In France they call it “Le petite morte,” the moment when that unwanted visitor, sporting retirement, arrives at your doorstep. The English translation, “The little death”, may sound like a gross exaggeration, but to all those who have experienced it, a little death it most definitely what it feels like.
Retirement, and knowing when the time is right to retire, is undoubtedly one the hardest moments of anyone’s sporting career, even when it is decided on one’s own terms.
Harlequins and Scotland lock Debs McCormack did everything on her own terms during a long club and international career, so it comes as no surprise that when it came to the agonising moment of dealing with sporting retirement, she had the strength of character, and the wisdom, to make that difficult decision.
I have been extremely fortunate to have seen and meet some of the greats of the game from Gareth Edwards to Dan Carter, and with my hand on my heart I can honestly say I have never come across a greater team player than Debs.
As I write this piece I can almost see Debs squirm, compliments and praise, even when they are justified and worthy, do not sit easily on her sore and modest shoulders.
I don’t think Debs will ever realise just how good a player she was, or indeed how popular she was with team mates, fans, and journalists alike, only because that does not fit in with the humble way in which she operates.
I could list so many examples that I have witnessed first hand of her modesty and selflessness, but I’m afraid it would necessitate me writing another book just to get close to listing them all.
Once “Le petite morte” has had a decent mourning period, I really hope that Debs will allow herself the time to look back with pride, and a great deal of pleasure, at what she has achieved in the game.
Rugby, and in particular the women’s game, will be all the better for her legacy, those following in her wake will find the path that little bit smoother, thanks to her and others.
Debs epitomised and displayed everything that is good about our wonderful game, she respected and demonstrated its values with honour, and there is no greater compliment I can pay her than that.
I count myself fortunate that I was able to witness at close hand the latter part of her rugby playing journey, including her 30th Scottish cap, which at one stage we both believed was cursed. But come it did, eventually, against France in Lille, in the 80th minute, a moment I witnessed in a Parisian hotel on French television. I’m pretty sure my shouting at the TV was the catalyst for Scotland coach, Shade Munro, to bring Debs off the bench.
How she balanced university, a job and elite rugby I have absolutely no idea, but she did so with apolomb, and despite the huge demands on her, Debs always still found time for everyone who needed a chat, an encouraging word, or just a smile.
Rugby gave her a lot, but in return she also gave rugby everything she had, Harlequins and Scotland were the lucky recipients of her unconditional loyalty. Debs was never one to make a fuss, even during a long injury spell, when diagnosis of the problem proved elusive, in fact her shoulder still isn’t right, and was one of the factors in her announcing her retirement. She sometimes felt a fraud, even though she was in constant pain, questioning inwardly whether people believed her, imagining she was letting folks down, and whether or not the whole thing was in her head, but of course we all knew nothing could be further from the truth, it always took something major to keep Debs off the field of play.
Her career and statistics have been written about by those more eloquent than myself, following news of her retirement, released by Harlequins Women on Saturday 8 August.
31 caps for Scotland, 23 competitive appearances for Harlequins Women, including two Tyrrells Premiership finals, reveal the impressive bare facts but her rugby career was about far more than that.
A try for Scotland against Spain in a World Cup qualifier, and tries in the semi final and final of the 2017 Tyrrells Premiership for Harlequins are wonderful memorable moments, as was her hat trick of tries down under for Sydney outfit Eastern Suburbs against Wollongong, a performance that earned her a place in the Shute Shield team of the week.
Jade Konkel has been behind Debs, quite literally, as number 8 for Harlequins and Scotland, and she summed things up perfectly.
Debs’ Motherwell Gran made it possible for this flower of Scotland to bloom in the thistled shirt, and I feel certain she will be looking down with pride at what her girl has achieved, and in the impressive and dignified manner with which she has achieved it.
Debs we salute you and thank you, for enriching our lives on and off the field. Those playing days are passed now, I’m not sure we will we ever see your like again, but as flowers of Scotland go, you were without doubt the pick of the bunch.