James Crombie/INPHO
All over
Anthony Nash: How do you know when it is time to walk away?
Calling it a day is a tough decision for any player.

MY PLAYING CAREER came to an end last week. South Liberties were beaten by an awesome Na Piarsaigh team in the Limerick semi-final and my race was run. I told the lads on The42 GAA Weekly podcast during the week and since then, the reaction has been classic 90/10.

More often than not, that is how it goes. 90 per cent positive. 10 per cent negative.

No harm. You’ll take nine nice comments for one bad. Then there are the likes of Ronan Curran, slagging me for announcing yet another retirement. Isn’t old age supposed to be about repeating yourself anyway?

anthony-nash James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Bringing my Cork career to an end was tough going. Especially in the first year out of the bubble. As I have written previously, I often go back to a Ronan O’Gara column written the same month finished up. It was about the moment when he was working as a pundit, watching Ireland on the verge of history against the All Blacks just a few months after he retired. He felt horrible. Conflicted.

A familiar feeling. It was there, in the pit of my stomach during the 2021 All-Ireland final as Cork took on Limerick. It isn’t jealousy, when you want it instead of them. It’s envy; you want to be a part of it. I was envious of that Cork team.

I loved those players. To win Liam McCarthy alongside them would have been special.

When the tide started to turn and Limerick roared, it was suddenly another world of pain. 

That retirement was bittersweet really. The bitter was that leaving wasn’t fully on my own terms. The sweet was realising a new part of my life. More time at home, enjoying social events or friends’ weddings. And don’t get me started about golf.  

South Liberties was there to soften the fall, the same way it was there to kickstart everything way back when.

‘One club, one county,’ never fitted for me. I had two clubs, two counties. As a child, it was all about the green and white. Wearing Kanturk and supporting Limerick. South Liberties was a second club because of my family ties.

My parents are from Limerick. My cousin and five uncles all played for South Liberties. Albert, Ger, Declan, Micheál, Noel and Joseph. Idols every one of them. 

Micheál was the first guy I ever saw handpass under his arm. Declan was centre back and so stylish. Noel was a left-handed forward like me. Albert played in goals. The perfect storm for a young hero-worshipper to wreck their heads.

It didn’t matter if they were prepping for a Munster final, when we went to visit, I wanted to be out pucking around with them. We’d house full of hurleys taller than me, various treasured gifts.

anthony-nash-and-john-mcloughlin-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

That was part of the childhood dream. Then it was about Kanturk, where I grew up. Winning an intermediate club All-Ireland in 2018 with that group was one of the greatest days imaginable. Later Cork was all-consuming and a constant fire. Life is shaped around that. Six nights of training, seven nights of recovery. If something else came up it only pissed you off.

Cork hurling, 24/7. The be-all and end-all.

After finishing up, I transferred from Kanturk to South Liberties. Again, the reaction was 90/10.

My first game was against Murroe Boher in the league. Walking in the footsteps of my heroes. I remember blessing myself that day for some reason. Not out of any sense of obligation, just appreciation for what was about to happen.

When I left the field for the last time last Saturday in Kilmallock, I did the same. A hurling dream delivered. 

All over now. It’s a shame it wasn’t a fairytale farewell on county final day but we’d a successful year with a special bunch. Originally the plan was to spend one year playing and then set off at the end of 2021.

Best laid plans and all that. Gradually, I came around to the idea of one final push. We’d a WhatsApp group for four veterans, myself, Shane O’Neill, David O’Neill and Mikey Keane. ‘The last dance… again.’ One more go basically, all your energy into a last hurrah. All last year I was thinking, ‘this is it.’ All this year I knew it.

It’s not a question of the physical toll, thankfully. The real toll was mental. From the day the call came from the Cork minors, hurling took centre stage. The perception back then was that you had to do anything it took for the cause. Everything. Skip weddings, avoid holidays, no days off. 

Now? It’s all changed, changed utterly. The GAA is rife with performance coaches. We’d Gary Keegan, Caroline Currid is hailed for her work with Limerick. Their attitude is ‘people first, athletes second.’

And doesn’t it make a world of sense really? Much of life doesn’t belong anywhere near hurling, isn’t that the whole point? They don’t mix, like water and oil. The reason we ran around the garden trying to master the reverse handpass or are so excited for throw-in on a Sunday afternoon is that it is an escape from the everyday cycle.

Letting one bleed into the other is a recipe for disaster. Stressing about mortgages while playing, stressing about playing while trying to sleep. Talk about the head fried.

tj-reid-celebrates-after-the-game Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Have you ever thought about the most impressive aspect of TJ Reid? His performance for Ballyhale last weekend was sensational and the plaudits are more than deserved. Six points, four assists. All action.

How many saw him getting to this level again after the crushing last-gasp All-Ireland club loss? Injuries were mounting, he was clearly struggling and rusty at the start of the championship.

Now the 34-year-old is a hurler of the year nominee. He was given time and trust to get right, his ability is well established and most importantly, his attitude is awesome. Year on year, long campaigns with club and county and he never lets up.

Going to that well relentlessly, while dealing with all of life’s other anxieties and concerns, is extraordinary. He gets a lot of credit for his physicality. He doesn’t get nearly enough for his mentality.

When that diminishes, you know it is time to walk away. For some, the end is a coach approaching like the grim reaper and saying it is time to go. For many, the body gives in before the mind. Actually, it is a blessing to be able to bow out when the time feels right, surrounded by my family having fulfilled a lifelong ambition.

For the older generation, which I guess is my generation, it might grate to see lads on holidays during breaks in the season or enjoying a few beers post-game, but the best teams know that stuff helps rather than hinders. That is why it is important to put the person before the player. It’s win-win. It’ll lead to longer careers and better hurlers.

I’m very grateful to hurling and the GAA, it took a bit and gave me so much more. I wouldn’t be writing this without it. Thanks to everyone who helped along the way.

For the others, don’t worry. I’ll still be around hurling, I’m looking forward to the next chapter and working with the Cork U20s.

And remember it’s as easy to roar at a man on the sideline as it is to roar at the man in goal.

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