Football/Soccer

Kenny Archer: Sporting oldies earn my total admiration

Sean Cavanagh is still performing at the highest level for Tyrone into his 35th year

SPORT can make you feel old, and that's just by listening or reading about it, never mind watching it or, God forbid, playing it.

My mind creaked as much as my old knees when Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt talked about having to take his career 'game by game', not only on the international scene but with his club too, because of – as he put it – "the age I am."

Now 'Brunty' always tended to have a certain world-weariness about him, at least during press interviews, that suggested he is older than he actually is.

It depressed me somewhat to discover that he only turned 32 last December.

Sure, he suffered one of those awful anterior cruciate ligament injuries just over a year ago which ruled him out of Euro 2016, so perhaps he's cautious about taking his playing career for granted now, but it's still sobering that he is now thinking about "the latter stages of my career."

In the same interview, though, Brunt talked about his club and international colleague Gareth McAuley, who's still playing – and scoring – regularly in the English Premier League at the age of 37.

Jermain Defoe, a mere stripling at almost 34-and-a-half, returned to the international scene with England at the weekend, and scored to boot.

Although anyone who appreciates the striker's arts has admired Defoe's goal-scoring ability for years, including this season, there was still debate about his England recall, with many reckoning him finished rather than a finisher.

At 34.

Both McAuley and Defoe show that it's not just goalkeepers who can carry on playing to a high age (by sporting standards).

Both illustrate the value of experience.

Another who does that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Although it's something of a misnomer to call him a 'free transfer', given that he's paid a reported £10million annual salary, the Manchester United striker has been proving something of a bargain in soccer terms.

It's not just the 26 goals he's scored so far this season for the Red Devils. One of the most remarkable aspects of the big Swede's involvement has been the way he has acted around young players.

Many big names, especially one with the sort of extremely arrogant reputation that Zlatan has, might have been expected to flounce around like a prima donna, throwing his arms up whenever a pass or a cross didn't come exactly when or where he wanted it.

The opposite has been true of Ibrahimovic, however. He only throws his arms around to clap colleagues, to offer them encouragement – not to berate them as some might have feared.

Even had he still been under contract at Paris Saint-Germain it's unlikely that Man U would have had to pay very much for Zlatan, largely due to the fact of his age – he turned 35 in October.

While many big clubs think deeply about the potential re-sale value of players, there's a tendency to undervalue experience.

The likes of Defoe, Ibrahimovic, and McAuley are probably not as quick as they used to be, even though they all look after their physical condition very impressively in order to extend their playing careers (and in the case of 'Big G' you can't lose what you never had).

However, the game intelligence garnered over years allows certain players to put themselves in good positions, so that they avoid the need to do too much running around, whether that's in defence, attack, or midfield.

Some young players can cover far more ground but end up running around to little effect, like headless chickens.

Speed of thought can be just as influential as speed of legs. The distance quoted may change – sometimes it's only a half-yard, or a yard, or even more, but the adage remains the same: 'the first few yards (never metres, mind) are in your head'.

Even in the pell-mell, physically demanding modern Gaelic football there's still a place for 'thirty-somethings', although there are very few continuing into the second half of that decade.

Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh and Kerry's Kieran Donaghy were both the subject of intense debates last year over their futures in the inter-county game – and both have only turned 34 this year.

Wise managers like Mickey Harte and Eamonn Fitzmaurice appreciate what players like those two can bring to a team and to a panel.

Both bosses know they have to build for the future while achieving some degree of success in the present – and that means not consigning stars to the past before their time is truly up.

Professional sportspeople may increasingly have their money made by their mid-twenties, but the thrill of involvement keeps them going. GAA players may struggle to combine the demands of the county game with their working life, but the regret expressed by many former stars is that they retired too early, not too late.

It's often been said about young players that 'if you're good enough, you're old enough.'

The reverse of that is true too: if you're good enough, you're young enough.

The bonus for the likes of me is that some sports stars are less than a decade younger than me, rather than half my age – or worse.

/////////////////////

A little anecdote to illustrate the inherent decency of Seamus Coleman, who suffered a bad leg break on international duty on Friday night.

A former colleague with Killybegs connections bumped into the Republic of Ireland skipper at an airport a couple of years ago. Knowing each other from way back, they chatted for a while.

The former colleague's wife then asked Coleman where he was headed. 'Liverpool', he replied.

'Oh, do you work over there?," she asked, in all innocence. 'Yes', was all he replied, with no further explanation or elaboration – nor any eye-rolling either.

Let's hope Seamus Coleman is back 'working' for Everton and the Republic of Ireland as soon as possible. He's clearly one of life's good guys.

Today's horoscope

Horoscope


See a different horoscope: