While surprised by Paul Bardenâ€™s decision to retire from inter-county football, County Board Chairperson Brendan Gilmore was glowing in his praise of the Clonguish clubman.
Gilmore reflected, â€œHe was a class footballer, one of the greatest, and a true gentleman. Many outstanding players have lined out with Longford down through the years and Paul is up there with the best of them.
â€œIt was sheer joy watching him and I have a lot of memories, particularly the cracking goal he scored in the win over Roscommon in the 2011 National League Division 4 Final.â€
Gilmore said itâ€™s the end of an era. â€œPaul served Longford with tremendous distinction for 16 seasons and was rated among the leading players in the country. He posed serious problems for some of the best defenders in the country and he had the honour of representing Leinster (Railway Cup) and Ireland (International Rules). It is indeed a pity that his great talent was not recognised with a coveted All-Star award.
â€œHe has also excelled for his club and like another Longford legend Dessie Barry for Slashers in the past, Paul Barden was such a key figure for Clonguish in the winning of Senior Championship titles with the aid of his exceptional skills and attacking flair.â€
Gilmore remarked, â€œI suppose there was always going to be some doubt about Paul continuing to play for Longford after the recent operation on his ankle (achilles tendon) and while he is in the process of recovering we should have the pleasure of watching him in action for Clonguish in the County Championship later in the year.
â€œA top quality player like Paul Barden only comes along every so often and Longford were fortunate to have such a terrific leader and he was a matchwinner for us on numerous occasions.
â€œHe was one of the most dedicated players ever to wear the county jersey and we wish him well for the future,â€ concluded Gilmore.
If the Co Board chief was fullsome in his praise of Paul Barden, so too was Longford manager Jack Sheedy.
He said the pair spoke on Monday evening last week, less than 48 hours before the Leader broke the story that Sheedy and every Longford supporter had been dreading.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t say I was surprised,â€ interjected the Dubliner.
â€œI was hoping it wouldnâ€™t be the news we would be getting but we did know it was something that wasnâ€™t a million miles away.â€
The Lucan Sarsfields clubman intimated that he resisted the temptation to ask his star player to sleep on his decision.
Sheedy, if nothing else is a pragmatist. He knew Bardenâ€™s ongoing rehabiliation from achilles tendon surgery and the fact his wife Rachel was expecting their first child had been playing on his mind.
But when the call came, it was one Sheedy accepted with good grace.
â€œIâ€™m sure that (personal circumstances) had an impact as well and there was always the difficulty in getting back to that high level because Paul is not a man who does things by half measures.â€
That said, it was a decision the Longford boss couldnâ€™t hide his frustration over.
â€œI am not surprised, but I am a little bit disappointed we are losing a player of Paulâ€™s calibre but it is his decision and you have to respect that,â€ said Sheedy.
â€œI felt Paul could come through and would have a good deal to offer for another season.
â€œNotwithstanding that to get himself fit and back to that level would have been a big ask.â€
As Barden stated himself only last week, asking a weary and battle-hardened body to go through a 17th championship season would have been a step too far.
Judging by Sheedyâ€™s earlier comments, you get the impression thatâ€™s where the pair differed. Not that the Longford supremo was anxious to pursue the topic as he instead opted to heap praise on his former talisman.
â€œI was very aware of Paul for the last 15 or 16 years,â€ added Sheedy.
â€œHe was always a player that was cropping up. I would have often seen him on games that were televised on TV so I would have been very aware of his capabilities.
â€œHe had a tremendous attitude and professional approach allied to brilliant football and technical ability on the pitch.â€
They were virtues one of Sheedyâ€™s predecessors, Denis Connerton (Longford supremo from 2002 - â€˜04), who oversaw Longfordâ€™s rise to the National Football Leagueâ€™s former Divison 1A in 2004, was keen to endorse.
It was a time which also coincided in the rising emergence of arguably Longfordâ€™s most accomplished centre-half -forward for decades.
â€œIn the first round of the All-Ireland Qualifiers against Down (Longford won 1-16 to 0-14 in 2002), Paul scored five points that day,â€ recalled a sentimental Connerton.
â€œHe also scored one of the greatest points I have ever seen when he picked up the ball inside his own 20 metre line before running the full length of the pitch on his way to shooting over the bar.â€
Asked how those currently tasked with orchestrating Longfordâ€™s return from the footballing doldrums can fill Bardenâ€™s hugely influential boots, the answer was predictably unambiguous.
â€œYou donâ€™t,â€ replied Connerton. â€œYou just donâ€™t replace Paul Barden.â€