As the debate over the future of some of Cork’s greatest ladies’ GAA players continues, here’s Jennifer O'Leary's advice to those who are thinking of retiring. It’s not an easy decision.
I KNEW the exact moment when I decided to retire from inter-county camogie with Cork.
It happened for me days after the 2014 All-Ireland final that Cork won – our first title win since 2009.
That was a fairy-tale ending to my inter-county career because after years of hard work and coming close without winning, finally everything fell into place that Sunday in September 2014. A huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I was content and a bigger percentage of me was certain that this would be the ideal and smart time to retire.
While there will always be reservations swirling around your head and an ongoing debate of ‘will I, won’t I?’, realistically it all boils down to that gut feeling that is strongly in favour of one (time to go) over the other (give it another year). It’s instinct.
Don’t get me wrong, as some of you may know I was one of those who retired twice! Let’s just call the first attempt a prime example of my terrible judgement and an almost impulsive response to answer a question posed by someone one day in passing. Without even thinking I said I was retiring, but I knew I lied as soon as the words left my lips.
I know there are inter-county players around the country right now – and even here in Cork – struggling to answer the burning question themselves: will I, won’t I?
Believe me, it may not be as easy a task as you may think. Retirement can be comparable to a riveting novel. The novel represents your life in sport, your accolades, your sporting memories, your best friends, and the journey. However, you find yourself at a cul de sac. In the blink of an eye you are at the end of the book that enthralled you from the front cover to the final creased page, as you carefully turn it over to reveal the ending....
You have read it all, you have experienced the journey and now you are saddened that it has come to an end.
But you can look at it in a number of ways. Be satisfied and content with the ending that is your inter-county career. Reflect on the plot and storyline and focus on the many lessons the novel has taught you. Or you can continue to pick faults and become driven once again to make up for them by maybe changing the ending to the not yet finished product. Try again for another year.
Back in late 2014, I chose to be overwhelmingly content with my ending. While my body felt like I still had a few years left in me, I was satisfied with the story camogie helped etch out on paper for me.
There was another novel to be written in another facet of my life that I am still working on; let’s call it a work in progress, an exciting life adventure.
My decision to retire was not made without the huge support of my family. Having told them in 2013 that I was moving to Armagh and retiring, they reacted the same way as when I told them, ‘Actually, I’ve decided I’m going to make the 250-mile journey down to Cork for training and matches every so often, I’m coming out of retirement.’
They never called me a fool or a crazy person. And the same process happened after our 2014 win when I said: ‘I’m really retiring this time’. There was no big show made. It was calm and it felt totally right.
No matter what facet of life you retire from, of course it’s never easy. My father, Joe O’Leary, retired from his job on February 24th this year, the day of his birthday. His career spanned a 43-year period and while he said he is looking forward to retirement, he loved every minute of his job and will miss it. He has made fantastic friends who will support him on his new life adventure and he is looking forward to the freedom that retirement brings.
This is one aspect of retirement that I embraced wholeheartedly – the free time, the holidays I could finally take and the friends who once again became visible on my calendar, the opportunities that would come my way if I embraced them and didn’t get lazy, and the extra time for sports at a lower stress level I would experience.
The year I retired from Cork camogie just happened to coincide with about 14 family and friends weddings. I had justification and due cause for my decision, a means of backing up and reassuring me on my choice.
My close friend Joanne Browne (O’Callaghan) retired the same year as me and funnily booked an amazing holiday away to Dubai around the time of the All-Ireland final so she could not change her mind. My husband and I took a sun holiday that summer in 2015 and I couldn’t understand how the streets in Portugal were so busy with tourists. It was peak season of course; I hadn’t experienced a holiday like that since my youth.
The most important advice I would give to people contemplating retirement is to do what is right for you. Take some time to yourself and ask yourself if this decision is putting you first or the team first. Is it satisfying others needs above your own? Have you achieved what you set out to achieve and what is it you want to do now that leads you to want to retire?
You must have a plan, something to look forward to; not just short term, as holidays are only temporary. Having a long-term goal that you intend on fulfilling post retirement is essential and important for the body and mind. You need to keep busy as there will be a huge void in your life following retirement.
Inter-county training would have given you structure, a drive, a close camaraderie with your teammates. There can’t be 80 per cent of you in favour of retiring and the other 20 per cent not certain. If there is an overwhelming doubt the lesser will more often win and you will find yourself becoming bitter and really not sure about your choice once again.
If you feel like you still have a burning desire to return to inter-county, don’t feel ashamed or silly, I did it. I still get a mocking over it but at least I can generate some laughter in my story.
The decision, at the end of the day, should be easier than harder, do what your gut says and believe that the choice you make is the right one for you.