Don't pack it all in 5 months ago

Don't pack it all in

I left football at the wrong time. It kills you.

“Hey. Yeah, listen I’ve had a think about it. I appreciate the call, but I’m just not able to commit to it this year. Best of luck this season. Talk to you, cheers.”

It’s a time of year when we take stock on a lot of things. Sport is no different.

Maybe pre-season training is the furthest thing from your mind. Maybe you’re already in the throes of it. Maybe you’ve already made your mind up.

It’s the time of the year when many club players consider packing it in. We think about the time we’ll have to commit, the weekends given away and whether or not it’s actually all worth it.

It is.

Winter training, when you arrive with 4 layers, gloves, hat and every scrap of clothes you’ve dug out of the wardrobe, and leave with steam rising off you in barely a t-shirt and shorts. Shuttle runs with numb feet. The slap of a ball off frozen legs. Lungs burning with the cold air.

It’s worth it.

The promises of “this year is our year”. The scrape of studs off the dressing room floor as the manager tells you what will be different this time around. The smell of Deep Heat catching in the back of your throat when you arrive. Slipping on the boots and realising you didn’t dry them out from the last day.

These are things you’ll eventually miss.

Because maybe this year is your year. Maybe this time, it will be different. Maybe it will be promotion. Maybe a Championship. Maybe it will just be a step further along the journey to one of those things. Maybe it’ll just be you pinning down that starting jersey. Maybe it'll be none of those things.

But there’s nothing worse than the might have beens.

I walked away from my club, Round Towers Lusk, five years ago for a lot of the reasons most people do. Time travelling, time training, time working. And I’ve always missed it. I missed it even more when my team got promoted the following year and won the Junior Championship. I was delighted for them, of course I was. But when you’re absent from those big moments, it leaves you thinking. When you make that call in January to your coach, when you leave the team WhatsApp group, when you suddenly find yourself with free midweek evenings and enjoying a pint at the weekend… You wonder.

I've watched from afar in the last few years as they’ve gone from strength to strength, league to league, Championship to Championship. I felt it more than ever when they lifted the Senior 2 title in Parnell Park this year, and the second team won the Junior 3 All County Championship. A bit of a sense of loss, a hell of a lot of pride.

But you question it. Could I have been up there? If I’d stuck it out, would I have played my part? If I hadn’t walked away when I did, would I be a Senior footballer now?

The might have beens.

For most people, when they walk away from the game they love this doesn’t happen, I know that. But when it happens to you, you end up questioning that decision and asking yourself why you didn’t just stick it out. Let’s be honest, I could easily have left the following year. I probably would have injured myself at key moments. I would likely have been warming the bench for most of the last 5 years. To be honest, the success is irrelevant, I would miss it either way. But it’s the not knowing that kills you. It's the might have beens.

There's never a good time to leave the game you love. Part of you will always ask if you made the right call. Part of you will always miss it. Part of you will always wonder.

Think about it. You’re long enough retired.