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Bastick: I'm ready to do my bit for Dubs

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Dublin's Denis Bastick. Picture: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Dublin's Denis Bastick. Picture: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Dublin's Denis Bastick. Picture: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

IF you want to survive in today's inter-county midfield gridlock, timing is essential. Timing of your run; timing of your jump; timing of that inspirational, soaring catch with your team's championship fate in the melting pot.

Trying to claim – and retain – primary possession is a fraught business with so many bodies scavenging for our old friend, O'Neill Size Five, but Denis Bastick has battled with the best of them to reach the All-Ireland summit.

He did so in September 2011, at the grand young age of 30 – another example of good timing from a player who belatedly established his Sky Blue credentials after a few false starts through the noughties. But 16 months later, Bastick fell prey to some very bad timing indeed. Dublin had a new manager at the helm and it was time for one of the team's thirtysomething stalwarts to prove he could still cut it among all the decorated minor and U21 tyros now jostling for a place on Jim Gavin's team.

The Templeogue/Synge Street man was one of only a few of Pat Gilroy regulars in an experimental starting team for the O'Byrne Cup final against Kildare. It would prove one of those rare but always welcome early season humdingers: the Parnell Park action was played at breakneck and relentless pace. Bastick was called to the bench after 44 minutes ... in hindsight, he doubtless wishes he had stayed there.

Instead, he was brought back on for extra-time and then – as the game slipped into stoppage time with Kildare protecting a two-point lead – some slack refereeing in failing to call a clear-cut Dublin free prompted a retaliatory swing of a Sky Blue boot. Bodies duly piled into a melee and one of them – Bastick – was singled out for ultimate censure.

Obligatory

Striking. Straight red. And the obligatory one-match ban – a costly punishment with Gavin's opening league match, against Cork in Croke Park, just a week away.

Timing.

And here's more bad timing. It subsequently emerged that, this being the O'Byrne Cup where time-based suspensions still applied, the punishment would actually be four weeks instead of one game. Which translated into two league rounds – Cork and Kerry.

All of a sudden, the team's elder statesman was playing catch-up.

Several months later, having turned 32, Bastick is preparing for another Kildare showdown of far greater significance – Sunday's Leinster semi-final at Croker. The Dublin team has yet to be announced but, barring a surprise, he may have to content himself with another bench role.

You ask if that January red set him back? "Most definitely, yeah," he admits. "The timing wasn't great. The following week the new ban came in – of a one-match ban. So very disappointing for me.

"I've had plenty of time to look back and think about it, but I'm looking to rectify that throughout the year."

Back then, Bastick did what any All-Ireland winner hungry for more will do. He served his time. He knuckled down. When Dublin next faced Kildare, in round four of the league, he finally got back on the pitch as a half-time sub ... and won a few kick-outs too as his rampant forward colleagues turned the screw.

He started the next two league matches, against Tyrone and Down, albeit being subbed early in the latter. For each of Dublin's next four games – including the league final triumph over Tyrone and Leinster quarter-final stroll past Westmeath – he has seen game-time off the bench.

In conversation, it's obvious that he's mentally in tune with his impact role and equally obvious that he craves even more.

So, is he getting closer to a start?

"You'll have to ask Jim that!" he laughs.

"Physically I'm in good shape," he expands. "I just have to keep myself right and ready, whether that's coming in off the bench or starting. These games now are 20-man games so you have a very important role if you're on that bench, coming in to do a job."

It took many years via a meandering career path – including a stint as captain of the Dublin junior team that claimed All-Ireland honours in 2008, then a rollercoaster senior detour filling Dublin's erstwhile poisoned chalice, full-back – before Bastick finally laid claim to a regular berth in his favourite position, midfield.

How, then, has he found his altered status this year? Frustrating, surely? "Every player wants to play," he answers, diplomatically, "so it's frustrating for every player on the panel who isn't starting in that team. But I don't think you can look at it in that sense or work yourself up in frustration.

"You've a part on the team, you've a part on the panel and a role to play, so you need to be ready for whatever amount of minutes or whatever cause or whatever jobs you have to do. Whilst you want to play it's very important to keep your head clear and focused if you're not starting."

Moreover, he's encouraged by Gavin's willingness to empty the bench. "It gives you a boost on the sideline, knowing that there are going to be five subs coming on," he says.

"Definitely the 15 that finish have a real responsibility to drive on; you saw that from the league final. Fellas who came on made a real difference and won the game for us."

Praise

For most of the season, Bastick's role as midfield partner to Michael Darragh Macauley has been filled by former defender Cian O'Sullivan. He is generous in praise of his colleague/rival, describing the Kilmacud flyer as a "complete all-round footballer" who could, just as easily, move up to centre-forward and do a job. And no, this isn't a subtle hint for the selectors!

In the meantime, the long month since Westmeath has been spent initially back with the club (a welcome week's antidote because otherwise you'd be "getting to see the same fellas more than you're seeing your own family") and then in intense 'A' v 'B' training ground battle.

"Everybody is looking for jerseys," he says. "Everyone is trying their hardest, especially from the 'B' team side. We, or they, have an onus to push on the first 15, to make sure that they're performing well."

But is it a good indicator of collective strength when the 'Bs' are winning? "Well, you don't want to bruise their confidence too much, either!" he chuckles. "But definitely, whoever wins from the 'Bs' or the 'As', you're talking one or two points, so there's nobody getting hammered in those games. That's good: close affairs are good, tight matches are good."

Sunday could be one such day. Bastick is ready and primed when the call comes.

Timing, as they say, is everything.


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