It’s said that bad news comes in threes. If so there was some inevitability to the announcement today that Tom Parsons has become the third Mayo player in as many days to announce his retirement from the inter-county game.
Tom’s decision to call time on his days as a Mayo player isn’t enormously surprising, even if his most recent appearance in the county jersey came just a month ago as a substitute in the All-Ireland semi-final. It was always a big ask for the Charlestown clubman to come back after he suffered that gut-wrenching knee injury in 2018 and he did enormously well to recover sufficiently to play at the highest level once more. Having done that, it makes eminent sense for him to bring the curtain down on an illustrious inter-county career.
It’s an innings that started with a bang as Tom enjoyed a stellar breakthrough year for us in 2008. He was only twenty at the time – he played for us at U21 level in 2007, 2008 and 2009 (when he captained the team) – and made his National League debut off the bench against Derry up in Celtic Park at the start of February that year.
A big Mayo crowd was looking on, though, in Newbridge the day he started his first match for the county at Senior level. That was at the end of March 2008 and he smacked home a cracking goal for us that day. Scoring from midfield, usually after a powering upfield burst that he somehow managed to disguise by his languid running style, became a regular occurrence for the Sarsfields man.
Tom made his Championship debut against Sligo at MacHale Park on 22nd June 2008. He enjoyed a productive summer for us, alongside Ronan McGarrity in the engine room that year, and his appearance on the scene was a bright spot on what was otherwise an underwhelming Championship campaign for us.
By the back-end of that year, Tom was in Australia as part of Seán Boylan’s International Rules squad and there were fears that he might end up following Pearse Hanley into the AFL. That didn’t happen, though, and the following spring he was back playing with Mayo.
It’s fair to say that Tom’s inter-county career veered off piste after that positive opening salvo. After featuring in the League and Championship in 2010 and again in the League in 2011, James Horan cut him from the panel – along with others, including Barry Moran and Aidan Kilcoyne – for the 2011 Championship.
Based in Cardiff for a few years after that, it looked as if Tom’s brief period in the limelight at inter-county level was over. But it wasn’t and he returned to the panel at the start of 2014.
A freak injury in the first round of the League proved a setback and he only featured intermittently in the final year of James Horan first tenure. Over the next three seasons, however, he became an increasingly influential figure for us and his performances then earned him All-Star nominations in 2015 and again in 2017. The decision to overlook him for an All-Star in 2017 was an egregious error.
He was going great guns again in 2018 until that fateful day when he crumpled to the MacHale Park turf, his knee wrenched horribly. The injury was so bad that the medics’ first objective was to save his leg but it wasn’t long before Tom was vowing he’d be back on the field of play again. It took him 15 months to do this but do it he did.
Like many Mayo supporters I’ll never forget the rousing ovation Tom was given as he made his entrance at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick on crutches. Mortified by the attention, he hobbled to his seat but the reception was a truly heartfelt one, for a highly respected hero.
He got the same treatment the following weekend down in Semple Stadium. By now clearly embarrassed by all the attention, Tom spoke with Rob and me for the podcast after that game and a pure gent he was. If you want to listen back to that episode you’ll find it here.
Tom completed his comeback by joining the fray from the bench in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2019. Dublin were well out the gate by the time Tom came on for Seamus O’Shea that day and there seemed to be a valedictory element to his appearance then.
Despite this, however, he was back again for 2020 and although James used him only sporadically, his final outing came off the bench at Croke Park in the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary.
In total, Tom featured 84 times for the county, including 36 Championship matches. He holds three Connacht SFC medals as well as a National League one.
Tom’s contribution to the cause will live long in the memory, not just for the almost effortless way he glided around the pitch, seemingly always in the right place and ready to make a telling intervention, but also for his fortitude in the face of the adversity he was forced to confront.
One of life’s good guys, he embodies the best of what the county strives to represent and, as his involvement with the GPA demonstrates, he’s a man we’ll be hearing plenty more from over the coming years.
As he takes his leave from the field of play, Tom deserves all of the thanks we can muster for all he has given us. Thanks for everything, Tom, and best wishes to you and your family for the future.