Sport

Colm Cavanagh: Age is only a number when there is more left in the tank

There has been plenty of speculation surrounding the futures of Darren Hughes and Conor McManus following Monaghan’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Dublin, but both men would appear to still have much to offer to the Farney cause  Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
There has been plenty of speculation surrounding the futures of Darren Hughes and Conor McManus following Monaghan’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Dublin, but both men would appear to still have much to offer to the Farney cause Picture by Margaret McLa There has been plenty of speculation surrounding the futures of Darren Hughes and Conor McManus following Monaghan’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Dublin, but both men would appear to still have much to offer to the Farney cause Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

I am celebrating another birthday this week and as much as I appreciate getting older and feel that ‘age is just a number’, it is definitely becoming more apparent that age really does matter when it comes to sport. 

The wear and tear on our bodies, the increased effort, the slower recovery, it is all age-related.

Age matters from we start out in sport as kids at U6 level, moving up through the ranks to minor, U20s seniors and even Masters football. 

The desire to perform at our best within our age group at youth level teaches us the importance of discipline in starting to look after our bodies, train, eat well, sleep well, and this only becomes more and more important as we get older.

After Monaghan’s defeat by Dublin there was a lot of speculation swirling about the futures of both Conor McManus and Darren Hughes. People were speculating that it could be time for them to retire based solely on their age. 

I am fortunate enough to be friendly with both men and a bit like myself, playing at that level becomes part of who we are. 

For McManus especially, if he still has the drive and ambition to work hard and play in the jersey, with his level of skill I certainly wouldn’t be calling on him to hang up the boots just because he has a few years under his belt.

Darren’s scenario is slightly different in that he has a young family at home, although if it is anything like our house, it’s all my wife and children ever knew. 

They were used to the intense training routine and me missing certain events and days out to keep going for another shot at some silverware. 

Therefore retirement will become an internal decision for both men. Age shouldn’t be a factor in their thinking.

Starting a successful Gaelic career a few years later than the norm is something we don’t hear of often, but when we do it can still be a success story. 

Ryan McMenamin, the hero of Tyrone fans for many years, didn’t play inter-county football at minor or any underage level, rather


saving up all his efforts to make an impact when it came to the senior team. 

To come into a set-up fresh can be as refreshing for the team as much the player – and in Ricey’s case it was great for Tyrone because opponents didn’t have any pre-conceptions or any ‘homework’ done, they had to play against an unknown and that worked to Tyrone’s advantage on many occasions.

What age do we finish becoming ‘experienced’ players and start becoming ‘old’? Every team needs that delicate mix of youth and experience and, to be honest, the longer you play, sometimes the harder it is to give it up. 

At club level it is a lot more obvious when we see the passion and drive of the younger lads working hard and pushing themselves to break onto the senior team and we are comparing that to the men of almost and over 40 who aren’t quite ready to give up their space just yet because they still have something to offer. Teams need both.

The GAA is losing players at an alarming rate and I think the misconception of age has a lot to do with it – as well as the ever increasing commitment and a few other factors. 

We often hear it said that “it’s a young man’s game now” and whilst the game has evolved and changed over the years, why should experience not still be valued? 

Yes, the older players may not be as fast or as sharp as they were but the wealth of experience, the ability to read the game, can be invaluable, as can that level of confidence that only comes with knowledge and having played through something similar before.

There are a few Tyrone men now reliving their youth and reigniting their passion for football by joining the county Masters team. 

I am a few birthdays away from being eligible yet, but the fact Tyrone have such a successful team proves there are certain skills and passions that don’t change with age. 

Stephen O’Neill is still kicking points for fun, Conor Gormley is leading the ranks and my brother Sean still shows up when needed (most likely late, but at least he is there). There’s plenty of life in the ‘older dogs’ yet.

It is potentially a very long career for any footballer, club or county, if we consider starting training at U6 and playing into our 40s

It is a huge commitment but even if our pace is a second off what it used to be I think the drive to be there, the drive to maintain a place in a team and still have that sense of belonging to a very close-knit community is invaluable and sometimes it takes us until the twilight years to fully appreciate it. 

There are many lads I’ve spoken to who would say they called it quits too soon, that they still had more to give and they miss it.

There may be another candle on my birthday cake (banana bread) this week but for that I am very grateful and I’ll keep working hard in the hope there will be many more to come.