Underdogs diary: Coming test against Dublin focusing all minds

A number of the squad are progressing very well in their club championships

Dublin line up against Tyrone. Lack of competition has long been a reality in the GAA. Three counties have won 75 per cent of the hurling All-Irelands whereas two share an entire half of the football titles. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Dublin line up against Tyrone. Lack of competition has long been a reality in the GAA. Three counties have won 75 per cent of the hurling All-Irelands whereas two share an entire half of the football titles. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

On Monday it was revealed – a few days earlier than intended I believe – that the intercounty team we will be facing later this month is Dublin. The Underdogs will take on the All-Ireland champions in Parnell Park on Friday October 19th.

Especially in terms of the show, but also in real time, we’ve still got some time and plenty of work to do until then. And our biggest obstacle as of camp number four in Kerry has been player availability.

Since beating Leinster club champions Moorefield, we have found it hard to get our full panel training, and our strongest XV on the field all at once for matches. This is, mainly, because of club commitments. Judging by the teaser at the end of last week’s episode, the other reasons are likely to be covered in this Thursday’s show.

Our Underdogs journey has run right through the heart of the club championship, and as the summer has gone on it’s brought with it more problems than just the shorter evenings.

Anything that improves a key player can only be good for the team

My own Padraig Pearses club in Roscommon had a very forgettable and disappointing season, but that’s not been the case for a lot of the squad.

Nigel Rabbitte has been shooting the lights out for Abbeylara and they’re into the Longford county final, Sean Brady’s Ballymaguigan team are into the Derry intermediate county final. DJ Murphy is in the East Kerry full back line and they are into the Kerry senior championship semi-finals, Cormac Doohan’s Ballaghaderreen are into the last four in Mayo, while numerous others are also still in contention.

Nigel Rabbitte has been shooting the lights out for Abbeylara and they’re into the Longford county final. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Nigel Rabbitte has been shooting the lights out for Abbeylara and they’re into the Longford county final. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

In general it seems that most club managers have been very considerate of the opportunity available to their players, and most lads have really kicked on with their clubs off the back of the experience. Anything that improves a key player can only be good for the team. As for any manager who has not been supportive, well what does that tell you about them?

Ultimately being an Underdog means added mileage in the legs and on the road – but as for direct clashes between matches and trainings – there have actually been very few. I missed only three club training sessions before our premature exit.

Mental aspect

Down in the Kingdom our training base was Kerry’s centre of excellence in Currans; we went to the Killarney races, we played against a good Kilcummin team and we met former Cork ladies manager Éamonn Ryan.

He’s a fascinating man, equally tuned in to the mental aspect of the game as he is with the importance of developing the core skills. He’d coached our selector Valerie Mulcahy for years with the Rebelettes, and Paul Galvin too with UCC, and their admiration for him was obvious.

'Nobody expects you to miss your club championship but you’ve got to respect this opportunity. It’s once in a life time'

Club championship does ultimately take priority, and players can come and go from the camps to keep everything balanced. Therefore, in this camp you had lads travelling from as far as Donegal down to Kerry and back, and then down to Kerry again. Often playing two matches in two days. Or for some they’d have to miss the game or only be available to play a part of it.

We were stretched, logistically, to our limits on this particular weekend. So, clearly not the ideal preparation for a match, but it all goes into the bank for the big day on October 19th.

In Athlone at the very first camp I’d asked Kieran Donaghy how he balanced his club commitments when he was with the Underdogs 10 years ago. He was also playing basketball at the time he told me.

“Nobody expects you to miss your club championship” he explained, “but you’ve got to respect this opportunity. It’s once in a life time.”

TG4’s Underdogs series follows the journey of some of the best club players from around the country as they prepare to take on a county team. To be eligible players (over 18) must have never previously played intercounty senior championship football. Episode five is at 9.30pm on Thursday.

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