A spate (‘spate’ in this context meaning ‘more than one’) of retirements at season’s end is significant. What the significance is, I don’t know, but it has to be significant. Three players saw fit to jack it in after the 2008 All-Ireland final loss, and the last week has seen two gallant servants of Waterford hang up their respective boots.
First came Eoin Murphy. It’s embarrassing that I can’t think of any spectacular moment in Murphy’s career upon which to hang any reminiscing about him. I blame the helmet for diminishing his distinctiveness. It certainly caught out RTÉ. Thankfully the raw numbers come to my rescue. Having made his Championship debut as a sub in the demoralising loss to Limerick in 2001, he could have envisaged a bleak future with Waterford. It is in no small part due to his efforts that the opposite was the case as he would start 40 of the next 43 Waterford Championship matches. Quite apart from all the honours he won as a player, which includes an All Star, such a record ranks him fifth in overall Championship appearances for Waterford (my records only go back to 1981 but the only player I know of likely to upset such a projection, Jim Ware, would have needed to play every match between 1927 and 1949 to have accumulated that many appearances). Murphy would have gotten a few more but for the sickening injury he received earlier on in the year. With that in mind, he can adopt a phlegmatic outlook on never winning the All-Ireland. Just surviving in one piece is enough.
Given the injury, Murphy’s retirement was hardly a surprise. What was less expected was that of Clinton Hennessy. Conjuring up some flannel on Hennessy’s career beyond the numbers – 31 successive appearances between the sticks should satisfy your inner geek – is easier than with that of Murphy, mainly because the goalkeeping position was such a knotty one before he arrived, seemingly from nowhere, on the scene in Croke Park against Cork in 2005. When Sami Hyypia departed Liverpool, I noted that “there was a time when Liverpool had a reputation for having all the defensive skills of a slug on an army training ground”. Much the same could be said of a string of Waterford goalkeepers. Happily, with Clinton between the sticks, it wouldn’t be long before such talk vanished. I can’t recall any flubs in his Waterford career – that’s not to say they don’t exist, just that they’re not obvious or memorable. And like a referee, a goalkeeper who is invisible is the best kind of goalie. The lack of an All-Ireland did become noteworthy though, and with Adrian Power and Stephen O’Keeffe snapping at his heels I did wonder whether a change would be as good as a rest. Well, be careful of what you wish for, because we’re going to find out in 2012. Good luck to both Adrian and Stephen – you’ll need it.