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Curse of Covid could hasten retirement of veteran GAA troo pers

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Stephen Cluxton. Pic: Sportsfile

Stephen Cluxton. Pic: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Stephen Cluxton. Pic: Sportsfile

Those doomsday predictions of a year without Sam or Liam have brought into stark focus one deflating possibility - that a galaxy of inter-county stars may have donned their county jersey for the final time, without any of the fanfare they deserve.

Coaxed into premature retirement by Covid-19.

This could happen of their own volition; or by edict of a manager who cannot wait any longer to overhaul an ageing squad.

The above scenario, we should stress, is still premature. We may well have a 2020 championship, in some constricted form.

And, even if we don't, who is to say that our thirtysomething veterans will not be doubly determined to bow out with a bang next season, their limbs rested and minds re-energised by an enforced 'year out'?

That's the theory, at least.

Abandoned

But consider the following scenario: this year is abandoned and the 2021 SFC race, eagerly devoured by a GAA-starved nation, culminates in another showdown between Dublin and Mayo.

The Dublin match-day squad includes the following 12 heroes with their ages, circa late August 2021, in brackets: Stephen Cluxton (39), Michael Darragh Macauley (35), Kevin McManamon (34), Diarmuid Connolly (34), Philly McMahon (on the cusp of 34), Cian O'Sullivan (33), Mick Fitzsimons (33), Paddy Andrews (33), Jonny Cooper, Rory O'Carroll, Dean Rock and James McCarthy (all 31).

Their familiar foe includes the following doughty dozen: David Clarke (37 circa August 2021), Keith Higgins (36), Colm Boyle (35), Séamie O'Shea (34), Chris Barrett (34), Tom Parsons (33), Donal Vaughan (32), Kevin McLoughlin (32), Lee Keegan, Rob Hennelly, Jason Doherty and Aidan O'Shea (all 31).

Now, you may reasonably argue that Mayo - facing into an uncertain era of transition - will have to wait several more years before they get back to another All-Ireland final.

But it's even less likely, we contend, that Dublin and Mayo would qualify for next year's decider with their entire cohort of thirtysomethings all still involved.

There is simply too much mileage on the clock; there is bound to be some attrition over the next 16 months ... and that's even in the event that we don't have a GAA 'summer' this autumn/winter.

The current Dublin and Mayo panels - both evolving, it should be stressed, during this year's aborted league - are relatively old, even if the regular starting teams are less so.

When the counties collided in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, three of Dublin's first 15 were 30-plus, as were four of the six subs who featured. Four of the Mayo team, as well as a further four subs, had crossed that threshold.

Only one of the players who saw game-time that day, Andy Moran, has retired.

Dublin duo Bernard Brogan and Eoghan O'Gara, neither of whom was involved against Mayo, have since bowed out.

But no other Dubs followed them into retirement after the managerial baton was passed from Jim Gavin to Dessie Farrell. The presumption was that several more might call it quits after 2020. But what now?

Dream

Dublin and Mayo are not the only counties with seasoned veterans still chasing the dream. Ross Munnelly, the last non-Dub Leinster SFC medallist still playing inter-county football, is 37; his Laois teammate, Colm Begley, is 33.

Niall McNamee, who made his SFC debut aged 17 in 2003, is 34. He had only rejoined the Offaly squad after a head injury lay-off when coronavirus brought all GAA activity to a crushing halt.

Hurling, too, has its handful of mid-thirties troopers still reaching for the stars, led by Conal Keaney of Dublin (37), and including Cork duo Anthony Nash (35) and Eoin Cadogan (33), Sky Blue 'keeper Alan Nolan (34) and Waterford's Kevin Moran (33).

We can only hope that they're all still mad for road when normality returns.