Reflections on Dublin,
playing up front, a day at the races and Croke Park
TANGLED UP IN BLUE
I found it very hard to get into the match against Dublin. Having
missed so much training I took a good while to get to even the pace
of that game. Physical fitness is one thing, but match fitness is
totally different. The anticipation of play was there, but the
sharpness wasn't. But I was delighted to get back into the
championship at Croke Park.
Dublin were very disappointing. I didn't see the league match
when they put up a big score against Offaly, but I reckoned there'd
be some improvement there.
I did see the highlights of their win over Westmeath and they
weren't terribly impressive, but that was a game they were going to
win anyway and they were probably thinking about Offaly and - same
as ourselves - the good chance they had of getting to the Leinster
I was expecting a good fight out of them. But placing Stephen
Hiney at full forward when they were playing against the wind was
mad. He's as good a hurler as you'll get and I played Railway Cup
with him last year and he more than held his own but as a defender.
Then they brought him back when they had the wind.
Conal Keaney was a huge loss to them and they weren't able to get
around that. Dublin have beaten Offaly at under-21, done well at
minor and this should have been a natural progression.
I don't know where they go from here.
BACK TO FRONT
After beating Laois we played a challenge against Limerick and I
got a run at full forward. The back line hurled well against Laois
when I was injured and I'd say the selectors were just looking at
the options. I've been a back forever, but I don't mind trying up
I did play there when we won the All-Ireland in 1998, but that
was more of a once-off sort of move. In the semi-final that year
against Clare when things couldn't get any worse we made a lot of
changes to try and turn it around and I played at full forward.
Then in the final against Kilkenny people forget that I was moved
out of wing back because I wasn't going as well as expected. I got a
breather at wing forward and scored a point before switching to full
forward in the second half.
It's also forgotten that the move was tried again a couple of
years later in a match against Kilkenny, but it didn't work out.
I wasn't annoyed at getting the All Star at full forward in 1998,
but I did feel that the award should be for performances over the
whole season rather than one or two matches. I also felt that maybe
the award was making it up to Offaly for what had happened in the
Anyway, it's a different position and you'd have to work at it to
be ready to play there for a whole championship. Brian Corcoran's
doing that this weekend for Cork, but he has been brought on quite
It would have been easy to start him against Limerick, but Donal
O'Grady did the right thing in holding off.
But you just don't know until the championship, particularly for
a player who hasn't played for two years.
DAY AT THE RACES
A few of us went to Kilbeggan races on Monday night. I met loads
of friends and familiar faces and everyone wanted to talk about the
There's a little more talk now that we're in the final, but a
fair bit of disappointment with the way we've played.
A common complaint is: "If you've conceded 1-13 against Dublin
and 1-15 against Laois what would a better team score?" I don't mind
this kind of thing too much and most players learn to live with
It's in the nature of the GAA because players are very, very
approachable. You don't see many of them rebuking people for coming
up and talking to them. No matter where you are or where you come
from you'll always sign an autograph for a kid and people think they
know you well enough to say what they think.
If someone says something unpleasant or over the top, I can
reciprocate, but normally I let it all wash over me. Every player
goes through this at some stage.
Things are said by people who should know better and who probably
just want to have a go at players.
There's a totally different feel to the new Croke Park. It's an
unbelievable stadium, right up there with what you'd see anywhere
and facilities are second to none. Heading up to the corporate level
for a drink after the game is like walking through a plush
It's some achievement for an amateur organisation and a credit to
But unless you're playing in an All-Ireland final there's not the
same atmosphere. Fifty thousand people can be lost in it and that
takes the gloss off big days. Players don't mind in that they go out
there to win, but when supporters look around and see the ground
under half full the big-day effect suffers a little bit.
I think realistically an alternative venue has to be found for
You have Nowlan Park and Portlaoise with reasonable capacities
now. There's definitely a better atmosphere playing in front of a
full house, a better feeling coming back from the crowd and that
But I was delighted to get the run out at Croke Park because it's
such a big pitch now.
There's an extra six or seven yards' space in front of you all
the time and you're very aware of it. I was watching the football
last Sunday and - it happens especially in football - the full backs
and their forwards were the only players in their own half. That's a
huge amount of ground to guard and protect.
The surface is something that brings the whole of Croke Park into
question. There's never a true bounce of the ball or run of the ball
because of the way it's been laid with the plastic. To me it's just
not natural. The grass last Sunday was the longest I've ever seen at
Croke Park, but it was as if it had been brushed down to allow for
There's a policy now of watering the pitch the morning of
matches. If you looked last Sunday there was a lot of slipping.
There had been rain, but it's going on in every match.
The week before, Wexford and Kilkenny, was a glorious day, but
there was still quite a lot of slipping.
The pitch is also very hard on the calves. You find that they're
very, very tight after a match in Croke Park and the soles of your
feet could be in ribbons afterwards. But that's the surface and
players will just have to get used to it and get on with it.
A lot of players, including myself, would have preferred if they
had re-laid the new surface the natural way.
I think there was a lot more than GAA in mind when the surface
was laid down and we're paying the price of it now.
I know they're working on it, but it's hard to see what they can
do because there's this layer of plastic underneath the grass. To
me, you're never going to have the natural run of the ball.
Last Sunday, one of the players noticed in the puck around before
the match that the ball was following the lines of which way the
pitch was mowed or brushed. That generally wouldn't happen. The ball
would just fly through and make its own way. But he noticed that
when the ball slowed down it was following the groove of the
Still, we're glad to be there on Leinster final day.