MARTIN Comerford would probably have preferred to drift into retirement without any fuss or fanfare, but when the possibility of a recall to the Kilkenny panel arose he had to confirm his departure from the inter-county scene.
Comerford leaves the stage with grateful thanks echoing in his ears from Kilkenny supporters everywhere. His haul of six All-Ireland medals, five National League titles, nine Leinster Championships and three All-Star awards is testimony to the achievements of one of the outstanding hurlers of the past decade.
The O’Loughlin Gaels player made a huge contribution to a gloriously successful decade. His work-rate was immense and irrespective of the position he played, Comerford’s style and ferocious commitment made life difficult for every defender.
Kilkenny was fortunate to have many strong, physical players during the past decade. Martin Comerford epitomised as much as anyone the drive and determination which was instilled in the side for every encounter.
Everyone, I am sure, has their own memory of his career with Kilkenny, but his clashes with the great Cork defender Diarmuid O’Sullivan stand out. The sight of these two great warriors facing one another in hurling combat brought gaps of excitement and delight from their respective supporters.
While Comerford’s physical presence was always a huge asset, he had many more important features to his game. He scored crucial goals in important games and his unique striking style saw the sliotar sail over the bar from all angles and distances.
His goals in the 2003 and 2009 All-Ireland finals hold special memories for supporters. That late goal against Tipperary in the 2009 final and his gesture of unbridled joy to Kilkenny supporters is a sight that will live long in the memory.
Winning the 2002 final with his brother Andy as captain was an obvious career highlight, but two years later that joy turned to disappointment when Kilkenny, with Martin as captain, lost the All-Ireland final to Cork.
Over the past two years Comerford has seen a modest amount of game time with Kilkenny. He was never comfortable sitting on the sidelines and yearned to be on the pitch. Whenever he was called to action he let his hurling do the talking.
His infectious enthusiasm would inevitably rub off on his colleagues, if matters were not going according to plan.
His lack of action last year remains somewhat of a mystery. Maybe lasting an intense 70 minutes might have been difficult, but he still had a lot to contribute. We were not to know at the time, but his introduction for Eddie Brennan in last year’s All-Ireland final against Tipperary was to be his swan-song in a Kilkenny jersey.
Time to leave
Leaving the Kilkenny stage is difficult for any player. It could not have been easy for Martin Comerford to say no to Brian Cody he was finished, but as he said last week, “now is a good time for me to leave.”
When Kilkenny lost the recent National Hurling League final many supporters felt that their physique was a contributing factor. Earlier this year Derek Lyng and James Ryall retired from inter-county hurling. Now Martin Comerford has joined the ranks of former players.
Martin Comerford, like his two retired colleagues, played in a glorious era with Kilkenny. They were all part of a special group. Their efforts brought its just rewards.
Thanks for the memories Martin; a great warrior, a wonderful hurler and a real gentleman, on and off the pitch. You will be missed!