GAA players only have a small window to make the most of their senior careers

GAA players only have a small window to make the most of their senior careers
Lorcán McLoughlin strikes the ball as Clare's David McInerney closes in during the 2013 All-Ireland hurling final. Picture: Brian Lougheed

IN a flashback article last week in this newspaper, the headline, Impressive Cork display at U21 level saw off Waterford at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

The report documented how Cork’s U21 hurlers had seen off Waterford in the first round of the Munster championship.

One remembers the game well, coming just three days after the senior team had stunned Tipperary at the same venue which ensured that there was a big crowd at headquarters on that Wednesday night and a great atmosphere to go along.

Former Cork hurler Luke O'Farrell taking on Waterford's Shane Kearney and Noel Connors in an U21 game. He was last involved with the seniors three years ago. Picture: INPHO/Neil Danton
Former Cork hurler Luke O'Farrell taking on Waterford's Shane Kearney and Noel Connors in an U21 game. He was last involved with the seniors three years ago. Picture: INPHO/Neil Danton

Cork ran out easy winners on a scoreline of 1-16 to 1-3 with a team containing a number of players who would subsequently go on to play with the Cork seniors.

That game was played 10 years ago and it’s interesting to note that 10 years later just one member of that team is still involved at inter-county level, the Glen’s Stephen McDonnell.

Others like Lorcán McLoughlin, Conor O’Sullivan, Luke O’Farrell, William Egan, Danny Kearney and Cian McCarthy have all left the inter-county arena for one reason or another.

Mark Collins from Douglas played that night as well. He remains a key Cork figure but at football level.

Mark Collins. Picture: INPHO/Neil Danton
Mark Collins. Picture: INPHO/Neil Danton

Getting six players elevated to senior level was a decent enough return but the fact that all the players we have mentioned are now no longer involved with the county is interesting.

Most are now 30-31, a few below that.

The point that we are making is that an inter-county career at senior level is getting shorter and shorter because of the huge demands.

Granted there is a fall-off in form with players and the senior manager of the time deems them to be no longer viable first-team players.

Looking at the Waterford team that night in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and there’s not too many of them around now either.

Playing on at the game’s highest level now beyond 30 is becoming a rare happening because as we all know, the demands are professional in all but name.

Players just cannot meet those demands to stay at the top because of work commitments etc.

There are exceptions of course, Patrick Horgan being one of them and he is the type of player where age is just a number and if he wants to, one has no doubt he could still be a key figure for Cork in four or five year’s time.

Let us hope that he gets that All-Ireland medal because no one deserves it more for his sheer ability and utmost dedication.

Anthony Nash is now the senior citizen on this Cork team and he is another player that deserves to end his days in the red jersey with Cork with that Celtic Cross.

That brings us nicely into the comments made by former Cork hero Seanie McGrath recently when he stated on Cork’s 96FM that he was optimistic for whatever lies ahead this season.

Seanie McGrath fires over a point despite the challenge of Michael Kavanagh of Kilkenny in the 1999 All-Ireland hurling final at Croke Park. Picture: INPHO/Patrick Bolger
Seanie McGrath fires over a point despite the challenge of Michael Kavanagh of Kilkenny in the 1999 All-Ireland hurling final at Croke Park. Picture: INPHO/Patrick Bolger

He made the point that a knockout championship might suit Cork. He based that on the belief that Cork are as good as anybody when the chips are down, something that they proved last season and going up to the Gaelic Grounds to put on a superb display against Limerick after losing dismally to Tipperary a week earlier.

“That kind of one-off game might suit us better,” he said.

He made the point too that this Cork team possesses four of the game’s finest forward when they are playing at the top end of their game.

The players he mentions are obviously Horgan alongside Seamie Harnedy, Conor Lehane and Alan Cadogan.

He’s quite right because these guys are as good if not better than any of their counterparts in the rest of the counties.

Horgan’s consistency and form has been exceptional and he’s a real leader in every sense of the word.

In young Cadogan’s case, injury has curtailed him quite a bit in recent times but at his best he’s more than a handful for any defender.

Lehane too is a quality player and if he regains his best form, that will be a huge plus, the same goes with Harnedy.

Further back the field, if Cork can sort out a few defensive positions, get more stability into them you would back the county against any opposition with those four forwards.

When the championship resumes, if it does, the landscape will be different but it will be the same for all the participants.

It will be a bit of a trip into the unknown in a way because of the long layoff and teams will not have the time they had before in preparing.

Cork won’t rank among the top two or three contenders but that’s not a problem either.

They are not a million miles off any of those ranked above them. It could be one of the most interesting campaigns ever.

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