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Paddy: A back to front odyssey

PADDY ANDREWS knows what it's like to wish the Croke Park turf would open up and swallow you whole. He was, after all, a corner-back on the hotly fancied Dublin team humiliated by Kerry to the tune of 17 points five years ago.

Andrews also knows what it's like to walk out of training feeling ten feet tall, having got the nod from Jim Gavin as one of his six starting forwards.

The St Brigid's man has come a long away from that nightmare Bank Holiday Monday in 2009, when a Kerry team "mired in crisis" limped into Croker and duly raced out the gate, leaving in its wake (to quote Pat Gilroy's immortal line) a trail of "startled earwigs".

David Henry was initially tasked with marking Colm Cooper, who would find the net inside 38 seconds. Amid the wreckage, Andrews was later handed that poisoned chalice.

INCARNATION

At Dublin's press conference ahead of tomorrow's All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal, he was reminded of that previous incarnation ("You're bringing all the good memories back!") and then innocently asked had he ever played corner-back since then?

"Did you see that match?" he counters in a flash. "Colm Cooper owes me an All Star."

In actual fact, the Gooch (eight awards and counting) did not finish '09 as an All Star. But you get the drift.

More seriously, Andrews counts that salutary experience as a valuable lesson for both the Sky Blue collective and himself.

"I was only a young fella," the 26-year-old recounts. "I think we were favourites. You learn from things like that.

"Dublin in 2009, we hadn't won an All-Ireland in so long. To go into a game as favourites against Kerry, who had won All-Irelands in '06 and '07 … you look back on things like that and it's nearly a warning for you that you certainly do not get carried away." Especially when you are now facing into a match as "ridiculous" 1/10 favourites against recent All-Ireland champions.

Back to '09. Earlier that summer, a jubilant Andrews had been photographed after thrilling victory over Kildare, all five fingers on his right hand held up for the camera to signify Dublin's Leinster quintet.

The cockiness of youth, perhaps, but now he can look back at that moment and reflect on how he has changed "quite a bit" and basically grown up. "I think I've become a better player as part of that," he expands. "Maybe I was a bit naive when I was younger but I suppose that happens when you're younger. I'm long enough around now to know the best things to do to help you perform."

Part of that process entailed life on the outside, looking in, as Dublin ended their 16-year All-Ireland famine in 2011. "A kick in the a**e," he has previously described it.

Jim Gavin offered Andrews an inter-county life jacket at the start of last season. Better still, his third different Dublin manager viewed Mister Versatile of Blanch' as a forward, full stop. Thus he became a free-scoring mainstay of last year's league title run.

It begs the question what Gavin said to restore his confidence? "You don't really need a manager to tell you these things," he replies. "If you're picked in this Dublin team and you see some of the calibre of guys that are on the bench, you must know the manager has confidence in you ... you don't need someone to come over and put their arm around you and tell you you're this or that. That's not Jim's style."

This year, though, has been truncated by injury - first there was Gilmore's groin surgery in December which ruled him out for the start of the league, followed by a bang on the wrist which saw the player miss the Leinster semi-final and final, returning as a 54th minute sub against Monaghan.

"If there's ever a time to be injured, it's not in the middle of the summer," he concedes. "It feels fine now and I'm good to go. It's just about trying to get in the team."

Which, if you happen to be a Dublin forward these days, can be the ultimate challenge.

Gavin may espouse the Beautiful Game but demands more than scores from his front line. "He's in the strong position of being able to say to the six forwards who get the jersey that they have to work really hard as well and if they don't, there is X, Y and Z on the bench pushing to come in for us," Andrews explains.

"That's the real benefit of the amount of competition there is. Nobody can rest on their laurels, literally not one player.

DISGUSTING

"You're never there with the thought, 'I might not go that hard in training tonight' or 'I might not kill myself in this run'. Because there are so many guys there to take your place. Mick Macauley called it (the level of competition) 'disgusting' - I'd say it's a very good thing because it makes the team perform better."

He then lets you in on a little secret: training is no chore when you're a Dublin footballer. "People talk about inter-county football and how there's such time constraints on you," says the Davy Stockbrokers employee. "I go straight from work, but not a bother because it's enjoyable out there, you enjoy going training. And of course when you're winning that makes it a lot easier as well. It's certainly fun."

Fun and games. And a million miles from corner-back.


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