THEY were falling like flies last week, inter-county GAA players announcing that their time in the county jersey was at an end.
In the main, it was footballers from Mayo, Kerry, Galway and one or two other counties, fine players like Donal Vaughan, Jonathan Lyne, Brian Kelly and Tom Parsons who had given sterling service over a period of time, in some cases a very lengthy period.
Here in Cork, we had the announcement from Stephen McDonnell that he too was ending his tenure in a red jersey. Before Christmas, Aidan Walsh and Anthony Nash stepped away.
McDonnell had the distinction of leading the Cork hurlers to the podium in Thurles after Cork’s Munster final victory in 2017 when fellow Corkman Jerry O’Sullivan presented him with the trophy as Chair of the Munster Council.
Unfortunately, he never got his hands on a Celtic Cross as an All-Ireland winner but that in no way should diminish the great contribution that he made.
There was, of course, the great consolation of winning two county medals with Glen Rovers in 2015 and 2016 and who knows that he may well add to that collection in the next couple of years.
He was never one to seek the limelight, preferring doing his talking on the field of play and Cork hurling supporters will remember him as a defender who always stuck resolutely to his task.
You would call him a very ‘sticky’ corner-back who never gave away anything easily.
He was a fine man-marker and similar to all the colleagues that he soldiered with, he was desperately unlucky not to pick up that coveted All-Ireland medal in 2013 when the corner-back on the other team, Clare’s, Domhnall O’Donovan came up the field in the drawn final to somehow take the game to a replay.
One remembers the semi-final that year when the Glen man gave an outstanding display in the victory over the Dubs. He was excellent in the replay with Clare too.
Corner-back was, without doubt, his best position although he had stints too at number three but it was in the corner that he was most at home.
In the aftermath of his announcement that he was stepping away from the inter-county scene another Cork star who gave similar sterling service, goalkeeper Anthony Nash paid a glowing tribute to McDonnell and surely there was no one more qualified than him to speak of his defensive teammate for many years.
Nash, of course, had first-hand knowledge of what the one they called Mackie was capable of.
“He always gave everything for the sake of the team - he was often given a major defensive job, picking up the danger man on the opposing team the way Brian Murphy from Bride Rovers was given those jobs in the past, and he always carried out those jobs to perfection.
“He just went and did the job. He was an unbelievable defender.
“He was unlucky for the last couple of years with injuries, but he still gave the team everything he had - even against Dublin last season, despite all those injuries, he was able to click seamlessly into the team and did a great job.”
Nash also acknowledged McDonnell’s leadership as captain of Cork in 2017.
“Stephen was a great captain of Cork as well, a great leader and he made a huge amount of sacrifices for the team.
“As a teammate and captain he was great to check in to see how lads were getting on, and fellas fed off his self-confidence, his ability to get himself ready for the big games.
“You’d hear the expression that someone is a ‘championship man’, and he was always able to switch on and get himself right for the big day.
"He was great craic as well, a hugely positive guy, which is very important in a team environment."
Words well-spoken by the former Cork custodian who had a close-up view of McDonnell’s capabilities.
It’s often said that when a player retires from the inter-county scene it’s his club that is the big winner. In their midst now the Glen have a player who is wholly concentrated on club matters and one has no doubt that they will benefit here.
Over the past number of weeks, quite a few Cork players have, what you might say, left the building.
Some have been cut from the panel, others deciding it was their time to opt-out. All those players gave the county jersey fine service and won’t be easily replaced either. Stephen McDonnell was one of them.
A player that never gave anything less than 100% for the red jersey that he so proudly wore and for the family that always gave him fantastic support, there wasn’t a better day than that one on that summer’s day in 2017 in Semple stadium when he captained his county to provincial glory.
No doubt, we will see him many more times in the Glen jersey in the years to come and thereafter in some other capacity in Blackpool.