DENIS HURLEY COLUMN: Mark White’s brave decision to take year out is easy to understand

January 4th, 2020 5:00 PM

By Denis Hurley

Cork's goalkeeper Mark White.

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THE news that Cork football goalkeeper Mark White wouldn't be involved with the county team in 2020 might have brought an initial reaction of surprise in most quarters.

After all, as the undisputed first-choice custodian for Ronan McCarthy's side, the 21-year-old looked set for a decade or so in the white jersey, having established himself as the market leader in 2018, just out of minor level.

For those who would love to play for Cork but can't, it probably seems like an unusual decision to take a year out as he is spending the summer in the United States, but in another way it's a brave and refreshing call by the Clonakilty man.

While he is still young, he has a lot of football played, winning a Sigerson Cup medal with UCC last year as well, and we have seen far too many examples of players affected by burnout in the mid-to-late 20s after doing too much, too soon.

White is in the final year of a commerce degree at UCC. Recently, an ESRI report found that 61 percent of inter-county players had at least a university degree, compared to 35 per cent of the general male population of the same age. However, the same study also found that players appear to be basing many decisions related to their education and their professional career around playing Gaelic games.

This manifested itself in choosing college courses and jobs which allowed for more time training and playing. However, the knock-on effects were the fact that, once their GAA careers ended, these left them at a disadvantage in terms of work.

A stand-out line in the study were that players identified two key areas where they would like to receive more support – these were ‘professional career’ and ‘how to keep their inter-county participation in perspective’. In addition, players specified that the issues they would most like to change about their inter-county experience would be a reduction in the length of the playing season, fewer time commitments and the reintroduction of enjoyment into the games.

In such a landscape, it's easy to understand why someone still so young, as White is, who is after two years at minor level and then straight into senior, wants to take some time out and do the things that other young men his age do during a summer. That doesn't mean that it was an easy thing to do, though.

His main rival for the goalkeeping spot, Micheál Martin, is 24 and he might take his chance with both hands but there is no reason why White could or should be frozen out when he returns home. A year doesn't seem that much when you are that age and he will still have a long career ahead of him after his American sojourn. Dublin players Jack McCaffrey and Rory O'Carroll are good examples of how a break can be enjoyed before settling back into football. Closer to home, Ciarán Sheehan is picking up with Cork seven years after he last lined out and nobody is holding it against him that the gave Australian rules a try.

It may be the case that White's experience sets a trend and other young Cork players opt for similar in years to come. If that were to happen, it wouldn't be the end of the world. Ideally, these players come back a year older and wiser, having seen of the world but keen to knuckle down to the task ahead. It was a different time and unique circumstances, but when Larry Tompkins joined Cork in 1987 after a couple of summers in the US, he was ready to do all he could to get himself and the county to the top.

While it may seem sacrilegious to say it in the sports section of a newspaper, inter-county-GAA is not in fact the be-all and the end-all. There is a big world there to be seen and to expect players to put their lives on hold for Gaelic games is hardly a fair attitude to take in this day and age.

Cork will survive without Mark White and he will survive without Cork, but the hope is that when he returns it is as a more valuable asset.

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