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Opinion Is age really just a number?

When can we play the ‘just a number’ card… and when should we fold?

A CERTAIN PHRASE is bandied about a lot. It’s repeated more often than the footage of Maradona and his godly hand. But if we repeat something often enough, will it become a reality?

Is age really just a number? Does it actually matter? When can we play the ‘just a number’ card? And when should we fold?

I’ve been thinking about what age means in a few parts of my life…


I came to Gaelic football very late in life. At an age when some players were considering hanging up their boots for the last time, I was putting mine on for the first. I am generally marking a girl that is half my age. It is definitely not just a number here. But, alas, because ‘I don’t look my age’ I appear lazy or unfit as I come close to blood vessel burstage in an attempt to stay on her.

Although, on the other hand, when I was her age I was more interested in chocolate and movies – so I doubt I could have lasted the warm-up, never mind put in a challenge. I was never holding the lucky hand when it came to my football career regardless of the season.
But if we look at the likes of Ryan Giggs – the ‘Peter Pan’ of football – or JJ Delaney who held Kilkenny’s defence together to hold off the threat from Tipperary, we can see that maybe age is no longer the number it used to be, in the sporting field at least. Although, in fairness to JJ, 32 years young is hardly over the hill.

The off-licence

Clearly age matters here. Or does it? I’ve actually been asked for ID more times in my legal years than my underage ones. Maybe it’s just that our off-licences have developed more of a conscience of late. My DIY laminated student ID from my teens was never going to win awards for its fraudulent finesse.

Maybe they just ask everyone these days, regardless. And although I might be pretending to be put out as I trek back to get my ID from the car while holding up the queue in Aldi, on the inside I’m hi-fiving myself.

Health insurance

I don’t have health insurance. The odds are against me. I’m not sick. I’m not unhealthy. I don’t eat fast food. I exercise most days. I reckon I’ve got good genes. The 501s of familial genetics (touch wood). The last time I went to a GP he told me I was one of those annoyingly healthy people. He wanted to find something wrong with me. He failed.

However, even with all these elements in play, my age results in a health insurance number I can’t quite afford. I could be ten years younger, dividing my time between Big Macs and Call of Duty marathons and get a better quote. Age is a lot more than a number here – it’s a serious dent in my finances that I’ve been avoiding heretofore.


I recently moved counties (OK, a year ago). God how time flies (only old people say that). I had to find myself a whole new social network. The majority of my new acquaintances are 10 years younger than me – some are more than that.

You would think I’d be feeling aloof. I’m not sure if it’s just me but I don’t notice. I’m clearly very immature. The majority of the time I forget entirely about my position of seniority – although, they don’t seem to be as floored by a hangover as I am. And I can stand out when it comes to the number of ‘Reeling in the Years’ episodes I can relate to.

But it works the other way, too. I have plenty of friends who outrank me in years – some by decades – and it doesn’t matter a bit. We invariably talk about the same topics as my more youthful friends, although all night raves rarely come up. It appears when it comes to friendship and good company, age is the spice that provides the variety.


Most men my age have been snapped up. I can be forced into other categories. The older one. Age is more than a number here. It’s a mirror of mortality – and I don’t want to look. And then of course there are the sporadic attempts to be marked by a younger man. I assume they are as old as me and they assume I am as young as them. And then I’m left trying to apply all sorts of formulas. Half my age plus the square root of the prime number of your zodiac sign divided by the sum of your Chinese New Year. I get confused and abandon the task. Maths was never my strong point.

People point to Caroline Flack and Master Harry Styles. That didn’t end well. OK, but then there was Demi More and Ashton Kuctcher… mm not looking too good there either. Seems to work fine when you reverse the numbers though. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart. Al Pacino and his current girlfriend of 35 (he’s 74). Although there is Barbara Winsor (77) and her beau Scott Mitchell (46), so maybe there is hope.


When I look at the people, I know I don’t see their age. I see their faces, their personality, their humour (or lack of). Obviously I know how old they are, but it’s not what I see. Even with my parents, I don’t see their age (until I look at their wedding album). I don’t ignore my brother just because he’s younger than me. So, when you really know someone, does age matter at all?

If I could change my age like I could change my name, via deed poll, would I? On the one hand, I could finally afford health insurance; on the other, I doubt it would help my football career. Maybe it all really comes down to another hackneyed phrase – you’re only as old as you feel.

Michelle McBride tweets at @MichelleBride and blogs at MissUnderstood Teacher.

Today marks the start of Positive Ageing Week. See Age Action for more details.

Opinion: Ageism is far too prevalent, we need a cultural shift in how older people are perceived

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