Dias strikes balance to serve three masters
Craig Dias knows all about the dangers of player burnout, writes Marie Crowe
It's hard to pin down 20-year-old Craig Dias. He's always busy. And that's understandable -- at the moment he is playing for his club, county and college and is one of a growing number of young GAA players who are pushing themselves to the limit in order to please multiple managers.
"I try to keep everyone happy but it just can't be done," explains Dias of Kilmacud Crokes, Dublin and UCD. "There is a lot of hostility between the teams and that brings pressure. It used be very hard to cope with all the demands but it's easier now because I just don't do it anymore. I know when my body has had enough and I just stop and take a break."
But this wisdom was learned the hard way. For years, Dias spread his time between numerous teams, sometimes even training twice a day in an effort to please everyone.
"When I was younger I was naive. I'd go to all the sessions for all the teams I played for. If I missed training for one team, the lads would slag me and call me a big shot. Even though I'd been training already that day I'd still go again because I didn't want to be slagged."
However, things came to a head last year when Dias was a fresher in UCD. He was playing for five teams simultaneously, something had to give and it did, his health -- the teenager was struck down with glandular fever.
"I was tired all the time, I wasn't sure what was wrong so I went to the doctor. I felt burnt out but he told me I had glandular fever and I needed to stop doing so much."
Dias got sick just as the Leinster under 21 football championship was kicking off. He'd only played one match against Louth when his doctor told him he needed to take a break from sport altogether. Dublin went on to win the All-Ireland title and Dias had to be content with watching from the sidelines.
"I recovered just before the final. I got a medal but I don't count it as one because I didn't really contribute. The management gave all the players who weren't on the match-day squad jerseys; when I got it I was overwhelmed with emotion, it was so hard missing out because I was sick."
Dias found it difficult to return to full health after the glandular fever. His fitness levels had dropped and his passion for the game had dwindled. He decided to head to Boston for the summer and it was there that things started to go right for him again.
"It was a tough decision to leave because the Dublin championship was on but as it turned out going to Boston was the best thing I ever did. It was there that I got all my fitness back and began enjoying football again. I came home and was happy to be back playing."
Although Dias missed most of the Dublin county championship, he was still determined to get his place back on the Kilmacud team. He'd regained his fitness so the next steps were to keep his head down, play football and prove to the management that he was as dedicated to Crokes as his team-mates. And Dias did just that. He played in the last two games of the Dublin championship and against Portlaoise and Garrycastle in the Leinster campaign.
The UCD student developed a love for football at an early age. Although he tried his hand at hurling and soccer, it was Gaelic that he was drawn to. Luckily, he grew up around the corner from Crokes so it was easy for him to dedicate his time to the game.
His dad is originally from Angola and was once asked to play for Porto so his ability with the ball most likely came from him. But it was his mother who had the big interest in Gaelic football. She introduced him to the game and encouraged and supported him right up through the underage ranks at Crokes.
Despite being a natural athlete with an abundance of football skill, Dias was never a star in the south Dublin club.
There were always five or six lads from Crokes ahead of him when it came to making the cut at county level. He was an average-sized kid who didn't stand out, but his love for the game kept him interested and by the time he reached minor level, he began to edge past those who had once overshadowed him.
He made the Dublin minor team two years ago and since then has been a regular in the blue jersey. Dias can play anywhere in the park. Full-back for UCD freshers, wing-back for the Sigerson, midfield for his club and wing-forward for the Dublin under 21s. That versatility plays a big part in his appeal.
And it isn't just Gaelic football managers who want a piece of Dias. Some Australian rules bosses have already shown an interest in him.
His older brother Karl is on trial with the Adelaide Crows at present and they want the younger Dias too. A few years back they almost got him. "My brother Karl played a game for St Benildus against an Australian side. He marked an up-and-coming AFL star and the video of the game landed on a scout's desk. The following year I played a game against an Australian team and then my mam got a call from a scout asking for me to come over for a trial because he had observed me playing for two years.
"She explained to him that it was Karl who played the year before and me who played that year so the scout asked both of us over. I was too young at the time but Karl went."
Although he hasn't ruled out a defection to the oval ball, it isn't on his mind right now. With the Leinster final against Rhode taking place today at Portlaoise, Dias is concentrating on his club.
There are four players on the team with similar committments to him so they have left it to the managers to negotiate between themselves.
"We are leaving it up to the managers to decide on who goes to what training. But it's hard on them too because they always want the best for their team," says Dias.
"I think if you are playing with a team you only need to be with them three or four weeks before the championship, you shouldn't be out with them months before. We are keeping fit and playing anyway so as long as you are attending some sessions and keeping in touch with your team-mates then that should be enough."
Although Dias speaks sense, with the game becoming more professional with every passing year will the young players ever be able to give enough?
Rhode v Kilmacud Crokes
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