GAA Football

Mayo star Tom Parsons aiming for All-Ireland crowning glory

Mayo's Tom Parsons with Lee Keegan comes under pressure from Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly and Peter Harte at Healy Park. Picture by Seamus Loughran.
Edwin McGreal

TOM Parsons isn't bitter.

When he talks about being dropped from the Mayo squad in 2011, he doesn't look to describe it as ‘a slight’ or ‘a mistake’ on James Horan's behalf.

Many have wondered how different the 2012 and 2013 finals might have turned out if Mayo had Parsons's mobility at midfield.

But the man himself isn't looking backwards.

In fact, he readily admits that it might have been a case of 'too much, too soon' for him when it comes to the first part of his inter-county career.

It was an unexpected fall from grace for a man who, just two years out of the minor grade, had a fine debut year at senior level in 2008 and ended up being selected by Seán Boylan for Ireland's International Rules trip to Australia that winter.

A long and fruitful career beckoned. Parsons concedes he might have gone into something of a comfort zone, but two and a half years in the inter-county wilderness changed his perspective.

“At the age of 18, 19 when you do play for your county and especially a strong footballing county like Mayo, and you get one or two successful years, it definitely is hard for a young player not to maybe dream or have the expectation that this could be nine or 10 years playing with your county.

"It’s very hard to keep up that level of intensity at that age and I certainly think at an older age, for myself personally, I definitely have more grá, more want and will to work really, really hard to keep that jersey because I know what it means to lose it.

“I take my hat off to some of the young players who are with us now, their character and resilience is just brilliant and they are 21, 22 years old.”

When James Horan came along to take over Mayo in the winter of 2010, a lot changed with Mayo football. Rightly or wrongly, Horan didn’t see Parsons as part of the solution at the time.

By the end of the 2011 league, the axe fell.

His last game was in Kavanagh country, away to Monaghan in Inniskeen. It could have been the end of the road but Parsons had no plans for his last appearance in a Mayo jersey to be at the age of 23.

"I have a very close relationship with my father Tom and my mother Carmel. I remember saying to them, ‘that I will play for Mayo again’. I’d made a verbal contract to myself at that stage and you don’t forget words like that.

“I felt I was resilient and I also felt I was lucky to have a great club in Charlestown.

“We had the opportunity at the time to win an Intermediate (2012) and then push on the following year and compete at a county semi-final in the Senior championship because, without your club team doing well, you don’t get the stage to maybe show your skills and ability to come into a county panel again.”

Except, that by the time the James Horan rang again in January of 2014 to come in for the FBD and league campaigns, Parsons's life circumstances were very different.

He was still playing with Charlestown but had moved to Cardiff with his partner in September 2012, the same month Mayo were playing an All-Ireland against Donegal without him.

He committed to flying over and back from Cardiff in the spring of 2014, and an FBD League defeat to Roscommon in Ballinlough on January 19 was Parsons' first return to the green and red shirt.

He started two, and came on in three, of Mayo's eight league games so there were no guarantees about his chances of starting that summer — he would only come off the bench in three of Mayo's six championship games as it turned out — but Parsons wasn't going to die wondering.

When he made the championship panel, he took decisive action and returned to Ireland that May. He was fortunate that Jacobs Engineering, who he works with, had a Dublin office and were willing to sanction a transfer from their Cardiff operation.

But it wasn't just as simple as that. What happened is not just an example of the sacrifices inter-county players make, but the sacrifices their partners make too.

"I had to convince Carol to leave and change her job and give up her job in the UK and follow me back to Ireland to pursue my dream.

“So there was a lot on the cards and maybe a risk to take at that stage when both of us, myself and my partner, had a career and life set up in the UK, to come back and play for Mayo.

“But it is absolutely worth it every time you put on that jersey to play for Mayo, with the magic support we have day in, day out. It is something that I have absolutely no regrets (about)."

Tom and Carol are due to get married this December.

Though she hails from Dublin, Parsons is quick to point out 'she's totally converted to Mayo now' ahead of a final between the two counties.

It is, he readily admits, 'very difficult' for Carol when he is gone from Dublin for midweek training in Mayo on top of gone at weekends and for gym sessions all based around his Mayo career.

"It’s hugely, hugely difficult on Carol and in fairness she has massive patience ... and I think at this level, GAA players, with the professional environment, do need a really strong support network around them.”

The man himself is relishing every day of his second coming with Mayo.

“I certainly appreciate at this stage of my career how valuable and precious it is to represent your county at inter-county level and to put on the Mayo jersey. It doesn’t last forever and as a player or an athlete we’re only a game away, an injury away, from playing our last game with our county.

“At the moment I’m 29 years old and one big injury could finish my career and my last game could be my last game.

“That’s a reality I’ve learned from maybe being released [from the panel] and maybe it’s a reality that comes with age as well.”

He's hoping his next game will be the crowning glory on Sunday.

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