Brian Howard not buying the narrative of Dublin in decline

‘The hunger is still there, there’s no question of the motivation going anywhere’

Dublin’s Brian Howard competes in the air with Mayo’s Paddy Durcan  during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Dublin’s Brian Howard competes in the air with Mayo’s Paddy Durcan during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Dublin are a team in decline, this season providing slow and then sudden evidence of as much?

Stephen Cluxton’s absence was a crippling distraction and more so the uncertainty around it?

Whatever about normal time, as six-time champions Dublin let themselves down in extra-time against Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final?

Dublin will bounce back even stronger as if to prove this season was just a blip?

Just some of the theories presented to Brian Howard over the course of a lengthy Zoom call on Thursday, and needless to say he doesn’t readily agree with them all. Except the last one, Howard certainly talking up his own intention of making sure there’s no easy repeat of 2021.

At 24, four All-Ireland titles to his name already, Howard certainly has youth on his side, and reckons as a whole the Dublin team does too. So as to what ultimately happened around their All-Ireland challenge this year, he first points to Dublin’s own failings, then Mayo’s own sheer intensity.

Still, it was Dublin’s first championship loss since 2014, 45 unbeaten games, and Howard’s first loss at senior level after joining the panel in 2017. He describes the exact moment as “surreal”, as well he might.

“It was an extremely disappointing result, no two ways about it,” he says. “Naturally you can get bogged down, reflect too much, until it just becomes a whirlpool, going around in circles, ‘if I’d done this, or I’d done that’. The important thing for me is to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and to get myself in the best physical shape to give it 100 per cent. The hunger is still there, there’s no question of the motivation going anywhere.

“But yeah, it was surreal. There were so many games against the likes of Mayo, Kerry, Donegal and the likes on Tyrone, and on the day we were fortunate to get over the line, a kick of a ball either way.

Dublin footballer Brian Howard is pictured at Parnell Park at the unveiling of the new Dublin GAA 2022 alternate kit. Photograph: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Dublin footballer Brian Howard is pictured at Parnell Park at the unveiling of the new Dublin GAA 2022 alternate kit. Photograph: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

“Defeat was something I’d never experienced at senior level, but I’ve had some bad losses in the past, like an All-Ireland under-21 to Mayo. Again, you develop a lot as a person after a defeat like that. It’s something I wouldn’t like to experience again, but it was bound to come. Dublin have had some much success, all good things in life come to an end, and unfortunately this was the year.

“It wasn’t a nice dressingroom to be sitting in, a lot of silence, and normally at that time of year it’s an uplifting place. But credit to Mayo, they brought a different level of intensity in the second half, were worthy winners on the day.”

With his club Raheny out of the Dublin championship from last weekend, Howard says he’s now in “reflective” time: the group haven’t met as a group yet, only he’s close enough to them all to know how they’re feeling too.

“We’ve all obviously self-reflected on the game, and we have learned. We’re all itching to get back, get the ball rolling again. A lot of best mates are on the team, so naturally you socialise with them, have chats about it.

“There were positives against Mayo, two very good opening quarters, followed by a few uncharacteristic performances in the second two quarters. There are huge learnings to be made from a loss, what went wrong, and rectifying them is obviously going to be important next year.”

The suggestion that Dublin were on the slide all season, the absence of Cluxton being another warning sign, is not something Howard buys into: “I was privileged to have played with Stephen the last couple of years, he’s an amazing person on and odd the field, and any decision he makes is completely personal to him.

“To step away and retire is a huge part of anyone’s life, but whether he does come back or retire is completely up to him. He’s one of the best players to have ever played the game, and everybody knows he doesn’t have to answer to anyone.

“There will always be external opinions like that, and naturally when six -or seven-time All-Ireland winners leave the panel, All Stars, there’s going to be that narrative, that Dublin aren’t as strong. But just because they’re not household names, as a team we’re as strong as ever, new players coming in finding their feet. I learned a lot from the likes of Paul Flynn, the know-how on big All-Ireland final days. I’m still only 24, hopefully have a few more years, and can pass down some of that experience and knowledge. “

Howard started every game and played effectively every minute of Dublin’s championship, at centre back or beside club mate Brian Fenton at midfield, and like most players it seems gives his backing to a new league-championship structure for next year as being voted on at Special Congress on Saturday.

“As players, the more games the better, every opportunity to represent Dublin is a huge honour. That’s what proposal B is going after, more away games, up and down the country, is what supporters want as well.”

And that point about rebounding next season? “Yeah, I think that has to be the mindset. I can only speak for me, but I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again, put the best foot forward, get back to winning All-Irelands.”

– Brian Howard was speaking at the launch of new Dublin alternate kit for 2022 in partnership with main Dublin sponsor AIG Insurance.

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