Tom Parsons says the hours which followed being dropped from the Mayo panel ahead of the 2011 championship was "one of the lowest moments" of his life.
Parsons had made his Mayo debut under John O'Mahony as a 19-year-old in 2008 and had two good seasons before a nadir for the county in 2010. Mayo lost to Sligo in the Connacht Championship and Longford in the first round of the qualifiers.
"I found it so difficult that summer to say no to training, say no the club, say no to different teams," Parsons says in his episode of TG4 series Laochra Gael which airs on February 16th at 9:30pm.
"I played through an injury at 80 or 90 per cent. It was probably the worst thing I did."
Due to that injury, Parsons failed to make an adequate impression on James Horan who had replayed O'Mahony as Mayo's manager in the autumn of 2010.
"Everybody felt the pressure," Parsons continues.
"It didn't matter who you were, you needed to perform. For me personally, there was a sense of worry because I knew I wasn't 100 per cent.
"I remember playing in the National League that year probably at 80 or 90 per cent, just trying to do enough to make the championship team. I remember receiving this phone call, and hearing the words that, 'You've been released', and my heart just sank, and dropped.
"I couldn't hear anything else on the phone call because my just head went to a different place. It was a very strange feeling of rejection, utter disappointment, and failure. I didn't know where to go. The next few hours was one of the lowest moments of my life.
"The following year, I found myself working in a bar in Dublin. There was one moment I remember when the Mayo team came in after playing a league match in Croke Park. There was all my teammates coming in after a game they narrowly lost, a league final, and I was behind the bar serving the players.
"I remember one of the lads saying, 'Tom, we need you out there'. It just hit me, how I went from being a leader in the dressing room of the Mayo squad, and seeing purpose and vision in life and sport, to being a million miles away from that."
Next up we have @MayoGAA Legend @TomParsons_8 🙌
⭐️ Tom Parsons
⭐️ Déardaoin 9:30pm ar @TG4TV @CharlestownGAA @gaelicplayers @nemetontv pic.twitter.com/p7Lw5NGP05
— Laochra Gael (@Laochra_Gael) February 13, 2023
Parsons needed to find his identity outside of being a Mayo footballer. He did so by moving to Cardiff with his girlfriend Carol, who would later become his wife.
"I'd say what's really important for young players is to find their identity away from the game," Parsons says.
"At some point through injury, or being released, or through retirement, you need to find your purpose in life, and love for life away from the game because it's coming for everybody.
"That's when the GPA stepped in and I met an incredible person as a coach who said to me that I needed to move out of this negative mindset, and start positively programming your mind, and find your identity and self-esteem away from the game.
"You don't really understand yourself, and the strength of your relationships until you're faced with adversity. After being dropped, and having to move to Cardiff and asking [Carol] to move with me just to get away from it was a real test. It was a test of our relationship, and the strength of our relationship that [she] decided to go.
"For me personally, I had one life, which was immersed in Gaelic football, and then it was the joy of finding a career in engineering, [Carol] starting [her] physiotherapy career, friends away from Gaelic football, hobbies and passions. We found a bit of balance in Cardiff. Self-identity, I was more than just a player."
'This was my opportunity to get back with Mayo'
While in Cardiff, Parsons continued to play with his club Charlestown. He flew home on 15 consecutive weekends as they won a Mayo intermediate title in 2012. His performances caught the eye of the Mayo management team.
"Fast-forward 18 months later and I get call up to a trial with Mayo," Parsons says.
"I'll never forget getting the phone call on the Monday, 'Do you want to play against Roscommon on Sunday? There's an opportunity'. This is in January. They were probably the most important minutes of my life because it was only one opportunity to get back.
During the FBD League game against Roscommon, Parsons caught a kickout and landed on his back.
"Instantly I cough blood," he says.
"I'd punctured my lung. I got a boat back to Cardiff, and had to stay put for five weeks when I knew this was my opportunity to get back with Mayo, and there wasn't going to be another one.
"I didn't know if my fate was going to be on the championship panel until the last league game. James said, 'Look, if you perform, you're on my championship panel'. I needed to make a punt two weeks before that. I told Carol, 'I'm on the championship panel, let's move home'.
"That last league game against Cork was one of the most pressurised league games in my life because if I didn't perform, I don't think I could have faced Carol to say, 'Actually, I'm not on the panel' and we'd moved our lives from Cardiff to Dublin. I performed, got my place on the championship panel, and it was the right decision."