When the Galway hurlers beat Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-final a few weeks ago, their star forward Joe Canning said, in an interview afterwards, that there was more important things in life than sport.
He was referring of course to the health of Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald who had been in hospital the previous week with a heart condition.
In my column last week, I made no reference to Donegal’s defeat to Dublin because there were more important issues occupying my mind. Yes, there are far more important things in life other than sport and Gaelic football.
As a young inter-county player, I thought that football was the be-all and end-all of everything. It’s difficult not to be totally consumed with one’s chosen sport.
Since Donegal’s loss in the All-Ireland quarter-final there have been a few retirements and I’m sure there will be a few more.
It always amazes me to listen to the reasons why we lost any particular match. Our defeat to Dublin wasn’t any different. Whatever the conclusions one may arrive at, we cannot ignore Donegal's achievements and how they have entertained us in recent times. They have made us proud Donegal people and we can travel anywhere with our heads held high.
Our rise to becoming one of the top teams in the country did not happen by chance. We cannot forget those managers and coaches who spend unnoticed time with development squads, week in and week out, travelling the length and breadth of the county.
The future looks bright for Donegal football. We had successive talented minor and U-21 teams this past number of years. Our senior team as we know it has come to the end of an era.
In order to maintain top performances, we need to gradually induct the younger players into the system. Every player will retire or be retired eventually. It is painful to watch a player trying to be what he was in a different time. Thankfully, I was put out to grass against my will. I was not happy at the time but I am so thankful now. Rory Gallagher will be faced with some hard decisions if more retirements do not happen before Christmas.
Even Usain Bolt will retire at the end of the current Olympics.
I have to say that I am fascinated with the events in Rio. Since I was a small child I always loved watching the Olympics. For me, the true Olympics is the Athletics.
The first recorded Olympics took place in 776 B.C. Events included were athletics, boxing, wrestling and chariot racing.
Our modern Olympics has 28 different sports (41 disciplines). It is difficult to keep track of them all. Unless you are in space you will not have escaped the Olympics. Unfortunately, the games are no longer confined to amateur participants and some competitors will resort to drugs to attain success. It’s an unfortunate development in sport, although some of its participants have been cheating from the off. With the advancement in pharmacy and medicine the use of performance enhancing products seems to be widespread and very difficult to detect.
There is so much propaganda surrounding the issue of doping that we do not know what to believe. They say that money makes the world go around and the Olympics has loads of it. And herein lies the main reason why we are watching sport, including soccer, where money and greed dictates.
I hope that we never see the day when Gaelic players are paid to play. I am concerned though that the GAA has developed our game to the point where pay for play may be hard to escape. While the GAA organisation operates in a professional manner, its main asset, the players, are being asked to train and play within amateur parameters.
Attendances at games are down this year and are continuing to decline. Nowadays the players have the Gaelic Players Association to help them cope with a range of issues.
The consequences of playing at inter-county level are many. Mental health and physical injuries sustained during one’s career can be debilitating. Those Donegal players who have retired, and who will retire, will face into the reality of everyday living with a huge gulf in their lives. Past glories will not earn any an income.
I feel the GAA is at a crisis point where something has to give in the near future. We have a great product but I believe that our players need compensation in some form, like a life insurance policy, where funds are made available on retirement.
For now, I would like to thank those players who have retired for the enjoyment that they gave us. Rory Gallagher can be satisfied with his progress and his tenure as Donegal manager to date. He brought his team as far as he possibly could. As I’ve often stated, Rory Gallagher and his players owe us nothing. They all have been a credit to the county.
There’s always a new horizon and for Rory and the squad, the National League in February will arrive.
We look forward to a new beginning.
Keep the faith.