Paddy Andrews keen to make the most of every minute he gets

Sometimes he’s confined to a bit-part role but St Brigid’s man will contribute in any way he can to Dublin’s cause

Paddy Andrews and Bernard Brogan following Dublin’s victory over Monaghan in the quarter-final at Croke Park. “There are so many guys there to take your place. . . I’d say it’s a very good thing because it makes the team perform better.” Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho

Paddy Andrews and Bernard Brogan following Dublin’s victory over Monaghan in the quarter-final at Croke Park. “There are so many guys there to take your place. . . I’d say it’s a very good thing because it makes the team perform better.” Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho

Sat, Aug 30, 2014, 01:00

Some things are constant, some things aren’t. We don’t know what the lifespan of this Dublin team will be and yet most of the country can reel off a handful of set positions quicker than they can put counties into provinces.

Will any of us live so long as to see a day when Stephen Cluxton isn’t in goal? When someone other than Rory O’Carroll is wearing number 3 or James McCarthy 5, or Michael Darragh Macauley and Cian O’Sullivan in midfield, or Paul Flynn at 10 and Diarmuid Connolly at 12 with Bernard Brogan inside?

It feels like they’ve all been there a decade and would gladly hunker down for a decade more.

Yet others have their place too. Not all the time, not even necessarily most of the time. But there all the same, finding a niche within the Dublin set-up and trying to make more of it.

Take Paddy Andrews. He’s still just 26 yet only a handful of players have been in and around the Dublin panel longer. Cluxton, the Brogans, Connolly and Bryan Cullen all made their senior debut before he did but, in terms of longevity, he outranks everybody else. And yet here he is, prime of his life – still a sometime starter, still a sometime sub.

In the seven seasons since he first came onto the senior panel, he’s only played 13 championship games. He’s only started 10, only played all 70 minutes in four. He’s one of the few players in the squad to have played under three different managers, yet all the rest of that group were around for both All-Irelands whereas Andrews was cut from the panel at the end of the 2011 league.

Part of it has been his own fault, part of it hasn’t. He freely admits that when Pat Gilroy told him he wouldn’t be needed for the 2011 championship, it was because he had some lessons to learn about taking responsibility. He duly went and did so, driving St Brigid’s to a county title and a provincial run that only ended with the last kick of the last free of the last game of the year, a Christmas-week Leinster club final defeat to Garrycastle.

Gilroy had him back in situ come the spring.

Better player

“You were only young, just a kid,” he says. “You just grow up. You have to do that. I think I’ve become a better player as part of that, with that experience.

“Maybe I was a bit naive when I was younger but I suppose that happens when you’re younger. I’m long enough around now to know the best things to do to help you and to help you perform to the level that you can get to.”

Part of it – at least in the early days – was down to misuse. He went to DCU on a GAA scholarship in 2007, along with apparently half the able-bodied population of the country. In a college environment where in his first year he would play in the same team as Conor Mortimer, Martin McIlhinney, Seanie Johnston, David Kelly and Cathal Cregg, it turned out there wasn’t much room for him in the forwards. So he got saddled up in the full-back line.

The worst of it was that he was young and hadn’t the wit to do it badly. There was an O’Byrne Cup game against Offaly where he held Niall McNamee to a couple of frees. Another against Longford where Brian Kavanagh had to come foraging out the pitch to find space because Andrews had him struggling close to goal.

By the time he played for Dublin in that year’s league, Gilroy had moved him back into the forwards but the seed was sown.

Moved back

Fast-forward to 2009 and having already played a couple of games in the half-forward line, Andrews got moved back to corner-back for the Leinster final against Kildare.

He shackled Alan Smith pretty well, so much so that he kept the gig for the All-Ireland quarter-final. Against Kerry. On Colm Cooper. The day of the startled earwigs.

“He owes me an All Star!” he laughs now. “I was playing centre-back with DCU which is not too bad a position. But corner-back is very specialist. I had a few decent games in O’Byrne Cup matches but you can’t read too much into that.

“It’s a different story playing Kerry in Croke Park. I just learned from it as a footballer. Of course it was disappointing but you see the competition, not only in this Dublin team but Dublin teams over the last number of years. If you’re given a jersey anywhere you’ll take it and try and make a fist of it.”

Andrews hasn’t played in the full-back line since – “Did you not see the game?” he cracks when you ask if he has – and neither, funny enough, have Denis Bastick or David Henry, his compatriots in the last line that day. But for a long time afterwards it looked dubious enough as to whether he’d ever get a starting spot again.

He went through 2010 surviving only on dead-time minutes at the end of games against Wexford and Armagh and spent the following summer kicking his heels.

Brass tacks

Although that stellar winter of 2011 got him back in favour with Gilroy, 2012 wasn’t much better. Aside from a couple of niggling injuries, the brass tacks of it were that he was trying to break into a team that had just won an All-Ireland.

All he had to show at the end of the year was a substitute appearance against Meath in the Leinster final.

By the time Jim Gavin handed him the number 14 shirt against Westmeath last summer, it had been four years since he last started a game for Dublin. But Gavin trusted him and even though injury picked away at the middle part of his summer, he ended it with both his first All-Ireland medal and his first All Star nomination.

In any other county, he’d be banging his head against the wall at such a stop-start career.

Even this summer, a good start against Laois came with a wrist injury that kept him out until the last quarter-hour against Monaghan.

But when we talk about the competition for places in the Dublin set-up, Andrews is what the coalface of it looks like. He’ll take his minutes where he can get them. And if he can get them, it’s up to him to make them mean something.

“It’s what’s demanded from Jim. He’s in the strong position of being able to say to the six forwards who get the jersey that they have to work really hard as well and if they don’t, there is X, Y and Z on the bench pushing to come in for us. That’s the real benefit of the amount of competition there is. Nobody can rest on their laurels, literally not one player. You’re never there with the thought, ‘I might not go that hard in training tonight’ or ‘I might not kill myself in this run’. Because there are so many guys there to take your place. Mick Macauley called it ‘disgusting’ – I’d say it’s a very good thing because it makes the team perform better.”

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