"That turnaround, seven days, is tough," says Cian O'Sullivan, speaking on behalf of almost the entire Dublin football team, with perhaps a little understatement. Seven days from back-to-back All-Ireland titles to a crucial knock-out round of the Dublin football championship is about as tough as it gets.
The two-week extension to Dublin's season – brought on by their replayed final over Mayo – hasn't helped matters, yet it once again highlights the increasingly perilous divide between club and county.
All but two of the Dublin team that started in last Saturday’s victory are due out this weekend, plus two of the substitutes, and for a slightly creaking player like O’Sullivan, that’s the last thing the body needs.
“Definitely, for lads mentally, just to get back into club mode is tough enough,” he says. “Physically as well, coming through two All-Ireland finals, in the space of two weeks, takes its toll on the body.
“So it’s definitely not ideal preparation, and I think it’s a bit unfair on the clubs, that the players are only handed back to them, with a week to go, before the championship.
“And trying to integrate the county players into the squad, who are naturally going to be key players for them. I think the clubs probably deserve a little bit more than that.”
For O’Sullivan, along with
club mate Paul Mannion, that challenge is even harder given they’re down to face reigning All-Ireland club champions
Ballyboden St Enda's
in Parnell Park on Saturday (4.45). Other club rivalries include Stephen Cluxton (Parnells) against Brian Fenton (Raheny), Diarmuid Connolly (St Vincent’s) against Jonny Cooper (Na Fianna), and Philly McMahon, James McCarthy, John Small, and Dean Rock (Ballymun Kickhams) versus Paddy Andrews (St Brigid’s), with Ciarán Kilkenny (Casltleknock), Kevin McManamon (St Jude’s) and Cormac Costello (Whitehall Colmcille) also out again this weekend.
O’Sullivan has played one club game this year (when Crokes beat Naomh Mearnóg, back on April 29th) but missed all of 2015 with injury. He hopes to play some part on Saturday but again if only the body and mind are willing.
“In championship, if you can win those first one or two games, get players back integrated in the squad, those first games are really crucial.
"Playing Ballyboden [featuring Michael Darragh Macauley] is going to be a massive test, playing All-Ireland champions. You've got a settled squad of 20 or 30 lads, and suddenly you're dropping four or five lads in, and that's got to be disruptive to guys who have been there all year."
But Saturday’s win earned O’Sullivan his fourth All-Ireland with Dublin, to go with his club All-Ireland from 2009, and he’s well used to hitting his “reset” button by now.
“It’s such a climax you celebrate it for a couple of days, then press that reset button.
“I’ve worked on that over the last couple of years, coming out of work mode, after a heavy day, and heading to training, and having to push that reset button, to football mode. But you definitely don’t have much time to transition back to club time, unfortunately.
“But I’ve definitely got a better handle on the training load. Starting out, you’re trying to make an impression, going gung-ho for every session.
“That didn’t auger well for my hamstrings. Now I’m settled into the team, can be a bit smarter, and I worked closely with Bryan Cullen on this year, and last year with Michael Kennedy, just using all the data we have, with the training load.”
The best All-Ireland to have won is the most recent one, although O’Sullivan admits there was something extra testing about the 2016 campaign.
“None of them are easy when you look back at them. Last year, we went to a replay with Mayo again in the semi. It wasn’t easy against Kerry in the final. And to win back-to-back, it wasn’t something that we referenced during the year. But having done it now and being able to look back on it, it was a fantastic achievement for us.”
O'Sullivan has some sympathy for Mayo, particularly for goalkeeper Robert Hennelly. But O'Sullivan doesn't think the goalkeeping switch made a major difference to their approach to the game, although he was mildly surprised by it.
“No that definitely wasn’t something we were expecting. We only found out five minutes before throw-in so you can’t really go around trying to change things at that point in the day.
“We wouldn’t have had a template for Robbie as opposed to Clarke, no. I know to be catapulted in, it’s not a normal sub that you’d make in football but I wouldn’t say that it would’ve been a major disruption, because they’re two very capable goalkeepers.
“And I’ve been at fault in games in the past where we’ve lost and constantly been replaying all these little moments back in your head, saying, ‘if I’d done this, if I’d done that’, but unfortunately his is the one that sticks out in everyone’s mind.
“But I don’t think anyone would point a finger. I think everyone would recognise it’s not any one man’s fault.”