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7 retirements over 6 days - change hits home in Kerry and Mayo football ranks ahead of new season

Long-serving players in both squads have called time on their inter-county careers.

THE SEQUENCE STARTED on New Years Day and only six days into 2021, we’ve already reached seven retirements across the two squads.

Uncertainty may hang over the start of this year’s inter-county action, collective training suspended yesterday for at least the month of January, but what is clear is that the theme of change is dominant in Kerry and Mayo.

Two of the top tier Gaelic football counties are seeing shifts in their personnel. Not all are celebrated figures, or saw regular gametime in the season that drew to a close over a fortnight ago, but all have given extensive service.

Jonathan Lyne started it off last Friday evening and Donal Vaughan followed him with his announcement on Sunday afternoon. Monday was a day for goalkeeping decisions with David Clarke bowing out at midday and Brian Kelly departing later that afternoon. Yesterday Tom Parsons revealed his retirement before this morning word filtered through that Shane Enright and Seamus O’Shea were opting to move on.

brian-kelly-and-mark-griffin-with-kieran-hughes Brian Kelly in action against Monaghan in the 2018 Super 8s. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Mayo’s exits have seemed relentless with four in as many days. It’s redolent of the shift in the Kilkenny hurlers at the end of 2014, five stalwarts for Brian Cody retired in the space of two weeks.

It seemed reasonable to figure that there would be a smaller number of GAA inter-county retirements this winter given how short the off-season period was. The theory went that after being on the road for so long in 2020, why not give it another go with a new season fast coming into view?

But what the Kerry and Mayo developments reinforce is that the same reasons for bowing out remain applicable, even in a volatile pandemic-enforced situation. Injury problems, miles on the clock, family commitments, travel requirements and lack of game time. All factors that influence the decision to bow out. There may have been a mid-summer break in 2020 yet given the year was still such a mental drain on all sectors of society, how could the inter-county group be different? 

When the championship did commence, those players were largely rooted to the bench. Kerry’s season was short and not sweet with none of the recent retirees featuring during November’s loss to Cork. O’Shea and Vaughan had seasons disrupted by injury as they didn’t make the 26-man squad for December’s end defeat to Dublin, while Parsons was not introduced on the day. Clarke was the exception, a regular between the posts for Mayo, and still capable of brilliant shot-stopping. After two decades though, it was natural that his involvement would halt.

michael-quinlivan-with-david-clarke David Clarke saves from Michael Quinlivan in this year's All-Ireland semi-final. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The striking difference is that one trio depart with senior Celtic Crosses while another quartet do not have that accolade.

Kerry’s figures may not be household names but they were all immersed in the action for the county’s last senior success. Kelly started in goal and kept a clean sheet for that 2014 final win over Donegal while Enright was drafted in for defensive duties late on. Lyne was an unused substitute but he had swept over two fine points in extra-time of that pulsating semi-final replay over Mayo, including the last score of the game.

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jonahtan-lyne-celebrates-scoring-a-late-free Jonathan Lyne celebrates scoring a late point for Kerry against Mayo. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ever since Kerry have been trying to scale those heights again. Enright and Lyne started the 2015 All-Ireland final loss, Kelly and Enright played in the 2016 semi-final defeat, all three featured from the off in the 2017 semi-final replay setback against Mayo. Chances became scarcer then but Lyne was brought on during the 2019 drawn final.

Mayo’s departing group have been more central to their cause. Consider the All-Ireland final defeats. Clarke and Vaughan started in 2012, O’Shea and Vaughan started in 2013. Across the three final appearances in 2016 and 2017, the quartet began them all except for Clarke starting the ’16 replay on the bench, then coming on when Robert Hennelly was shown a black card.

They have a large volume of big game appearances behind them, rebounded from a relentless run of tough defeats and overcame tougher injuries, none more so than the herculean feat of Parsons to get himself back playing after that horrific leg injury sustained in May 2018 in Castlebar.

tom-parsons-gives-the-thumbs-up Tom Parsons was forced in the 2018 opener against Galway. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

30 August 2014 could be pinpointed as a standout game where the careers of the two groups intersected with six of the seven – Clarke the odd one out – playing on that epic evening in the Gaelic Grounds which determined Kerry’s progression in the All-Ireland semi-final replay.

They may not be the last figures to leave the centre stage, other established long-serving names in the Kerry and Mayo ranks could join them.

In all of this change, the spectre of Dublin looms large. Their dominance has become more pronounced, the gap has widened as Kerry’s players chased a second medal to go with that 2014 honour and Mayo’s group chased the breakthrough to sate their appetite.

Those prizes eluded them and there was a sense of inevitability that the last two beaten All-Ireland finalists would be shuffling their packs before 2021.

Dublin are still the benchmark, Kerry and Mayo will try to come in a different form when they cross paths again.
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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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