GAA Football

Benny Tierney: It's been emotional, but the time is right for me to go

OVER 13 years ago, I received a phone call from an up-and-coming sports journalist by the name of Paddy Heaney, who at the time was working for The Irish News

He asked me whether I be interested in writing a column for the Saturday edition for a few weeks, with the reasoning being that some readers might take to my none-too-serious look at life within the footballing community.

The column was only ever supposed to last for a few weeks at most, yet, coming up on a decade-and-a-half later, I have found myself having written almost 1,000 pieces for this paper.

And ironically, the man who contacted me about coming on board for a short while has long since left journalism to start a business in the health and fitness sector - a career move I doubt I’ll ever replicate.

However, it is with a great deal of sadness that I have to reveal that this will be my last column in this much-heralded newspaper. You might say it is The Last Last Line as, with work commitments and other deadlines to meet, this is the right time to bid farewell to something I have at times compared to training, in that I dreaded doing it, but was always pleased with myself when it was over.

I’d also like to take this chance to categorically put to bed the rumour that I don’t need the money these days because I have acquired four empty warehouses in south Armagh that are currently being heated by boilers burning wood pellets 24 hours a day.

When you eventually retire from football, and in particular inter-county football, there can be a void in your life as you struggle to replace the absolute excitement and mental high of playing at the very top level in front of tens of thousands of people, and the profile that goes with it. 

I would like to thank this publication for giving me the chance not only to maintain that involvement, albeit to a lesser extent, but also to share my opinions and immature musings with the good GAA people in the north, as well as my auntie in Dublin who reads my column online.

It would be fair to say we have witnessed massive moments for our Association over the last few years, none of them bigger than the decision to allow rugby and soccer to be played at Croke Park while Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped.

While I understand it was not an easy call for those in power to make, I fully believe the correct decision was made, not from a financial perspective but from an ethical one.

The fact we threw the doors of our flagship stadium open to other sporting organisations proved that our Association is an innovative and ground-breaking one, capable of making a big decision that could only promote our sport in the right way.

I have also been privileged to write about some of the greatest games our Championships have ever seen, both in football and hurling, even if some of those steeped in the small ball code cringe when I write about their game as they maintain I’m not nearly well enough qualified to do so.

Having won the All-Ireland in 2002, when I came on board with The Irish News I was fully looking forward to commenting on all the success Armagh would have in the coming years, yet fate dealt me some cruel hands along the way.

It was one thing to watch Tyrone win three Sam Maguires in quick succession, but it was another level of pain altogether to have to sit in front of a laptop to try and write positively and heap praise on the Red Hands.

I regard some of my columns from those years as my most creative work ever. To this day, people still come up to me and say that the Armagh set-up should have won at least three All-Irelands during the early years of this century.

I’ve also lost count of the times I’ve been introduced at one function or another as a member of Armagh’s one in-a-row team yet, perhaps because I take a light-hearted view on life, I feel absolutely privileged to have won an All-Ireland medal because nobody from our county had done it before us, and none have done it since.

Of course, it would have been nice to have more than one Celtic Cross to my name, but it is still the greatest thing in the world to be able to say I have one.

While there have been many highs over the last 13 years, and so many positive things to write about, there have been many sad times and tragedies along the way as well, both personally and within the wider GAA community.

Too many people have been taken far too young, with their deaths having massive impacts. Cormac McAnallen, my former Armagh team-mate Kieran McGurk, my first underage coach Charlie Grant, and of course my own very special brother Paul, as well as many others, have left us far too soon, and writing about them was very difficult at the time, yet also provided some form of solace.

It was a privilege in many ways to be able to pen a tribute to people who meant so much to so many, and obviously still do. I will also miss my little ‘slagging’ sessions with my somewhat lesser esteemed colleagues and columnists like Kevin Madden and Danny Hughes, who have playfully made reference to my somewhat stocky shape. 

I also have to applaud the stance taken by The Irish News, who, unlike many southern publications, seek to use former players who never actually won All-Ireland medals as columnists, because their opinions are valid at times too (I had to have the last word).

They say the pen is mightier than the sword and I fully agree as it can be quite a powerful weapon, especially in the wrong hands, which can be all too common in the modern age.

I would like to think my sword was more of a feather in that it was never meant to offend or annoy anyone, but rather to entertain in a light-hearted way, because we can take our sport far too seriously at times.

I have always maintained that I thoroughly enjoyed playing football for both my club and county, and the craic, the stories and the 
banter that I was part of over the years mean more to me than the trophies, the medals or the hard-luck tales.

So it just remains for me to wish every one of my dozen or so readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May all your wishes and dreams come true.

Adios Amigos!

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