It was only fitting that he would be the last man standing from the U21 Class of 2006.
Colm Boyle, whose retirement from the inter-county ranks at the age of 35 was confirmed by Mayo GAA today, epitomised everything that was great about the Mayo team that competed consistently at the top level in Gaelic football over the past decade. Tough, brave and utterly committed, Boyler time and again left it all out on the park in the pursuit of glory.
Sadly, like a number of his teammates gone before him in recent years, his inter-county career has ended without an elusive Celtic cross. It’s fair to say that it wasn’t for the want of trying on Boyler’s part.
Colm played Minor for the county in 2003 and 2004 – lining out in the forwards in the first of those years – and he also featured at U21 for three successive seasons between 2005 and 2007. It was in 2006, in the wing-back position he would go on to make his own at Senior level, that he was part of the Mayo team that won U21 All-Ireland honours, beating Cork in the decider in Ennis.
Called up to the Senior ranks by John O’Mahony in 2008, Colm made his first competitive appearance at Senior level as a sub in the Round 4 League clash against Kerry – that was the infamous Spoongate encounter, if anyone recalls that one – where he came on for Liam O’Malley. Colm would go on to make 120 League and Championship appearances for the county.
He made his full League debut two weeks later in Newbridge, where fellow rookie Tom Parsons turned in a sparkling performance as we won by six points. Boyler started at corner back in that game and it was in the full back line that Johnno sought to deploy him that summer.
Colm made his Championship debut against Sligo in the Connacht SFC semi-final in June 2008 and he lined out in the corner in that year’s Connacht final against Galway. We made a jittery start that day and the Davitts man was hauled off early on as we sought to get back on terms in a Nestor Cup decider we’d eventually go on to lose by the minimum margin.
It would be 2012 and in what was already a very different era for Mayo before Colm would play Championship football for us again. After that loss to Galway back in 2008, he made just one substitute appearance in the League the following year before dropping out of the panel altogether.
It was Davitts’ run to the All-Ireland Intermediate club final in 2012 that brought him, and Mickey Conroy, back to prominence and James Horan wasted no time in recalling both to the colours. In Boyler’s case, there was no looking back from there.
Even before that year’s Championship began, he’d started to establish himself as a fans’ favourite, not least given the way he somehow managed – with at least four Kerry players shielding him – to squirm clear and shoot the ball to the net as we edged a thrilling extra-time victory over the Kingdom at Croke Park in the League semi-final.
Two weeks before that, he’d formed part of the Keegan/Vaughan/Boyle half-back line for the first time – as we trounced Dublin by twelve points at MacHale Park – and this rampaging trio were the talk of the country before the year was out.
It was in 2013 that Boyler won the first of four All-Star awards, winning again in 2014, 2016 and 2017. Along with Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins, he’s the only Mayo player to hold four All-Star statuettes. He also won six Connacht medals and a National League one in 2019.
A cruciate injury suffered in the pre-Covid League meeting against Dublin in 2020 greatly curtailed his involvement in the latter stages of his inter-county career. In fact that February 2020 match was the final one he started for the county, with his final Championship start coming against the same opposition some months previously, in the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final.
The final time he took the field for us came in July this year. That was in the Connacht SFC semi-final against Leitrim, where he replaced Paddy Durcan. There was only a small crowd at MacHale Park that day but the roar that erupted as Boyler took the field was still a full-throated and heartfelt one.
I’m reading Andy Moran’s book at the minute and it’s a difficult enough read in the sense that there’s such poignancy in the fact that so many of the players who Andy played with and whom he mentions in his book were the finest performers any of us had ever seen in a Mayo jersey. Most of them have now retired from the inter-county ranks.
Of all of them, Boyler was surely one of the greatest. A true warrior who gave it all and more, who gave us supporters some of the finest sporting memories of our lives and who gave Mayo people everywhere such a sense of pride in our team and about where we all come from.
A price can’t be put on any of that, nor would anyone want to either. Because it was, in every sense, priceless.
Thanks for all those bone-crunching tackles, those last-ditch blocks, those daring runs forward, those morale-boosting scores, thanks for everything you did for the cause. We’ll not see your likes again, Boyler – here’s hoping your future is a long and happy one. Up Mayo.