Graham Cummins: My love of the game was played out long before I retired

"I much preferred watching Cork City and Cobh Ramblers on Friday night than being out there..."
Graham Cummins: My love of the game was played out long before I retired

Aaron Greene of Shamrock Rovers heads his side's goal against St Pat's. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

AS I sat at home last Friday night, watching Shamrock Rovers versus St Patrick’s Athletic, I received a text message from my mother-in-law, asking, ‘Are you missing your soccer tonight’?

It was the first time in 14 years that I’d not been involved in an opening-day season of professional football and my response was, ‘Not at all.’

With no crowds, the games are like friendlies and I was never a fan of friendlies. I miss going to the pub more than playing football.

I often hear about players struggling to adapt to the ‘real world’ after football, players who can’t let football go.

I’m lucky to still be involved in football through my journalism. I don’t miss football because I hadn’t enjoyed playing for some time before I retired.

I much preferred watching the Cork City and Cobh Ramblers game on Friday night than playing.

With football, everything moves on so quickly. We see it with managers. It doesn’t matter what they achieved: Once managers leave a club, they are forgotten. 

The same can be said of players. When I retired, I got the kind messages from people telling me how great a career I had and wishing me the best of luck in the future, but after a day or so, you are quickly forgotten about, because that’s football.

I had my 15 minutes of fame.

Watching Rovers and Pat’s last week, I found it hard to believe that I played with Rovers: Not because I spent most of my time at Rovers sitting on those warm substitute seats, but because it felt like a different lifetime and that I was never really a player.

Walk into my house and there’s no indication that the person living there ever had a career as a professional footballer. There are no awards on display or pictures of my playing days on the walls.

Maybe the reality that I am no longer a professional footballer will hit me someday, but the transition from being a footballer to a journalist has been seamless because I got used to watching games from the stands over the last few years of my playing career.

As crazy as it sounds, being in lockdown has helped me with retirement. I loved being out and about and having fans come over and talk to me about games. It made me proud seeing fans wear the club merchandise of the team I played for.

Now, I wouldn’t get strangers asking me what I thought of the game, or get that same pride of seeing a fan wear a club jersey if I were allowed to wander the streets of Cork.

In that circumstance, it could dawn on me that I am no longer a professional footballer.

Of course, there are some things I do miss about football. I love my food. Watching the Rovers-and-Pat’s game, what I missed most were the post-match meals that Rovers provide to players. I missed the choice of curries and chicken skewers, not putting on the Rovers kit and playing in Tallaght Stadium.

Obviously, the highs of scoring the winning goal are very hard to replicate in ‘real life’ and I loved driving home, listening to my music, after having had a good game, but there are so many things I don’t miss.

STRESSFUL

The excessive worrying affected me. The littlest things would worry me, from playing a bad pass in training to going for a walk outside of training and how that might affect my performance.

I often hear ex-professionals talk about how they miss the dressing-room banter.

Maybe it was me and I was just getting too old for the antics in the training ground, but I also felt that the interaction between players had faded out of the dressing room towards the end of my playing days.

It used to be a case of coming in in the morning and the lads would be chatting about a game the night before, playing darts or table tennis, but, now, players prefer spending time looking at their social media accounts, rather than having a conversation with another teammate.

The older I got, being a fan became much more enjoyable than being a player.

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