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Glad to sharpen up against a stagnant Dublin

by Brian Whelahan was published in the Irish Times on Thursday the 24th of June 2004

Reflections on Dublin, playing up front, a day at the races and Croke Park


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 final.

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.


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 front.

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 past.

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 slowly.

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.


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 match.

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.

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 hotel.

It's some achievement for an amateur organisation and a credit to the GAA.

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 certain games.

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 lifts players.

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 hurling.

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 ridges.

Still, we're glad to be there on Leinster final day.

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