Sometimes I wonder if I cost Kilkenny the 2004 All-Ireland title. More especially, I wonder if my indiscipline cost Kilkenny the game. Now, a lack of discipline wouldn't be something that people associate with me – or, indeed, that I'd associate with myself – but on this occasion, I'm afraid I didn't maintain the standards I should have and it may have had consequences.
I'm not talking about anything that went on in the final against Cork, which turned into an absolute disaster for us, but rather something that happened three months earlier. The week before the Leinster semi-final against Wexford in mid-June, I played golf in a pro-am at the K-Club.
I was due to train with Kilkenny that night, so I teed off early enough to give myself plenty of time to complete the golf and head for Nowlan Park. The best-laid plans and all that. Bad weather delayed the golf and, as the day dragged on, it became clear that the times just weren't going to add up. There was no way I could finish the golf and still make training.
What was I to do? Walk off the course in an event I had been invited to a long time previously? Miss training with Kilkenny? In the circumstances, I felt I had no other choice. I phoned Brian Cody and told him I wouldn't be able to make it down that night. Typical of him, he made no fuss.
"Right so, DJ."
I felt bad about it, but what could I do? Besides, it wasn't as if I had a history of dodging training. In fact, I fairly rarely missed a session over all the years. I thought no more about it, but when the team for the Wexford game was announced, I wasn't included. I had been carrying a bit of knock some weeks earlier, but, as far as I was concerned, I was fully fit to play. Brian had other ideas. He never mentioned the missed training session, but I have no doubt it was behind his decision to leave me out.
Effectively, he had dropped me for a breach of discipline. What's more, he was 100pc right. I might have been on the Kilkenny team for 14 years, won lots of titles and awards, but I was still an ordinary member of the squad and, as far as Brian was concerned, I had let the side down by putting around the greens of the K-Club rather than putting in some hard work in Nowlan Park. There had to be consequences.
Nobody paid any great attention to my absence from the starting team, which was put down to me carrying some sort of niggle or other. I've never gone for that line when I hear about a player being left out. You're either fit to play or you're not. If you can't start a match, who's to say you will be any use if you're brought on?
I was well fit to play against Wexford that day, but was dropped. Plain and simple. Brian put me in my place and I could have no complaints. Nothing personal, just business. And in the case of Brian Cody, nothing comes before the business of doing what he thinks is right for Kilkenny.
He doesn't show favours, doesn't do grudges and certainly isn't into sentiment. Everyone is treated the same.
Some people said that he was wrong to start Henry Shefflin in the 2010 All-Ireland final against Tipperary because there was doubt over how Henry's knee would stand up to such a big test after he had been all but ruled out of the game a few weeks earlier. The implication was that he had been picked because he was Henry and had been on every championship team with Brian since 1999.
Rubbish. He was picked because he was Henry alright: the same Henry who had done so much to make Kilkenny the force they were. As it happened, his knee gave way early on in the final and he had to be replaced, but I still think Brian was right to start him. Henry had put in an unbelievable amount of hard work; the knee had stood up in training, so why not let him take his chance?
Certainly, there was no question of sentiment in Brian's decision, just as there wasn't any shown to me when he dropped me in 2004. Anyway, I took my place among the subs against Wexford and settled back for what I thought would be a relatively straight-forward win. Now, Kilkenny never, ever took Wexford for granted, but the form book was pointing very much in our favour at that time.
However, Wexford were in one of their really stubborn moods, which they do so well when the mood takes them, and dug in for a real battle. In fact, they led by a point with 10 minutes left. I had come in for Jimmy Coogan just before the hour mark. It was all square heading into stoppage- time when I got a chance for the lead point from open play. I nailed it, but there were still a few minutes to go and, right at the death, Michael Jacob scored a goal after a sideline cut from Adrian Fenlon hadn't been cleared.
Final whistle: Wexford 2-15 Kilkenny 1-16. I felt very badly about it. I'm not saying if I had been playing all the way through, we would have won, but, at the same time, I might have sneaked a point or two somewhere along the line. Suffice to say, I wasn't contributing to the cause by sitting on the bench for nearly an hour.
It was my own fault. I had broken the disciplinary code and, by doing that, may well have cost Kilkenny a place in the Leinster final. Now, instead of preparing for the final, we were headed for the 'back door'.
Suddenly, the season had taken on a completely different complexion. We were heading for the scenic route to the All-Ireland final. We got there in the end, but, in light of how badly we played in the second half against Cork, I can only assume the long journey had taken its toll. We beat Dublin, Galway, Clare (replay) and Waterford to reach the final, where it's safe to say we didn't do ourselves justice. Correction – we did ourselves a great injustice in the second half, a period which we lost by 0-11 to 0-2 and finished up losing by eight points.
It was a shocking day on all fronts. I didn't realise it at the time, but it would also be my last All-Ireland final. Would it all have been different if we had beaten Wexford? Would our season have settled into the routine to which we had become accustomed, rather than taking us on a new, much more difficult route? Would we have beaten Wexford if I hadn't got myself dropped? We'll never know the answers, but 2004 is not a year I remember with any fondness.