Wednesday 16 October 2019

Birthday boy only has one wish

Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup, Sunday November 4, Aviva Stadium

The morning after lifting the league title following the recent victory over Sligo Rovers, Brian Gartland took to social media with a Tweet that summed up his burning desire for success.

It featured the black and white colours of the club and town that has become his home; four trophy emojis, demonstrating the number of league titles he has won in his time at Oriel Park; and two simple words: 'Never enough.'

If four leagues is never enough though then surely one FAI Cup isn't either?

'No, not from us,' he says, without hesitation.

'Nobody wants to lose a final. We've lamented on the previous finals but we don't go into any game thinking about the past. We just think about this game going forward and what we can do to win it. We can only look after ourselves. You've got to beat what's in front of you. Whatever happens on the day you just have to make sure that you come out winners so regardless if we had won or lost the past finals we'd be going into this as hungry as ever for success.

'You want to come out with as much trophies as you can and as I said it's never enough because when you finish playing and even while you're still playing you'll always think I should have won that or I should have scored in that. That's our mind set here and that's why we're successful because we don't rest on our laurels. We've all won leagues now and some lads have won two, three, four, five and six but we all want more,' said Gartland.

The centre half, who joined Stephen Kenny's side from Portadown in July 2013, said playing at the top level was something he always aspired to despite plodding along with a struggling Monaghan Unite d side for much of his early days in the League of Ireland. He told The Argus that Dundalk was the ideal fit for him to realise his ambitions of being the best he could be.

'From my point of view I always trained like a professional,' he said.

'At Monaghan we would have trained two nights a week but I would have done another two, three or four sessions at least in the gym and I'd be doing extra cardio because it's what you need to do if you want to play at a higher level.

'It's something I like and enjoy, which I suppose is rare amongst a lot of lads but I just always had this hunger to succeed. It just comes from when I was younger. All I wanted to do was play football, to be the best I could be and make a career out of it. Obviously the ambition then was to go as high as I could in England but when I didn't make that I just said I need to make the most of what I've got here and try to get as far as I can.

'I was always looking at the teams at the top of the league here when I was playing in the First Division and they were always what I was aspiring to be so I always had that hunger. The thing that is different here is that if you have a hunger like that then it's facilitated. If you have your sets sight on one thing you're nearly raised up to think 'I want more' and 'I want higher'. The environment here from the coaches to the staff is all to facilitate people who have that hunger and if you don't have that hunger then you better get it when you come in here because if you don't get it you'll be out the door.

'Some players, it didn't click with them and they didn't last too long. That's how the gaffer is and rightly so.

'If you want to be successful you can't not do the work and expect to get the rewards. You can see the difference in lads from when they come here to a year later, from the size of them to their attitude on the pitch. I remember half a season in looking at Jamie McGrath and he was battering a few lads. That's something that wouldn't have been associated with his game. He's technically an unbelievable player but it was another side that he added and that's to do with hunger and a change of attitude.

'There's a will to win and a will to drive on and succeed that is here and it's infectious,' said the defender.

All going well Gartland will return to Dundalk on Sunday with the FAI Cup in hand, joining an elite few to have won two doubles for the club in the process. If that happens and he sits down at the end of the year to look back on his season, you'd expect him to be happy. Not quite though. There's one thing that is niggling away at him… the fact he has scored just one goal this season.

'I knew this was going to come up!,' he laughed.

'It's doing my head in, nearly as much as everyone coming up to me saying 'you've cost me a fortune this season'.

'We've the best defence in the league and we've some amount of clean sheets this year. That's our main goal not to concede but obviously when you set a standard of scoring goals, it does get to you.

'To put it lightly, it has pissed me off big time. It's frustrating. I look back at the Bohs away game earlier in the year and I should have had two that game. I head one into the ground and I don't know whether it was from that hill in Dalymount or the dry pitch that day but it just bounced over the bar. From the other one, Shane Supple even said to me after that he didn't know how he saved it. Down in Cork I should have scored too and there were one or two others so if you put in one or two of them then it's a different story.

'Obviously I had less games this year with the injury at the start of the year but it's something in my mind that I'm trying to fix. Once we're winning though, it doesn't really matter.'

Given his tendency to score big goals like in the league title winning matches of 2014 and 2016, as well as in the Champions League away to Rosenborg last year, could Gartland be saving up a goal for Cup final day in the Aviva?

 'I thought I got a header at the end against Pat's so I thought, this is it again. Listen, I hope so but it doesn't matter who scores once we're lifting that trophy and we're celebrating at the end.

'Obviously it would be the icing on the cake for any player to score in a Cup final when you win and I'd love it as much as anyone but the goal is still the same - try to keep them out and try to contribute as much as possible to help my team lift the trophy.'

Victory on Sunday would mean a 10th winners' medal for Gartland at Dundalk and he revealed that the mementos from those occasions are starting to mean more and more to him.

'It's a funny question because I would have always been of the view that it's just a medal and that it's a piece of metal. I have the memories, I've won it and no one can take that away from you but then a couple of weeks ago I was thinking where are my medals?

'I moved from Dublin to up here a few years ago but things are still in boxes so I was looking about for them. My mam found one in her house somewhere and Bronagh (his wife) said there's one in a frame in our house. There's one somewhere else but I am trying to get them all together now.

'I think it was a case of the younger me saying I've won it and that's it but now it's something I will look back on and treasure so I want to make sure they're kept and in a safe place.

'I got a bit sentimental recently saying I'm going to want them, especially when I'm older because you're in a bubble now and you're just riding the crest of a wave and loving it but when you're older they're going to be great things to look back on and show grandchildren and children.'

Regardless of Sunday's result, Gartland can see Dundalk being successful for some time to come and he admitted he's looking forward to following his adopted home town when he eventually hangs up his boots.

'It has come into my head loads of times and I've said to the lads here, the younger lads in particular, that when I retire you better be winning and you better be in Europe and travelling around the place because I want to experience that side of it as well.

'For such a small town it's unbelievable what we've done in travelling Europe, competing and the success we've had. There's a euphoria about it and this is my home now so to follow it and have a vested interest in it would be another side to experience.

'It's just the atmosphere and the buzz. It can be indescribable, especially when you're so into football and it's your team. I really can't wait for that but I want to make the most of this side of things first and hopefully there's a good few years yet left in my playing days.

'I've a year left on my contract and I want to stay here as long as I can. This team is only going to get better year on year once we keep the gaffer in charge. We've got a solid base of players now who have stayed on for two or three years and when you have that continuity it really breathes togetherness because we have a great group of lads here.

'The track record of players here is always improving year on year and if that happens again I'm excited to see the team next year and leading on to the next few years.'

In what is one of the youngest league's in Europe, Gartland is well aware that many people were writing him off as finished at the start of the year when injury saw him start the season on the sidelines at a time when Dundalk went on a run of eight games without conceding.

He says that only spurred him on to prove the doubters wrong.

'I heard enough people saying 'Gartland won't get back in' but that just gave me extra motivation to prove people wrong.

'It is what it is. I'm 32 now the day of the cup final and as you say it's a very young league. As soon as you hit 30 and somebody scores or if you've a bad game, people are saying 'ah his legs are gone'. It can all swing the next week or two weeks later when you score or you're man of the match and people are saying 'ah he showed his experience there'. People have short term memories in football so I don't dwell too much on that. I just try to look after myself and do everything I can to keep myself in the form I've been in this season and keep myself injury free.

'I had a smashing pre-season and I was flying but then literally the week before the season I got hit by a bug and my body got shattered from that and I picked up a couple of injuries. You're always going to have those things but I've confidence in myself to stay as mobile as I am and keep my performances high.'

On that note, Gartland is well aware that Dundalk will have to be clued in if they're to deny Cork a third FAI Cup success in-a-row at the weekend. While John Caulfield's side have won the last two finals, the Pearse Park man says this game is a 'different animal.'

He said: 'For the most part in the cup finals, we've dominated but we just haven't been clinical enough or good enough in the final third.

'You can use any excuse but when it comes down to it no one really remembers or no one really cares how things happened, it's whoever has the trophy.

'Those games mean nothing to what lies ahead though.

'They come to stop us playing but we need to find a way to win,' he said.

Having tasted first-hand what it's like to lift the league title as captain, Gartland would love nothing more than to mark his birthday by raising the FAI Cup in the Aviva on Sunday. For him, failure is not an option.

'All our focus is on the cup final now. To go and win the cup final, you can let your hair down but if you don't - and I'll be saying this to the lads and anyone who thinks differently - it takes the shine off the season without the trophy.

'I'm not going to lie, it was a special, special feeling to lift the trophy here in front of our crowd. The whole set up was done really well and the atmosphere was really great so it was a hair on the back of your neck sort of moment. There's not really much more I can say on it without getting soppy.

'I've tried to imagine what it would be like to lift the Cup at the Aviva but we've got to do the job first. The league is done and dusted but we want more,' he said.

The Argus