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Gill relishing moment in sun

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Picture: SPORTSFILE

Picture: SPORTSFILE

Picture: SPORTSFILE

WHEN Hugh Gill was 19 and peering down from the All-Ireland summit, his world view of Gaelic football was what you'd expect from a confident teen for whom success comes early, perhaps even easily.

His maiden season out of minor had been a marathon affair, delivering a first Dublin SFC title for St Vincent's in 23 years, with the further adornment of a Leinster medal before Christmas, all ending in St Patrick's Day glory against the supposed All-Ireland kingpins from Nemo Rangers.

Life is sweet ... but a certain veteran team-mate who would later become his Dublin manager knew better.

"I think it was Pat Gilroy who came up to me," Gill recalls, "and he said, 'Don't take it for granted – this mightn't happen to you again'. I didn't really believe him at that time; but again, here we are six years later."

You wonder if Gilroy was speaking from the vantage point of a 36-year-old who had laboured so long for that elusive county title breakthrough?

"Exactly!" he agrees. "I think he was pretty annoyed that it was my first year and I think it might have been his 17th year or 18th year. So I think he was more frustrated that I was coming up and winning it in my first year out of minor ... he just more or less said appreciate it."

Six seasons and numerous injuries later, the 25-year-old Gill appreciates that 2007/08 campaign all the more – and he has relished every minute of St Vincent's latest odyssey through Dublin, Leinster and all the way to next Monday's All-Ireland final against Castlebar Mitchels. "Absolutely super" are his first two words when asked what it's like to be back.

TROPHIES

There were times when he wondered if playing football, let alone winning trophies, would be possible again.

His injury travails have been reported before, but are worth retelling, if only to remind us how this promising, fleet-of-foot corner-back disappeared from our inter-county radar a few seasons back.

"A bit of a nightmare," he begins, recalling a three-year period when no sooner would one injury heal than another would follow. "Broke my leg. A stress fracture near my hamstring. Broke my hand at the start of last year. Pulled my (hamstring) a few times. So, yeah, it's been a tough old road."

The leg break happened in early-summer 2009; he'd been promoted to the Dublin squad by Gilroy, in his first season at the helm, only for disaster to strike in county training ahead of a Leinster semi-final against Westmeath.

"I never had an injury up until I broke my leg ... ever since that, it's just been one thing after another. I think what happened is I had surgery and maybe my gait changed and my run changed, and injuries kept coming," he relates.

"I got back the next year, played several games in the league; I was a sub for most of the (2010) championship.

"Then the next year had my stress fracture. I decided it was becoming very tough just to keep that up at that level with Dublin, where you're training four or five times a week ... so I decided to, I suppose, walk away – it was May – just because I wasn't really enjoying it any more."

His particular stress fracture sounds almost exotic ("ischial tuberosity") until Gill helpfully clarifies.

"It's basically the bottom of your arse! And you can't actually do anything on your legs at all for four months. I was in with Dublin at that stage; I think it was three mornings a week in the gym doing upper body work.

FRUSTRATING

"And then when I came back, I think I pulled my hamstring after that – twice. It was very frustrating, especially when you're trying to be elite and play with the best.

"But it's great now," he says, reflecting the bubbling positivity of Gill's post-injury mindset. Even that broken hand – suffered in Vins' first league game of 2013, against Raheny – doesn't seem to have knocked him back.

"A couple of broken bones! But it actually wasn't that bad. I got surgery on it later and I think I was back in three months."

So, what's made the difference?

"A lot of luck has been on my side," he reasons, "but also the little things help now in terms of looking after myself and sitting on tennis balls and getting a lot of physio. My mum's a physio, so I'll give her a shout-out ... she's really helped me get back to where I want to be."

That place is Croke Park on March 17; but what about any unfinished business with Dublin?

"Ah, that never came into my goals really," he demurs. "It was just about getting back playing football and I suppose all that kind of stuff will look after itself if it does, after Paddy's Day."

Constantly looking back will get you nowhere, he reasons. Thus, when sitting down at the start of 2013, one of his main goals was "just to get back and play football and enjoy it, because it's very hard to enjoy it when you're going from training session to training session and you're sitting on a physio table every second night just to be ready for the next".

"No, I'm just happy now. I suppose it's been five or six years since we won it last – when we won it last, I thought it was going to be every year."

Now he knows better, thanks to Pat Gilroy and the rollercoaster of life.


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