Published on Friday 17 February 2012 11:21
The late John B. Keane wrote a poignant play incorporating a heart-breaking song about young Irish men heading abroad to seek their fortune, with a heavy heart knowing they would, most likely, never return to their native country.
Decades after ‘Many Young Men of Twenty Said Goodbye’ was penned by the Listowel playwright its relevance remains, but now, in a sporting context, those same words could well refer to departing 20-plus year old hurlers!
Inter-county hurlers are dropping like nine-pins since the start of the year. We heard the cry from many departing players that they were having difficulties coping with their training regimes.
“A busy work schedule,” was another consistent response from a few. Those with jobs are certainly under more pressure than years ago, but that is too simple an explanation.
Michael Kavanagh never had problems with Kilkenny’s training regime and his retirement brings an end to a glorious journey with the county. His involvement with Kilkenny started in the pre-Brian Cody era, surely testimony to a long and illustrious inter-county career.
Like Eddie Brennan, Kavanagh was close to reaching a milestone of nine All-Ireland medals, but having experienced little game time in the past two years, the decision to retire was understandable.
Quiet, unassuming, tenacious and dependable were the hallmarks of the Freshford man’s play. But above all he was consistently effective in practically every game. Kavanagh leaves the inter-county scene with a cabinet adorned with almost every honour in the game, fitting rewards for a job well done.
He still has plenty to offer his club St Lachtain’s (Freshford), a side which ought to have genuine intermediate championship ambitions in 2012. I am sure his talents can also be utilised coaching some of the up and coming players in the Freshford club.
The tears flowed down Slievenamon last week as news of Lar Corbett’s departure from the Tipperary panel became public. No one saw this coming. If they did, it was kept very quiet.
The mention of work commitments as the reason for his departure does not stack up. He runs a licenced premises in Thurles, in the shadows of Semple Stadium, and his involvement in that business is much more valuable as a current Tipp hurler than as an ex-hurler.
Tipperary manager, Declan Ryan, and his colleagues are well aware that they need to be far more ruthless with their players in 2012 than they were last year. Who could forget their casual entry on to the Croke Park pitch for last year’s All-Ireland final?
The approach this year will be very different. I suspect this has been spelt out very clearly to all the panel.
After the 2009 All-Ireland final Lar Corbett was a super hero to every Tipp supporter. His display in that game masterminded a memorable win over their great rivals and deprived Kilkenny of an historic fifth title in-a-row.
Twelve months later many of those same supporters turned their back on Corbett. He had to endure less than complimentary comments about his performance last September. That u-turn from some supporters deeply hurt the Thurles Sarsfields player, which is understandable.
He may have been out-hurled by Jackie Tyrell in last year’s final, but then, name any Tipperary player who got the better of his opponent that day? With so many Tipperary players performing below par, did Tipp supporters really expect Corbett to defeat Kilkenny on his own?
When Declan Ryan went looking for a new captain he opted to stay with the same club when appointing Paul Curran. The Mullinahone man has genuine leadership qualities, but perhaps as one of the longer serving members of the Tipp panel, Lar Corbett felt his consistent performances over many years had earned him the captain’s armband.
Lar Corbett is 30 years of age. He still has a couple of years left as an inter-county hurler. The game needs Corbett; so do Tipperary; but most important of all, Corbett needs inter-county hurling for all sorts of reasons, not least for his business.
When you next see the sun shining on Slievenamon, expect the news to start filtering through that Corbett is back plotting the downfall of all and sundry.
John Mullane’s exile from the inter-county scene will be short. He criticised the training schedules which are now being foisted on inter-county players. It is almost as if you need be a single man nowadays to handle the demands placed on inter-county players.
Like Lar Corbett, I wonder was John Mullane disappointed at being over-looked for the captaincy of the Waterford team? The De La Salle clubman has almost single-handedly kept the Déise to the forefront in recent seasons and no one deserved the accolade more.
New captain Michael Walsh is already a proven leader, so there can be no criticism of Michael Ryan’s decision to appoint him captain. But somehow, one has to feel a little sorry for the great warrior who is John Mullane.
John Dalton’s retirement last week was a huge shock. Work pressure was again cited as the reason. His departure in his mid-twenties, just like that of James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, robs Kilkenny of another talented hurler who has a lot more to give.
His misdemeanour last year against Dublin in the National League final was completely out of character for the Carrickshock player and he would have been bitterly disappointed not to have seen any championship action.
Like with Fitzpatrick we must hope that his departure is not permanent. For all the hurling talent in Kilkenny, the county can ill-afford to lose players of their ability.
Sean Cavanagh made a welcome return for Tyrone last weekend in Croke Park after a lengthy injury. He bemoaned the intense nature of inter-county training. The Moy player is the father of a young child and that, no doubt, has changed many aspects of his life.
His loyalty to his native Tyrone is beyond question, but he now has other priorities in his life. So too do many other inter-county players.
Inter-county team managers had better take note or we will be hearing about ‘many (more) young more of twenty (plus)’ saying goodbye to the inter-county scene.