GAA Football

John McEntee: Five steps to a happy retirement for the county player

Sean Cavanagh's idea of 'wintering well' is a no-no in John McEntee's guide to a happy retirement

I READ some headlines last week about Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh saying he intends to ‘winter well’ when he retires and I started to think about if he has actually begun preparing himself for that next stage of his life.

My first thought was has Sean lost his marbles hinting about retiring before the Championship starts? Surely the Tyrone psychologist would want him to focus on the here and now rather than on foreign holidays, eating battered cod and greasy chips on a Friday night, or spending his summers at charity golf events. Sean has been a remarkable servant to Tyrone and an incredible footballer and while his best days are past him, he will have an important role to play this year.

Retirement in any guise can be difficult but for one so entrenched in football, the adjustment can be life-damaging if the preparation has not been done.

One would not retire from work without a plan or completely abandon an occupation for which you spent 15 years learning without knowing what your next step will be.

So it makes sense to plan your retirement before it happens. There is a closed season in county terms, running from the time a county team exits or wins the Championship until January the following year so this is the time to think about one’s future, to plan it properly, and to get the media exposure so richly deserved.

I’ve decided to impart some free advice to all pending retirees only because of the years of service you have given; do not expect to get anything else for free when you retire.

These are my five biggest retirement planning suggestions:

1. Do not aim to winter well

COUNTY players follow a strict dietary regime for years but healthy eating is only one aspect of this. The more problematic part is the frequency you eat and the size of the portions. The average male requires 2000 calories per day, however, the average footballer consumes twice that on training days. Thinking you can eat what you want when you want will mean you won’t just winter well, you will actually turn into Mike Myers’s fictional Scottish character who featured in the Austin Powers series. It is incredibly difficult to eat less. You feel constantly hungry, however, this phase will pass if you persevere.

2. Train less but be just as happy

Forget about the aches and pains, it is vital that you keep active. If running is not for you, join a cycling club or visit the swimming pool regularly. Inactivity is as bad as gorging on chocolate particularly if your job is sedentary. A little exercise will go a long way to helping you make a successful transition.

3. Do not go into hibernation

LOSING touch with your team-mates happens naturally as people have their own pressures and priorities which pull them in opposite directions, but it needn’t be the case.

For years you have depended on team-mates and they have looked to you for leadership. It is not an exaggeration to say that this relationship will always exist and these men will always be there to help in a time of need.

Keep their mobile numbers as you may need to phone them some day.

Marty Toye was a senior player when I first joined the Armagh panel in 1996. I met him at a game one evening many months after he retired and my one abiding memory was his words ‘men need to be around men’. It is so true.

That male camaraderie and those wise craics which are for men’s ears only are what keeps us smiling inside.

You will miss the company of others driving to training, in the changing rooms and on the bus.

I was never the lively guy, but I always wanted to be in the presence of others telling stories or singing songs. I never cracked my knuckles off the changing room walls but watching Gavin Cumiskey (Crossmaglen) psyche himself up before entering the championship arena is an abiding memory.

4. Let go of all your grudges

PLAYERS tend to develop a hatred towards their opposition to help them perform to their maximum.

This may sound odd to some but ask yourself when have you ever wanted to obliterate a friend?

Players develop notions about the personalities of their opponents which are often untrue and artificially created.

Ger Brennan of Dublin and ‘Ricey’ (Ryan McMenamim) were perceived as rogues on the field, but off-field both are good guys.

Rumour has it one of them actually considered becoming a priest at one stage in their past – there are no prizes for guessing who.

In my experience, most GAA folk are good people so perhaps retirement will provide an opportunity for reflection on your previously held views.

5. Do not make a ‘comeback’

SIMPLY say no. Make your decision and move on. I struggle to think of one county player who returned and made a real difference.

Even the ageless Graham Geraghty (above) could not defy the odds in 2011 when he returned to the Meath team having retired three years previous.

Most important of all is to enjoy your playing days while you can and put off retiring for as long as possible. All that will be left is the memories.

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