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GAA.ie columnist Denis Bastick.

GAA.ie columnist Denis Bastick.

Denis Bastick column: A different perspective from the stand

By Denis Bastick

I’d a serious job at the final whistle trying to keep my young son Aiden off the pitch at Croke Park last Sunday.

For as long as he can remember, the Dubs winning the Sam Maguire has meant getting to go on the pitch with his dad to celebrate.

Only this year it’s different. His dad is up in the stands in his clothes - not his gear and boots.

It was probably only then, as I tried to reason with my three and a half year-old, that the enormity of it hit me – that aside form the joy and elation I felt at seeing this team and this group of good friends achieve and be successful, that this time I wouldn’t be sharing it with them in the same way as before.

I’m on the outside now, a former player, who has served his time and has passed the baton on to a new group.

What a group it is to pass a baton on to. They are now the most successful Dublin team of all time and I fully expect them to zero in on the challenge and the goal that would be the drive for five in 2019.

It wouldn’t alter the process of everything being game by game; but these people are elite athletes who are driven by pushing themselves and chasing goals and of course the elusive five in a row and with it the incontrovertible status as the greatest team of all time would be a huge carrot for them.

When this golden era started with that win over Kerry in 2011 we had a dream about winning the Sam Maguire after a 16-year wait. The confidence we took from that win was like the missing piece. And then when a new management came in with a new wave of young talent in 2013, it meant that anything seemed possible, and the result is players like Stephen Cluxton, James McCarthy and Michael Darragh MacAuley have now won six All-Ireland medals.

Some of this Dublin team are only getting going. For others this could well be the last chapter and when the well-deserved partying and celebration is over I expect there will be changes and there will be men who will step away.

It’s not an easy decision and I’m sure the management team would want the squad to stay together and continue to work well together. But it is an individual decision, with factors other than football to take into consideration.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin pictured at Smithfield on Monday evening.
Dublin manager Jim Gavin pictured at Smithfield on Monday evening.

For me, I got limited game time in 2016, played in the 2016 final, but not the replay. That December I needed an operation which would leave me missing the 2017 league. Myself and my wife Jody would be welcoming out second child Clara Jane in March of ‘17 and it would be April before I was going to be back.

It left me looking at a five-month burst of May-September for when I would try and pour everything I had into an effort for Dublin. I signed up for that knowing 2017 would be my last season involved and it was one of my most enjoyable as I forced myself to take everything in and to savour and soak up every experience and every time I was with that special group.

For any player unless they are getting what they think is adequate game time then they could struggle to continue to make the commitment that is necessary.

Jim Gavin is blessed with some serious options.

Last January Brian Howard stayed behind from the team holiday to play in the Bord na Móna O’Byrne Cup campaign. He will finish the season with an all-star and an All-Ireland medal and maybe a shout for footballer of the year.

The year before, Niall Scully went from an impressive O’Byrne Cup campaign to featuring in every league and championship match for Dublin and winning his first All-Ireland. This year he took it on and I was delighted to see my Templeogue Synge Street clubmate cement his place in the team and add a crucial goal in the final.

The prospect that Diarmuid Connolly could come into the mix would also be exciting for supporters. He is a serious talent and a massive scoring threat. We’ve seen Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion both take spells away and come back refreshed. Rory O’Carroll stepped away too. If Diarmuid’s break leaves him re-energised and then in top form for his club, then a recall would be highly likely.

It leaves Jim Gavin in a very strong position already heading into 2019.

Diarmuid Connolly played with Donegal Boston in the United States of America this summer.
Diarmuid Connolly played with Donegal Boston in the United States of America this summer.

When I started out in inter-county football in the mid 2000s there may have been a culture of some players ‘wintering well’ and coming back with weight to shed. That is not the case any more.

There is very little off time. I remember one year going with my club until December 12 when we played out last game and then Dublin started back on December 14.

The Dublin club championship is back next week and there are big matches to decide the final league places too, and it will be all go.

Some players might have injuries to force them out. Some lads will grab a few days away. But the mindset will be that there is no off switch and you can’t afford to lose ground or risk losing your place. That’s the mindset that has brought them to this point and that won’t change now.

Physically you need to be in peak condition to be a Dublin footballer. But mentally it is every bit as demanding.

The benefit of this approach was all over last Sunday’s well-deserved victory over a spirited Tyrone.

This Dublin team plan, rehearse, discuss, prepare and walk through every possible scenario and it is mentally very draining but results in a very intelligent group of footballers.

The opening exchanges were very unnerving. Dublin were struggling to settle, Tyrone clearly targeted a strong start and to their credit their movement was excellent and what especially struck me was the quality of their foot passing to players in deep positions.

It took Dublin a while to adjust, but adjust they did because that is what they do best. They have a response for every scenario and every player knows what is expected of them.

Paul Mannion rifled his penalty home impressively and then you had a well worked move which resulted in Con O’Callaghan repaying Niall Scully for his semi-final tap in by presenting Niall with a neat finish.

Paul Mannion netted a crucial first half penalty for Dublin against Tyrone last Sunday at Croke Park.
Paul Mannion netted a crucial first half penalty for Dublin against Tyrone last Sunday at Croke Park.

Once the second goal went in the Dubs were in the driving seat and had players like Mannion doing great work in defence as well as attack.

Tyrone continued to probe and try to ask questions and it started to get tight when they got their goal. But it was then that you saw the well-rehearsed Dublin response. Cluxton got his next series of kicks all away and all on target. Jack McCaffrey really stepped up – so too Brian Fenton and Ciaran Kilkenny.

Trust me, this isn’t players grabbing the crest of the jersey and shaking a fist at their colleagues and calling for a display of emotion. This is intelligent football that has been scripted and sculpted carefully over weeks and months.

This is like cramming for an exam and being ready to produce answers when the questions are asked. That exam never came off Tyrone last year – it did come this year and Dublin had the answers – all of them. The result is an A1. All-Ireland Champions for the fourth year in a row.

The Dubs are the champions and the focus is already turning towards 2019. For the Dubs it’s a shot at immortality on top of the record unbroken run of games they’ve enjoyed or the record run of eight Leinster championships.

The prize for any team capable of stopping them is a form of immortality too – just like Offaly in ’82 are synonymous with halting the Kerry drive for five.

I’m looking forward to it already.

PS: Ciaran Kilkenny for Footballer of the Year in recognition of his incredible influence and scoring return from play.

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