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Working in Wales, trying athletics and boxing before becoming Mayo regular

Tom Parsons has been patient before nailing down a midfield spot with Mayo.

Mayo footballer Tom Parsons will start against London on Sunday.
Mayo footballer Tom Parsons will start against London on Sunday.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

WHEN THE MAYO footballers last travelled to London, Tom Parsons was in the inter-county wilderness.

The midfielder was released from the Mayo panel a month before the 2011 clash in Ruislip and did not get the call back to the ranks until the start of the 2014 season.

Being based in Cardiff in the interim should have been an obstacle to getting noticed but Parsons didn’t allow that to happen. Work as a Civil Structural Engineer brought Parsons to the Welsh city but he was never going to depart his club Charlestown Sarsfields.

Instead he returned home religiously to play for the club that skirts the Sligo border in North Mayo, despite the fact that it was an awkward commute.

“I continued to fly home to play football with my club and in that time we won an intermediate county and Connacht title (in 2012),” outlines Parsons.

“I maintained a huge grá and motivation to come back and play with Mayo.

“The logistics was often a 12 hour travel time. A drive from Cardiff to Bristol which was an hour, (then) a flight which was two hours to Dublin.

“Quite often I had to fly to Dublin because the Knock flights were constrained to a mid day time. The travelling over and back was huge.

“At one point in Cardiff I flew back nine weekends in a row to play with my club. That was over a winter period.”

Parsons used the time away from the camp shrewdly, dabbling in other sports that he felt would enhance his Gaelic football career.

“I worked extremely hard in Cardiff. I took up different codes. I took up boxing athletics and soccer which helped develop me as well.

“Just with clubs over there and some basketball as well, with an emphasis and focus on developing skills and agility to play Gaelic football, which I found really helpful.”

He didn’t ignore the fortunes of the Mayo footballers either. When they suffered All-Ireland heartbreak in 2012 and 2013, Parsons was an eyewitness in Croke Park.

“I was at both games with a Mayo headband and shouting on the guys from the Hogan Stand. When I finish my career playing with Mayo I’ll be doing the same hopefully in the stands of Croke Park.

“I was hugely disappointed. First and foremost I’m a Mayo player, but I’m also a Mayo supporter. There is huge disappointment personally that Mayo didn’t win those All-Ireland’s.

Lee Keegan is consoled by Keith Higgins after the game Mayo players Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins dejected after their 2013 All-Ireland final loss to Dublin Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“There was definitely a disappointment there in myself that maybe that percentage that I could have offered to help Mayo get over the line.

“But these things at that time was out of your control. All I could control was my club football and my focus (was) on trying to get back playing for Mayo.”

After their 2012 intermediate progress, Charlestown reached the last four of the senior championship in Mayo in 2013. Parsons was to the fore of their efforts and his displays did not go unnoticed by James Horan.

James Horan Mayo boss James Horan Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“When I got a call to come back and play for Mayo in 2014 for an FBD game against Roscommon, I didn’t think twice about coming back to take that trial and play.

“And I played that league campaign travelling from Cardiff. For a five month period I flew home every weekend to train and play with Mayo until the summer of 2014 when I moved back home permanently,

“I lived over there with my partner Carol and we always had a grá to come back to Ireland. I think when you move abroad you realise how magic a country we live in, that special community that the GAA has to offer is very hard to replicate when you leave Ireland.

“Taking a step back from football in your mid-20′s definitely gives you a chance to get more balance in your life. I have certainly come back to really appreciate the prestige and honour to represent your county and to put on a Mayo jersey.”

Parsons was sprung from the bench during the two-game saga between Kerry and Mayo in August 2014. Last summer against Galway he made his first championship start since the 2010 Connacht tie against Sligo.

Fiontan O Curraoin and Tom Parsons Tom Parsons and Fiontan Ó Curraoin contest a high ball in last year's clash in Pearse Stadium Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The level of work required by Parsons hasn’t dipped. He’s living and working in Dublin now, committed like a bunch of other Mayo players to making that trek home for training.

“We often can meet at four o’clock and try to be training on the pitch for seven, half seven in the Midlands somewhere or maybe in Ballyhaunis with the objective to try to be back in bed at midnight.

“Okay it’s not ideal but it’s something you just have to manage. A big part of getting through a season injury free is recovery and recovery is reducing travel and maintaining good quality of sleep.

“It is a very difficult aspect logistically and time management aspect of playing for Mayo. But I think every other county outside that has the same difficulties.

“It’s great that we have a strong contingent of players in Dublin so that we can train collectively in Dublin as a team. We have Tony McEntee who takes our training in Dublin.

“Look coming into the championship we’ll be meeting more midweek in Mayo and in the Midlands. But we’ll make it work, it’s something that’s always existed so it’s just about managing that.”

Tom Parsons and Ciaráin Murtagh perform the coin toss with referee Maurice Deegan Tom Parsons (left) with Roscommon's Ciaran Murtagh before March's league game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It’s all paid off for Parsons. He has established himself even more this year as they get set for Sunday’s trek to Ruislip.

“I think I have played every game in the FBD and the national league in the campaign and that may be a first for me so it’s great to get that run of games.

“It gives you confidence. Every day it’s magic to put on a Mayo jersey and get to represent your county.”

He’s been patient enough to earn that at least.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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