By Cian O’Connell for gaa.ie
Tom Parsons never stopped dreaming and scheming. Being let go from the Mayo panel hurt deeply, but Parsons ploughed on defiantly.
Even when work brought him to Cardiff, Parsons remained a firm believer: he would wear the green and red again.
Released from the Mayo panel at the end of the 2011 Allianz Football League, Parsons didn’t return until 2014.
In that time Parsons made an impact with Charlestown, a proud club in Mayo. “Every athlete can have doubts and you face those doubts, but to return to play for Mayo was something that was always on my agenda and priority list,” Parsons says.
“That started when I was released, to get back to basics – playing with my club and they were the steps that were involved to get back in to play with Mayo.
“I played with my club nine or 10 consecutive weekends in a row I came back and played with my club and won an Intermediate county title and Connacht title and they were thoroughly enjoyable years too.
“Definitely, I think at aged 18, 19, 20 to make a team at a very young age, me personally felt I could be playing for Mayo for 10 or 12 years and maybe getting released from the squad, I certainly appreciate at this stage of my career how valuable and precious it is to represent your county at inter-county level and to put on the Mayo jersey.
“It doesn’t last forever and as a player or an athlete we’re only a game away, an injury away from playing our last game with our county. At the moment I am 29 years old and one big injury could finish my career and my last game could be my last game and that’s a reality I’ve learned from maybe being released and maybe it is a reality that comes with age as well.”
So when the call came in January 2014 to report for Connacht FBD League duty Parsons was ready, willing, and able to oblige even though he still lived in Wales.
“I got the call back in January of 2014, but that was a call-back to play a number of FBD and League games, not necessarily making the panel at that stage,” Parsons reflects.
“It is like any team, you are on a trial basis until they pick the panel for the Championship so for that period of the League I was flying home to play with Mayo through the whole League campaign until the end of the League campaign when I was selected in the Championship panel.”
It meant that Parsons had to plan his schedule accordingly with a transfer to Ireland eventually sorted.
“I work with a large international engineering company called Jacobs Engineering and I was lucky enough that they have offices around the world and one of those offices was Dublin and that they facilitated a transfer for me to the Dublin office so I didn’t have to change company,” Parsons states.
“But at the same time my partner Carol, I had to convince her to leave and change her job and give up her job in the UK and follow me back to Ireland to pursue my dream so there was a lot on the cards and maybe a risk to take at that stage when both of us, myself and my partner, had a career and life set up in the UK to come back to play for Mayo.
“But it is absolutely worth it every time you put on that jersey to play for Mayo, with the magic support we have day in, day out. It is something that I have absolutely no regrets.”
While based in Cardiff between September 2012 and May 2014 Parsons just wanted to feature in the Championship for Mayo.
“Never pretty confident, but there was definitely an element of resilience built up in myself and when I was released from the panel in ‘11, Parsons comments.
“I have a very close relationship with my father Tom and my mother Carmel. I remember saying to them that I will play for Mayo again and I had made a verbal contract to myself at that stage and you don’t forget words like that.
“I felt I was resilient and I also felt I was lucky to have a great club in Charlestown.
“We had the opportunity at the time to win an Intermediate and then push on the following year and compete at a County semi-final in the Senior Championship because, without your club team doing well you don’t get the stage to maybe show your skills and ability to come into a county panel again.”
Having featured for Mayo as a teenager Parsons is relishing being back as a key figure in Stephen Rochford’s team.
“It’s very hard to keep up that level of intensity at that age and I certainly think at an older age, for myself personally, I definitely have more grá, more want and will to work really, really hard to keep that jersey because I know what it means to lose it,” Parsons admits. “I put my hats off to some of the young players who are with us now, their character and resilience is just brilliant and they are 21, 22 years old.”
Parsons knows the delight and despair sport can brings, but he remains a source of inspiration in Mayo. The commute from Cardiff to Charlestown examined Parsons’ resolve so trotting out on to Croke Park next Sunday will be the next stop on a thrilling tour.