BATTLE-hardened Denis Bastick is relishing his role at midfield in the Dublin side that has fought its way to the Allianz Football League final on April 24.
And when I say 'battle-hardened' I mean it -- Bastick's league debut for the Dubs was under Paul Caffrey's management in the infamous 'Battle of Omagh' against Tyrone when pitch-side clashes created a national controversy in February 2006.
'Down with this sort of thing', as Father Ted would say, was the tone of the disapproving reprimands from media and officialdom.
Bastick had a wry smile at the recollection. "I remember that one well," he recalls. And his Leinster championship debut? "That was against Meath in 2009," he replies.
Bit of a gap there, and one reason is the lengthy recovery time spent in rehabilitation after the cruciate ligament injury he incurred in 2007.
The following year Bastick won the Dublin Intermediate Championship with Templeogue Synge Street and when Pat Gilroy took over the Dubs for the start of the '09 campaign, the big fella was brought into the panel.
He plays midfield for his club, but Gilroy felt Bastick could do a job at full-back. All went well until that August day when Kerry destroyed Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final, with Kieran Donaghy later revealing that the Kingdom had targeted Bastick as a possible weak link. His 2010 season was disrupted with injury and occasionally there was an issue with yellow and red cards.
Now, at 29 and with a fine run of form at midfield this season, Bastick is a seasoned but relatively lightly raced warrior in terms of continuous top-level football.
"Last year I broke my ankle around Christmas time and it took me three or four months to get going. I didn't get that run that the other fellas had in the league and the training they had done," he explains. "This year, I've got a good run at it so I'm really looking forward to the summer and seeing what I can do then."
The summer could bring an interesting family outing for the Bastick clan, as Denis' parents, Imelda and Denis Snr, are natives of Camross in Laois -- but Denis Jnr was born and reared in Dublin. The Dubs play the winners of Longford v Laois in their first championship outing and Bastick remarks: "It would be great to play against Laois in the championship, I'd love the chance to do that."
His immediate focus is on tomorrow's final Division 1 outing away to Galway, in which he will be partnered by Sean Murray -- who has been utilised at full-back since January, but switches to midfield this week.
Talking about his present role, Bastick says: "The biggest difference from club football would be the size of the opposing players. You're coming up against really big fellas in the county scene, so it's about trying to cope with that."
Discipline has been a keynote of the Dubs' tackling and their workrate through the league and so far, so good for Bastick as well.
"You're no use to anyone when you're on the sideline, so it's a case of just doing what's right for the team. Referees have a hard job. The rules are there, and it's about the interpretation of those rules," he explains.
"What they are trying to do is cut out the dangerous tackles so that's obviously going to be good for the game.
"The key is to try to get through the game without picking up that first yellow.
"Once you have that yellow card, you're on the edge of your seat, so any little slip or a mis-timing and it's easy to pick up a second."