Graham Cummins: It takes serious commitment and a bit of luck to keep playing at the top level as you get older

'Although I retired at 32, I had been trying to find a career away from the pitch up to a year before that'
Graham Cummins: It takes serious commitment and a bit of luck to keep playing at the top level as you get older

AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini had an incredible career across three decades. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

MANY players never want to retire because they never want to stop playing the game they love; unfortunately, age is something they cannot escape. 

Football is a short career, and most players will want to continue playing as long as they feel they can. However, they don’t want to be in a position where retirement is forced upon them rather than it being their decision.

I always worried as a player about what retirement was going to look like. Thoughts started going through my mind about retirement when I was 27 years old. 

I feared what I was going to do after football, I wasn’t worried that I was going to miss playing football every day. 

I suppose as someone who wasn’t earning anywhere near a wage that was going to mean I could enjoy a comfortable life even for a few months after football, meant I was focused on trying to be ready to walk into a job when I hung up my boots. Although I retired at 32, I had been trying to find a career away from the pitch up to a year before that. 

During my loan spell at Shamrock Rovers, I went for two interviews for occupations in other industries. I knew I didn’t have long left in the game and my priority was to find a secure job that would provide an income for my household indefinitely.

I wouldn’t use the excuse that unconsciously I messed up in those interviews because I still wanted to be a footballer, because I was sure I wanted to begin a new career. If anything, missing out on those opportunities hindered my time at Rovers because I was not fully committed to the club. I did have a change of mentality before joining Waterford in the season I retired. I turned down job offers because I felt I wanted to prove I was good enough to play as a defender. I never regretted that decision and loved my brief time there. 

Happier times for Graham Cummins after scoring for Shamrock Rovers. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Happier times for Graham Cummins after scoring for Shamrock Rovers. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

However, once the pandemic hit and the league was suspended that fear of not having a job when I retire reappeared. Signing back for Cork City, I was excited. But I never played and was never fully fit. 

Walking away from Neale Fann’s office having told him my intentions of retiring, I was relieved. 

Do I miss football? A little bit, but I enjoy going to games working as a reporter more than I did going as a player toward the latter stages of my playing career.

MINDSET

Of course, it is important for players who want to play into their '40s that they look after themselves by having a healthy lifestyle and having some luck by avoiding major injuries. The main attribute someone needs to have is the right mindset to do so. 

Players need to have the right reasons for prolonging their careers. They need to be aware of their abilities and that they can still make a significant contribution because of course a lot of attributes reduce the older players get, such as speed and power a player can generate when kicking a ball.

That mindset of course has to consist of the element that the player still wants to be the best player in the team but also realising that his role may change and there are going to be games when they aren’t involved simply because their body needs a rest. I’ve played with ageing players who were masters at prolonging their career. 

Their attitude didn’t change whether they were playing or not and would still give their support to the team even when left out of the squad. More often than not they would know the games need to be ready for because the manager would have already discussed with them the games they are going to be involved in.

Former Portugal manager Fernando Santos and Cristiano Ronaldo during the World Cup. Picture: PA
Former Portugal manager Fernando Santos and Cristiano Ronaldo during the World Cup. Picture: PA

I hate seeing the bashing Cristiano Ronaldo is receiving from supporters and the press over the past month. He is one of the greatest to play the games but unfortunately, his unique mentality which has been one of the main reasons he has achieved so much in his career has been his downfall over the last number of months because he couldn’t accept his role had changed in the team. 

I applaud players who can continue to play at a high level late into their '30s and early '40s because they need to do so much and make significant sacrifices throughout their careers to do so.

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