Retiring in your early 30s? Let's have a glass or three of vino and talk about this

ANDREA Pirlo's last-minute winner in the Turin derby last Sunday was a thing of beauty. The ball was rolled invitingly across his path from 25 yards out and BOOM! Once the ball left Pirlo's right boot it was destined for the bottom corner of Torino's goal. 2-1, Juventus. It was a truly wonderful game.

Pirlo is 35. If he was born in Down, he'd be on the scrapheap!

By now, Pirlo would have had a sit-down with Jim McCorry. Sipping from a glass of red, Pirlo would have told the new Down manager from his hammock that he had no intentions of running up and down Kilbroney Park five nights a week.

Jim would tell the bearded wonder: 'There can be no halfway house, Andrea. Did you not see how Kilcoo trained last year? Capiche?'

No accommodation would be found and Pirlo would walk into the sunset and be lost to the game forever.

Of course, this conversation is merely a product of Off The Fence's fertile imagination.

Imagine, for a second, if Pirlo was born in Ballyholland! Just think, Mark Poland would never have been known outside of Longstone.

THE blame for the Pirlo reference here is the fault of 'Magheralin Gael'. He/She is miffed by Benny Coulter's retirement at 32 and the amount of training sessions expected of GAA players. He also agreed with the thrust of Paddy Heaney's Against The Breeze column on Tuesday that suggested a sledgehammer needs to be taken to the flawed GAA calendar. 'Magheralin Gael' texted: "In truth, this week's Against The Breeze should have been called "P**sing Into The Wind".

Everyone is aware of the disaster that is the GAA calendar yet the powers that be aren't truly tackling the issues. "Only established or retired players can speak out on its ill-effects and the collective training rule is paid lip service by teams with lads training away in smaller groups." 'Magheralin Gael' continued: "What needs to happen are radical changes sooner rather than later. "Last weekend, we saw a 35-year-old Andrea Pirlo score a last-gasp winner with his team a man down, while paying GAA fans have been robbed of ever seeing Benny Coulter in a Down jersey again, aged 32. "Paddy is right: a sledgehammer is needed and the GPA needs to stand up and put themselves to use."

Any reference to Pirlo is always well received here. You make a lot of valid points. But let's be clear. Jim McCorry is only doing what every other inter-county manager is doing. He's hardly going to go two nights per week when everyone else is doing five. Mike McGurn made the point earlier this week: "The demands have got so high now and no-one is willing to pull back. It is like: if Team 'X' is doing it, we'll have to do it. If Team 'Y' is doing it, Team 'Z' will do it. Nobody is going to pull back."

The GAA hasn't really confronted the issue of burn-out. And, as for the GPA, you appear to have mistaken them for a players' union. Now, that is naïve.

* MIKE McGurn, a highly respected fitness coach in various sporting disciplines, also earned praise from readers for bemoaning the monastic lifestyle of the average GAA player. Here's a quick recap of what McGurn said: "There is too much abstinence in the GAA compared to other sports - and I'm not just talking about drink. I'm talking about nights out and going to restaurants and going on a holiday. There has to be balance because you've only one life." 'Martin McLaughlin' said: "Refreshing to hear Mike McGurn so honest given it may be in his self-interest to promote the virtues of it."

* 'DERMOT of Portadown' texted: "I think it is a disgrace the amount of time GAA county players are now having to train. Enough is enough. All county training should be limited to two nights per week, max. "Professional soccer players wouldn't train as much. If they're training like professionals then they should be paid a salary. They're making a sacrifice so they should be compensated financially."

Then you kiss goodbye to the amateur status of the GAA.

n AND now let the praise rain down on those gallant bravehearts of Slaughtneil following their historic Ulster title success in Armagh last Sunday. Regular contributor 'Rasharkin Gael' texted his good wishes to the Derrymen. "I would like to congratulate Slaughtneil on their historic Ulster Club victory over Omagh last Sunday," says 'RG'. "This small close-knit rural community could teach the rest of us a thing or two. These guys don't get things handed to them. "The closest shop is in Maghera; they have a choice of going to chapel in Swatragh or Maghera. "Their spirit is unquenchable. Hopefully they will grace Croker on St Patrick's Day and finish the job." There is nothing stopping Mickey Moran and John Joe Kearney's boys in 2015.

* 'LURGAN Orangewoman' left this voicemail: "It was a great game between Slaughtneil and Omagh. It's a pity there had to be a winner."

Put the sherry down. You mean 'pity there had to be a loser', right? Just saying.

* ANYONE calling themselves a 'Complete Neutral' should be greeted with deep suspicion. Here he goes: "As a complete neutral, I am very annoyed at how the Ulster Club final was decided by the referee. "What was a blatant foul on the Omagh number nine was a point for Slaughtneil three seconds later. That decided the game. Awful refereeing!" It was actually Omagh's number 11 [Jason McAnulla]. Fair comment, but let's take nothing away from Slaughtneil's gargantuan efforts.

* YOU couldn't be up to our Wednesday GAA columnist Benny Tierney. He obviously got one of his relatives to ring up and praise him. It's soooo obvious, Benny. "I've just read Benny Tierney's article this morning. It was first class. I always read Benny anyway."

Judge for yourselves people.

* AND finally, 'Yer Woman' [who sounded a bit like May McFettridge] left this message about GAA players not properly observing the Irish national anthem before games. "It's yer woman again," says she. "Have you noticed the rugby men never practise their gymnastics while the national anthem is being played? "Maybe some Gaelic players - in both hurling and football - should follow the rugby's men's example."

* A CERTAIN VINTAGE: Thirty-five-year-old Juventus genius and Italian vigneron Andrea Pirlo clearly loves his top level playmaking, his wine and his holidays. How many top GAA players are able to enjoy that trinity by their mid-30s?...


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