Howard's way forward makes peers of his role models
He won an All Star last year with his club-mate Brian Fenton but there’s more to be done
Brian Howard in action against Galway: “The thing for me making that transition from minor and under-21s was having Brian Fenton there as an icon for me and as a friend.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Dublin footballer Brian Howard will be speaking at the upcoming AIB Future Sparks Festival 2019, taking place in the RDS on 14th March. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Brian Howard was on his way in 2017. A significant contributor to Dublin’s victory in the last All-Ireland under-21 football championship, he made two appearances off the bench for the seniors that summer and by the end of the year, Diarmuid Connolly was prophesying a big 12 months for the Raheny player.
Howard himself was leaving nothing to chance and skipped the team holiday so that he could participate in the now established January auditions of the O’Byrne Cup. More to the point, Dublin manager Jim Gavin had clearly decided that Howard would be a project player.
His progress followed that of his club-mate Brian Fenton three years previously: regular league selection in preparation for a championship role.
Howard started all of the county’s league fixtures with the exception of the regulation match with Galway in Pearse Stadium and went on to start every championship match apart from the quarter-final dead rubber against Roscommon when he was rested with several other front-liners.
At a press call for AIB’s Future Sparks Festival on March 14th, he recalls the step up to the senior panel. There was no major faux pas but he acknowledges he was fairly starstruck by the company he would now be keeping.
“Nothing major. Maybe I’d have liked to come across better to other players but I was still in awe of some of the lads, just sitting there looking around and staring at the senior members for about 10 minutes straight and not even realising it, thinking, ‘Jeez I’m in the same dressing-room as these greats’.”
He was grateful that Fenton was there as a mentor for the early engagement with the seniors, giving him lifts (he’s only recently learned to drive) and advice so that there would be no shock at the step up.
“No, but the thing for me making that transition from minor and under-21s was having Brian Fenton there as an icon for me and as a friend. He’d bring me to training, tell me what was expected, what to wear to the training sessions.
“If there was any questions I had, I would always go to him or a few of the other team members.”
His first full championship was a major success. For those who have followed him closely, his biggest asset is his attitude – not getting carried away or flustered as well as the capacity to adapt to what’s happening in a given match.
Dublin’s most challenging fixture on the way to the All-Ireland was the quarter-final round-robin match in Omagh against Tyrone where Howard’s all-round display of catching, using the ball and defensive work from wing forward was evidence of his maturity in demanding circumstances.
Already in the first of the quarter-finals, he had distinguished himself against Donegal with 35 possessions, four clean catches and two points from play.
Eamon Donoghue wrote an analysis of Brian Howard’s contribution in these pages last July, observing that he was already looking like the perfect successor to Paul Flynn, who came on for him in the only two matches in which he was replaced in last year’s championship.
For Howard, the relationship with Flynn has been interesting.
“It’s a funny place to be because I remember him presenting medals to me when we won the minor championship and I was aspiring to be the likes of him. He’s been a great role model for me, taken me aside at training and given me advice: ‘how are you doing at this,’ or ‘what do feel you need to work on?’
“He’s been giving me feedback so having Paul Flynn there on the sideline – he’s a great lad and he’s backed me 100 per cent even though I might be playing ahead of him but he can play in a number of positions so I don’t think it’s specifically his place I’ve taken.”
Getting accustomed to becoming a peer of those players he followed as a young Dublin supporter has been part of the evolution.
At the end of last year, Howard was named at centrefield on the All Stars team, together with his friend and mentor, Fenton.
Seamlessly he has progressed into another season. At the weekend Dublin beat Roscommon to move second in the Division One table behind Kerry and position themselves for this year’s final, which would be the seventh in succession of Gavin’s managerial tenure.
There is of course a difference this year in everything the team does because of the narrower than usual focus on September. Dublin are currently only the fourth team to begin the year with the potential of winning a fifth successive All-Ireland title.
“Obviously it’s there and we’re all aware of it but no, it’s something that we’re not getting bogged down about,” says Howard.
What else is there to say?