THERE’S a growing cohort of players who’ll allow themselves a little chuckle at not having to undergo inter-county training in a week’s time.
January 15 was the first signpost on the road to starting the 2021 season, when elite players were allowed collective training ahead of the new campaign.
News from headquarters in the capital that this date is now being pushed back a fortnight came as no surprise to anyone given the frightening numbers of Covid cases.
Its impact will be slight in that the planned start of the national leagues at the end of February will now have to be pencilled in for an early-March throw-in.
With the championship scheduled to begin at the end of April, GAA chiefs, nonetheless, will be anxious that no further delays occur.
That’s why another inspection in three weeks is so important and, naturally, everyone is hoping for a pronounced decrease in the disease to allow the green light for a resumption of training.
However, that won’t affect the lives of those players who’ve stepped away from the high octane world of inter-county football after giving so much of their lives to the cause.
From Cork’s Paul Kerrigan to Mayo’s Donie Vaughan, David Clarke and Tom Parsons to Kerry’s Brian Kelly, Jonathan Lyne and Shane Enright and many others, 2021 and beyond will involve looking in from the outside.
What they all have in common is a total commitment to the huge and growing demands of being involved with a county set-up, regardless of rankings.
For Kerrigan, he has a cherished Celtic Cross on the sideboard to remind him of the ultimate showpiece, deservedly earned from the 2010 All-Ireland triumph over Down.
Add in an All-Ireland U21, Munster championships at senior and U21 levels, and a unique set of league medals from divisions 1, 2 and 3, and you get a glimpse of the Nemo Rangers player’s rewards.
For the Mayo trio, though, there’s sure to be a long-term regret at missing out on an All-Ireland, especially after coming so close, notably in their epic meetings with Dublin.
Between Vaughan, Clarke and Parsons they’ve a collection of 17 Connacht titles between them, though they’d surely hand them all back in exchange for a Celtic Cross.
Vaughan, who spent a dozen years pursuing the ultimate accolade, played in five All-Ireland finals and has half-a-dozen provincial medals in his haul.
Goalkeeper Clarke, one of the true greats of the modern era, spent an amazing 20 seasons with Mayo in that elusive search for the Sam Maguire, collecting eight Connacht medals, two leagues and honoured with All-Star awards in 2016 and ’17.
Parsons fought his way back from a horrendous knee injury in 2018 to help Mayo reach the 2020 decider after overcoming Tipperary in the semi-final.
All-Ireland medals, by contrast, are a dime a dozen in the Kingdom as the departing members are able to display.
At 30, Kelly, another of the goalkeeping fraternity to hang up his gloves, is the youngest to call time on his inter-county career.
The former UCC Sigerson Cup winning custodian started in the 2014 All-Ireland final win over Donegal and has seven Munsters and a couple of leagues to his name.
Warming the bench, though, for a pro-longed spell has its limits and the Legion clubman has obviously reached his.
“As a teenager growing up in Killarney I sold match programmes on Munster final days and dreamed of one day climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift Sam Maguire,” he said.
“Thankfully I have lived out my dream and I am proud to have played my small part in the Kerry GAA history books.”
Lyne and Enright, an All-Star defender six years ago, can share the same frustrations of not seeing enough action during their time in the green and gold.
It appears early 30s is now the age where players call time as reflected in Meath’s Graham Reilly (32), who also announced his retirement.
The next generation of inter-county players need only look at the examples of the outing group to appreciate what’s required of them to carry the torch and know they’re only borrowing the jersey.