Denis Bastick believes experience is a major asset for Dublin

Veteran midfielder says Jim Gavin’s side know what it takes to get over the line

There aren't many 34-year-old footballers would who confidently declare himself "in the shape of his life", and for Denis Bastick, that's not just in the physical sense. What he's been through mentally may now be his greatest strength.

Indeed Bastick is not only the oldest player on the Dublin team, he's possibly the most tested, too. Again, not just in the physical sense. Currently their most regular pillar around midfield, Bastick began his career at full back, although before that, there were some doubts whether that career would ever begin at all.

Bastick was first brought into the Dublin panel in 2006, and watched from the sideline as Mayo ambushed them in that year's All-Ireland semi-final.

It wasn’t until 2009, at age 28, that he made his senior debut, and given the full back berth as Dublin once again tore strips through the Leinster championship.


Only next up was an apparently struggling Kerry team, in the All-Ireland quarter-final, who promptly tore strips off Dublin. Then Dublin manager Pat Gilroy didn't namecheck any players with his famous "startled earwigs" quote, but he was clearly referring to his full-back line of Bastick, plus David Henry and Paddy Andrews.

Kerry hit them with 1-24, winning by a monstrous 17-point margin.

“Yeah, I played the full season at full back, in 2009, and it was going great up until that quarter-final,” Bastick recalls.

“We hadn’t let in any goals up to that stage. Then the floodgates opened. Though they were scoring from out the field too. So some tough memories, definitely, but we learned from it. Those battles make you stronger.

“But full back is an unforgiving position. They’re a funny old breed, and only a certain type of player likes playing there. Myself and Ross McConnell got a stint there, and often laugh about it now, that we couldn’t wait to get out of there.

“If you look back at all the great full-backs over the years, they’re a certain type of people and a certain type of player. Right now we have Rory O’Carroll, and he’s certainly one of them.”

Challenging period

“It was certainly a challenging period, not doing yourself justice, not putting in a performance. But I learned lessons.

“There are no guarantees in sport. You’re out there, trying your best, and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. You remember things like that, things that were written about us. But maybe I wasn’t up to scratch at that time. I just took the criticism on, and tried to learn from it.”

At that stage, Bastick also admits, there were no thoughts of winning an All-Ireland, only doubts; yet just two years later, and reinvented as a midfielder, he played a central role in Dublin’s All-Ireland win over Kerry.

“Of course you automatically get doubts, especially after a defeat like that. The press came down hard on us, picked holes in a lot of us. Some stuff was written that time so you have to reassess yourself and get back on the wagon.

“And you’ll always have your doubts, until you get over that final hurdle. So it’s a great place we are in, right now. We have got the experience of winning. We have done it twice in recent years and we will use that the next day.”

A point

That next day being Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo – a showdown which comes loaded with further memories, going back to 2006.

The standout memory for Bastick is the 2013 final, which Dublin won by a point, the sheer physicality of which will seemingly later be forgotten.

“Well I came off the bench that day, so I wasn’t as spent as some of the other guys. But to see the bodies bruised and broken afterwards, that’s what we like. It is great coming off the field after a victory like that. Knowing you have come through a battle. That will always stand to us.”

Mayo, however, do have their 2012 All-Ireland semi-final win over Dublin to draw some encouragement from, and Bastick also feels some sympathy for their enduring quest for that All-Ireland.

“To be fair, we didn’t play great as a team, in 2012. We’d come off the back of a great win in 2011, and we were trying to cope with that. We thought we were in a good place. We had a very similar team, a strong team, but we didn’t click all year.

“We came into that game hoping we would click and, to be honest, if the game had been on another ten minutes we could have won that day. We didn’t start well, gave them too much of a lead and then we were chasing.

“There’s a lot that goes with winning an All-Ireland. In terms of what comes after, the commitments that the players have to give, in terms of going around with the cup to schools and different gigs, which takes away sometimes from the football. So it is hard to get your two in a row.

“Mayo are still chasing that All-Ireland, but they will have to deal with that themselves. We been through it too. We were quite successful in Leinster, for a number of years, and couldn’t get over that final hurdle. Only when we got to a final were we able to see it out. We know what it takes to get over the line. We can draw on that experience.

Better team

“A lot of it is mental. We are a better team. We have been improving the last few years, but there is the mental factor in that. We know how to win.

“I’m in the shape of my life at the moment. Training has gone well, and I’m free from injury, touch wood. You need to be in that shape, at this level, at this stage of the year.

“I’ve been lucky to achieve a lot of my goals, but I’m not finished yet.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics