step up and fill.

“Not that they’re all really vocal people, but they’re really big personas. In terms of driving standards at training, especially for younger lads coming in, just to watch and mimic what they do.

“How they train, how they carry themselves, how professional they are. It makes it easier for a manager when he doesn’t need to tell lads how to act. They just come in and follow suit. 

“When I joined the squad in 2014 that was basically it. I wasn’t told how to train, I just watched guys how to train and how they operated. It’s monkey see monkey do, you just fall into it.

“Some of them played a lot of minutes last year, others didn’t. But the impact will be seen more in the dressing room and at training than anything else. Six really intelligent footballers too so in terms of input for video analysis sessions and stuff like that it’s going to be a big loss.”

Casey believes the six “were simply not interested in making up numbers or making training competitive. They wanted to be on the field on matchday and it was as simple as that. They gave us a whole pile really. Different dressing room now, time for a lot of fellas to step up.”

*******

tom-parsons Tom Parsons at GPA workshop in 2018. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

‘Vaughan’s very words were: ‘That fucking Tom is an awful messer”

They had plenty of fun along the way too. 

Tom Parsons was the prankster of the group and really came into his own on trips away.

There was one notorious joke he used to frequently pull at airports, whether Mayo were flying off to face New York or London, or heading away on a team holiday.

“We would always have had our boarding passes printed for us by the county board secretary as we were being checked in as a group,” Drake explains.

“Tom used to stand beside one of the newer squad members who wasn’t accustomed to how things worked when we travelled away. As we would be about to go and check in our bags, he’d turn to one of us and say, ‘Jesus, I nearly forgot to print my boarding pass this morning before I left. Imagine, I’d be killed!’

“He’d say it loud enough so that his victim would hear which would make them start panicking like mad, terrified they’d screwed up.”

One year they went on a team holiday to South Africa. While on a safari, Parsons hopped off the bus, grabbed a stick and snuck over to the far side of the vehicle.

The unaware county board chairman had his hand hanging out the window. Parsons gently brushed the stick up his arm pretending it was a snake. His unsuspecting victim got a fright and let a roar before realising it was Parsons, much to the amusement of the players on the bus. 

“He was that kind of guy that loves the craic. He knew that his role wasn’t just to play football, it was to build the atmosphere around the place and gather guys around him. That shows his leadership in a way.

“He’s an absolute joker which a lot of people probably wouldn’t have seen. Just a silly individual. He’d be going around doing the stupidest of things, trying to pull pranks on lads.”

The night of Parsons’ wedding in December 2017, a motley crew of his friends from Charlestown and Mayo players were still going strong into the early hours of the morning. 

Casey, a close friend and clubmate of Parsons, was in the middle of the action.

He recalls, “It was a lovely mixture of our club Charlestown and all the Mayo lads. We had awful craic. I distinctly remember chatting to Andy Moran and Donal Vaughan.

“Tom was up doing something, I can’t remember what it was, and Vaughan’s very words were, ‘That fucking Tom is an awful messer.’ 

“I said, ‘Jesus he doesn’t really let us see as much.’ Tom would have to play it cute around the club, you see. The Mayo boys would get him in behind closed doors.”

“When you get him on his own,” Vaughan quipped, “He’s the biggest fucking blackguard in our dressing room.”

tom-parsons Tom Parsons with a head injury during a 2016 clash against Dublin. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

There were a few nicknames in the squad too, with Vaughan known as ‘Shoe’ because of the successful footwear business he runs in Castlebar. During his college days in Sligo IT, Higgins was christened ‘Zippy’.

Many people mistakenly believe it was because of his speed. It’s actually after the children’s TV character. Back then Higgins had a tight haircut and one of his Sigerson Cup team-mates reckoned he resembled Zippy from Rainbow.

“Pretty random but the name stuck,” laughs Paul Jordan, who played club football with Higgins and lived with him for years in Sligo and Ballyhaunis. “It had nothing to do with his speed anyway. When he was younger there was a resemblance.”

Drake adds, “If a nickname suits anybody it was that in terms of his speed.”

Higgins embraced the moniker to such an extent that he dressed up as Zippy for a Halloween party in Sligo a couple of years later.

Image from iOS Keith Higgins (second from the left) in his Zippy costume during a Halloween party in Sligo IT.

Higgins and Drake soldiered among the ‘single crew’ on a few Mayo team holidays.

“I’d have hung around with him a good bit, especially on team holidays when there was a lot of people coupled up, a lot of the single lads would spend a lot of time together going off doing different things.

“We bonded a bit over that, we spent a lot of time together on nights out. He’s a really quiet lad, an absolute gentleman is all you could really say about him. Good craic, loves a laugh.

“Wouldn’t be one to be going out and overly putting himself out there, isn’t overly interested in being in the public eye a lot, he likes to do things at his own speed. A really, really good guy.”

When a gang of friends from Ballyhaunis attended some of the big games in Croke Park over the years, Higgins would often join up with them for a night out in Dublin.

“That’s the sort of guy he is, just a normal guy,” says Ballyhaunis manager Jordan.

“There’s no airs and graces with Keith at all. He’s very driven when he’s playing football but off the field he’s very laid back and easy going.”

Jordan witnessed that laid back nature first hand shortly before he played in his second All-Ireland senior final. A big Roy Keane fan, Higgins read in the Cork man’s autobiography that he used to have the occasional pizza the night before games and felt it did him no harm. 

“That was Keith’s excuse,” smiles Jordan. “In the early days it didn’t bother him having the odd takeaway during the inter-county season. 

“On the Friday night before the 2012 All-Ireland final against Donegal, he sent me down to the chipper to collect his pizza and chips as he didn’t want to be seen!”

*******

aidan-oshea-and-chris-barrett-celebrate-after-the-game Aidan O'Shea and Chris Barrett celebrate after a Super 8s win over Donegal in 2019. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

‘To do pretty much 13 seasons coming down from Dublin is absolutely incredible stuff’

For the majority of their Mayo careers, Barrett, O’Shea and Parsons all commuted back and forth from Dublin to line out with their county. In the first year he was recalled by James Horan, Parsons travelled back from Cardiff on a weekly basis.

“It typified him as a person the commitment he was willing to put in. Chrissy and Seamie were the same,” says Drake. 

They were part of a group based in the capital that left the Lucan Spa Hotel on a Tuesday night in a minibus around 4.15pm and returned home at 1am or later.

“They would have worked a lot of flexi-hours so they’d have got off work early, then they’d go in early the next morning to make up them hours. What they were putting in, to do pretty much 13 seasons of that coming down from Dublin is absolutely incredible stuff.”

On a couple of occasions, the Mayo-based players decamped to Dublin for a session. It was an eye-opening experience.

“After all those training sessions we turned around and said, ‘I don’t know how them boys do it.’ It was ridiculous commitment.”

When Parsons moved to Dublin in 2014, Casey was fearful he’d get snapped up by a local team with an offer he couldn’t refuse. But the midfielder remained loyal to Charlestown, hardly a surprise given he flew back nine weekends in-a-row to help them seal an immediate return to the Mayo senior ranks in 2011.

As well as his Mayo commitments, O’Shea remains a key part of the Breaffy side that continue to challenge for Mayo SFC honours. Despite losing five All-Ireland finals and four county finals since 2012, he continues to show extraordinary dedication in making the cross-country trip home to represent his club.

seamus-oshea-dejected-at-the-final-whistle Seamus O’Shea after Breaffy lost the 2020 Mayo SFC final. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Barrett, a project manager, has been living in Dublin since 2010. As well as regularly returning to play with Mayo, he remained part of the Belmullet set-up in the club championship. 

After a three-hour spin to county training in Castlebar on a Friday night, it would take Barrett another hour and ten minutes on bad roads to make it back to his family home. When Mayo trained in Ballyhaunis, it would take him one hour and 45 minutes to get back to Belmullet. He’d have been back in Dublin in two hours. 

Barrett’s wife recently gave birth to their first child and last season he transferred to Dublin SFC side Clontarf, where they live. 

“He was sorely missed last year but we understand the situation too,” says Belmullet chairman Pat Cowman. “A family with a new baby and the commitment of going up and down to Dublin and trying to play county. To juggle it all is very hard and we appreciated that. 

“Travelling down to Mayo, not getting home until 1am and trying to forge a career in life as well. The commitment levels for county players are second to none and then add [playing with] Belmullet to that.”

Two years before he left, in 2018, he helped the club seal a return to senior ranks after they lifted the Mayo IFC crown. 

“Commitment could never be questioned with Chrissy and he gave the club his all. His loss would have been felt last year in a playing aspect. Just an all out excellent player and lad.

“A gentleman. We wish him so well in life going forward with his new family.”

One one occasion in recent years, Barrett made the eight-hour round-trip home just to take a session with Belmullet’s U16s.

james-odonoghue-has-his-attempt-blocked-by-keith-higgins Higgins and James O'Donoghue had an epic duel in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final and replay. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Clarke and Higgins remain heavily involved in their clubs. Higgins served as selector with the Ballyhaunis minors and U21s in recent years. When there were medals to be handed out or an underage team that needed a talk before a big game, he obliged without any fuss.

The two-time All-Star goalkeeper is currently part of the Ballina Stephenites minor management team, having worked with the club’s U21s in the past.

Tubbercurry-based Garda Clarke often found it difficult to swap shifts to get off for Mayo training sessions and games over the years. He has a young family and recently moved into a new house. Still, whenever Ballina needed bodies to sell a few tickets on the dark winter nights, Clarke was happy to offer his assistance.

The club’s Oifigeach na Gaeilge Tom Maughan says, “Despite all he had going on around him, David was the first out there at night in the worst of the weather in October and November.

“He’s brilliant at making himself available for a lot of stuff like that where others would be giving flimsy excuses for not going out. David was always willing to roll up the sleeves.”

 *******

donal-vaughan-points-at-john-small-following-a-challenge-that-resulted-in-a-red-card Vaughan gets sent off in the 2017 All-Ireland final after striking John Small. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

‘We all knew that he didn’t go out to get intentionally sent off and he had a lot of support from his team-mates’

It takes serious mettle to overcome all the setbacks Mayo have endured over the years. 

Shipping a red card against Dublin in the 2017 All-Ireland final can’t have been easy for Vaughan. Some supporters pointed the finger of blame at the Cork-born defender, but his team-mates rallied around him.

“In terms of bouncebackability, I don’t know why it was but we just seemed able not to get over it very easily, but we seemed able to take it, move on and go again,” Drake says.

“Obviously it was something that would have definitely disappointed him but he got a lot of support from all the lads around him. We all knew that he didn’t go out to get intentionally sent off and he had a lot of support from his team-mates.

“He put it behind him and went on to have another good year the year after, that’s all you can really ask for from anybody.”

Vaughan started every All-Ireland final and semi-final for Mayo from 2011-19, which says everything about his consistency.

“He completely maximised himself as a footballer. When he looks back on his career he can be really proud that he left no stone unturned. He was one of those guys who set the standard in terms of how you look after yourself away from training as well as in training.

“He’d be there trying to make you better too. It was a definite trend within the team, boys were not totally selfish. Obviously everyone wanted to start but boys wanted to make the person beside them better too.”

Despite competing for the same position as each other, Drake says Vaughan “would have been a really good guy to drop you a text if you didn’t play, or if you weren’t playing well he’d check in and see how you’re getting on.”

When Clarke was a youngster, the three main teachers in his primary school were all former goalkeepers. It undoubtedly helped the development of his game when he took up the position around the age of 10.

His Mayo career was a long and winding road. He suffered Gilmore’s groin, a serious hamstring injury, a torn ACL and PCL over the years. Since Pat Holmes first called him into the set-up in 2001, 14 goalkeepers other than Clarke played competitive games for Mayo.

In 2005, four years after his first call-up, he made his Mayo debut. The same year, he watched from the bench as John Healy manned the goals for Ballina’s All-Ireland triumph on St Patrick’s Day.

He didn’t win a provincial medal on the field of play until 2012. Ever since James Horan’s first tenure, Clarke and Robbie Hennelly have engaged in a tug of war for the number one jersey.

At the climax of an excellent season for which he was rewarded with an All-Star, Clarke was dropped for the 2016 All-Ireland final replay. Yet it was merely another setback for him to overcome. It would have been easy for him to drop the head, but he remained a positive presence in the group.

“Put it this way, Robbie and Clarkey would have been the first two to know,” recalls Drake.

robert-hennelly-and-david-clarke Hennelly and Clare pushed one another hard for the number one jersey. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“If I was to talk to Clarkey, I wouldn’t have known he was dropped. He’s that sort of person, all he’s thinking about is, ‘Right, I’ve been dropped. It’s not what I want but how can I now do what I need to to make sure the team gets over the line.’ 

“That takes an awful lot of courage to turn around to do that. The complete absence of an ego is all that is. I’d say all Clarkey was thinking in that instance was to put his disappointment to one side and help Robbie.

“You can be sure in that game, before the game Clarkey was focused on making sure Robbie was okay and ready to go. It showed the respect he had for him and the respect he had for the team, and I suppose his competitive nature.”

After the final whistle crowned Dublin champions again, Mayo boss Stephen Rochford sought out Clarke on the field and offered him a handshake. Clarke immediately obliged. No hard feelings.

“An incredible person,” says Drake. “He’s had his obvious setbacks. Not starting big games, coming back from serious injuries. He just kept coming back. He’s a guy that doesn’t care for individual plaudits, it’s all about how he can improve to help the team.

“Wants to start because he knows he can help the team but it was always about making himself as good as he can to benefit the team. It’s been said before, but he’s the first in and last out of training. Himself and Robbie used to train like dogs, the two of them. It kind of showed in their game how they were able to push each other to different levels.

“You talk about a guy who walks into a dressing room and commands attention, it’s him. Doesn’t talk very often but when he does everybody listens. A very intelligent guy, will only speak when things have to be said. He always had a good input in terms of tactics, kick-outs or defensive structure.”

O’Shea’s younger brother Aidan grabbed much of the limelight growing up and was earmarked as a future star. Without the same natural talent, though a superb athlete, Seamie had to take the longer route to the top and worked hard for everything he achieved. 

Inside the Mayo camp, they viewed him as their unsung hero. Always happy to do the donkey work, often tasked with taking out the star midfielder on the opposition team.

“He mightn’t have always got the plaudits that Aido got but he was so, so important to our team,” says Drake.

“In terms of the engine room around midfield, he used to go a lot of covering work for us. He was hugely important to our team.

“Two very different personalities but Seamie was equally as important to us as Aido was, Lee [Keegan] was or anybody. He was a huge player, when we think back to all of our really good performances, Seamie was at the centre of them.”

O’Shea and Barrett often struggled with injury but when the big games came, they managed to dig deep and perform at a high level on the back of very little training.

“The two boys could be out injured for three or four weeks and they could land back in and straight away [play well]. I’ve never seen boys like them just to be able to turn it on and perform. Form nearly didn’t matter to them.

“They both struggled with injuries over their career. It probably comes down to how intelligent they were as footballers.”

Drake describes Barrett as “a hardy, hardy individual. In terms of mental toughness, he’s a guy you’d want beside you. In terms of putting his body on the line for the team he’d never let you down in that regard.”

Higgins admitted last week he found the big defeats hard to digest, but he never lost faith in the cause.

“It would take him a while to get over these things, but he always did and he always came back the following year,” says Jordan.

No-one persevered more than Parsons. The success arrived early. By the age of 20, he had won a senior county medal with Charlestown, made his debut for Mayo and represented Ireland in the International Rules trip to Australia.

kade-simpson-tackles-tom-parsons Parsons played in the 2008 International Rules series under manager Sean Boylan. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The next year he skippered Mayo to the Connacht U21 crown before Horan deemed him surplus to requirements in the senior set-up. 

Casey calls that decision “horrendous”.

“Tom was not in a happy place after that, not at all. He was shook. He was devoid of confidence and it took him a very long time to get over it.

“I just knew he was badly affected by that. Real badly, badly scarred. It wrangled me a little bit that he got let go.”

He eventually earned a recall but suffered a punctured lung in his first league game back against Kildare. However once he recovered, Parsons quickly became a key figure in Mayo’s engine room. Having missed out on All-Ireland finals in 2012 and 2013, he earned All-Star nominations in 2015 and 2017 and started the narrow championship defeats to Dublin both seasons.

“He went back into the Mayo set-up and you could tell straight away he was a happier and more confident person. 

“He was walking around with his shoulders back. I knew he wasn’t going to let a second chance go by. He was going to do whatever it took. He was an absolute star in ’15, ’16 and ’17. He just turned it around and that’s Tom for you in a nutshell.”

His catastrophic knee injury that occurred against Galway in 2018 would have finished most careers. He suffered a dislocated knee, ruptured three ligaments and tore the fourth, tore his calf and hamstring. It caused him to miss work for six months and county football for 15 months. 

“Tom nearly lost his leg that day. The blood stopped going to it. Our brilliant medical team by all accounts saved his leg. 

“To play football again wasn’t a question, it was will he be able to walk again? We were hearing Tom could have to get his leg amputated, we were all sick to the pit of our stomach. I’m getting shivers down my spine even thinking about it.

“I gymed with him a couple of times during his rehab. I nearly got sick, I’m not going to lie, above in the gym in Charlestown. He was squatting that day, bending the knee and I couldn’t look. I had to turn and look the other way when he picked up the squat bar and started bending this knee I’d seen turn backwards inside 12 months previous.

“Therein lies the dedication and resilience of Tom Parsons. He put in some effort, he did absolutely everything and anything.”

tom-parsons-receives-medical-treatment Mayo's Tom Parsons receives medical treatment after suffering a devastating knee injury in May 2018. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Drake was equally dumbfounded by how his former team-mate made it back.

“It typifies him as a person. You talk about someone who was told he might not walk again to coming back and playing. I still remember the night when he came back to play a 15-on-15 game. I remember watching him and I was just standing there in awe. How he got back to that level was incredible after how serious his injury was.” 

On his first full training session with the team, he flew into Fionn McDonagh in a six-on-six drill, accidentally breaking the young forward’s jaw. 

When he took part in a full-sided game, the real magic took place. 

“You could really see the work that he’d done. To hear him say after that he didn’t want to distract from the team, he didn’t want to be around the place too much because he didn’t want the team watching and asking, ‘When is he back?’

“That just says all you need to know about the man. It wasn’t for him about getting those little plaudits of lads going, ‘You’re doing great coming back.’ All he was focused on was making sure the team was going to benefit from him being there. Any decision he ever made on the squad was always to the benefit of the team.”

In a team huddle after the session, Andy Moran spoke and acknowledged Parsons’ achievement in making it back. In recent interviews, the GPA chairman put that session down as the highlight of his comeback, even over his return to competitive action against Dublin in the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final.

Drake recounts the moment: “I remember standing in the circle and I was thinking surely someone has to mention this.

“Then Andy said it: ‘Can we just for a second stand back and applaud what Tom Parsons has just done there.’ It was amazing. He was literally going around the middle hitting everything he could see, brave like he had no injury at all.

“Lads were just standing back going, ‘Look at this buck, this is unbelievable.’ I have to say, it was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen. A lot of people didn’t expect him to come back and it was a long, long process for him. But it just showed the type of character he is, once he puts his mind to something he’ll do everything he can to make sure he achieves it.

“He’s incredibly positive, incredibly infectious as a person. He was one of the most team [oriented] players I’ve every seen in my life. He had certain goals for himself and he always loved achieving them but I’ve never seen a guy to get such a buzz out of his team-mates doing well too.

“On the flip side then if he didn’t make a squad or 26, if he didn’t start or was dropped, he’d be the first guy on the phone texting you. He was a real people person and when you thought about him, you just knew he really cared about you. Guys really respected him for that.”

tom-parsons-arrives Parsons arrives off the Mayo team bus in what turned out to be his final season. Source: Evan Logan/INPHO

On the Thursday night before the league resumed last October, Parsons was flying it in midfield for Mayo when disaster struck at the very end of training. In contesting the last kick-out of the night, he fell awkwardly and broke a bone in his foot.

“In typical Tom resilience he was back on the bench for the Connacht final,” says Casey. 

“He’s just remarkable like that. His dedication to it, I know every county player is dedicated but what this guy has been through from setbacks and rejection way back when he got dropped, to fighting back after injury, he’s just a remarkable human being.”

When he hurt his foot in October, Casey quizzed Parsons: “Is it your good leg or bad leg?”

“I hurt the good leg,” Parsons responded before quickly correcting himself. “Fuck off, my two legs are perfect. My knee is 100%.”

“That’s the way he goes,” adds Casey.

“There were tears in a lot of houses around Charlestown when the official announcement came. It’s over to the next chapter.”

So the book closes on the inspirational Mayo careers of Tom Parsons, Seamus O’Shea, Chris Barrett, Keith Higgins, David Clarke and Donal Vaughan, who all retire without that elusive All-Ireland medal.

There are no guarantees in life, and there is no certainty in inter-county football, but if there is one inalienable truth to be extracted from their respective journeys it is this: they left everything out there.

You can’t ask for any more than that.

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