Playing every game as it could be your last

It all started so brilliantly for Tom Parsons in the green and red of Mayo, he made his senior championship debut for Mayo in 2008 while still an U21 against Sligo and ended up that season heading to Australia as part of the Irish international rules side, the only Mayo player to be selected for that tour, but three years later when James Horan finished up his first league campaign as manager he was deemed surplus to requirements.

Three years later, after a lot of hard graft on and off the field that also saw him move to Cardiff for a time and travel home for nine weekends on the trot to help his club to county and Connacht titles in the intermediate grade in 2012, he finally got the call to come back into the fold. But even then luck seemed to go against him as he was injured in his comeback league game against Kildare in Newbridge and missed most of the league season, only getting runs from the bench against Cork and Derry in the final league games. He played his first championship game in four years coming off the bench in 2014 against New York in Gaelic Park, but got injured again and only got back on the field as a sub in both the drawn and replayed All Ireland semi-final against Kerry.

Last June Parsons started his first championship game in five years, against Galway in Pearse Stadium where he partnered Seamus O'Shea in the middle of the park, and ended the year with an All Star nomination. It's no wonder that he said in the build up to Sunday's game against London: "Every day you go out to play with Mayo you have to go out and play with the sense that this could be your last day, be it performance or injury you don't know what will come, and there is no truer word said that you're only as good as your last game."

The athletic midfielder is not bitter about those lost years, saying: "My debut for Mayo was in 2008 against Sligo and I had a few successful early seasons, but look, things happen and I wasn't in the panel for two or three years. I moved to the UK with work commitments, I think a key thing with Gaelic football is commitment with your club and even though I was in the UK I recall flying back for nine weekends in a row to play intermediate football with Charlestown, and we won a county and Connacht title, so the grá and motivation was always there with my club. There was always a huge grá to play with Mayo and it was a huge motivation and getting an opportunity to come back into the panel, I grabbed it with both hands."

Making sure that he holds on to his place in the team in the coming year is not going to be easy as there is a battle for every single spot that's up for grabs he knows. "There's a real talented group of players there, it's a real competitive panel and I don't think there is any player that really takes their position for granted, if you do, you'll feel that in training. There is a huge want from a lot of players in that squad to play for Mayo and I can't think of anybody in the current panel who just want to make up the numbers, they all want to start, they all want that jersey, and that's great, to have that competitive environment is great to have, if you don't have it you won't be at the top level. For me, I've learned from experience, I've been in the starting team, been a sub, and made the 26 and been outside the 26, you don't know what will come after each game, you have to prepare dilligently and take each game as a Connacht final or All Ireland final because it is."

Making sure that his body is in top condition to give 100 per cent is something that Parsons has learned over the years is something he has to give time to, and put in a lot of work off the field too. "I suppose physically I'm 28 years old, you see a trend with guys who are 27, 28, 29 maybe paying a little bit more attention to the finer details of stretching and warming up and the little details. Have I changed in my process of doing those things, yes for sure. I definitely treat the body more diligently now, pre and post training. So I've definitely changed, it does become more difficult to maintain that injury free body for the whole season, with club and county. I think with playing inter-county football a huge part of it is learning your body, how to train, how to recover, how to train your body to prepare for games, and then when you do pick up a knock or a niggle you rectify it immediately. When I was younger, I might be likely to play through and injury or not look after an injury and put my body through it. I definitely am looking after the body, mind, and soul better, with age comes a little bit of wisdom."

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