Sport Gaelic Football

Sunday 17 December 2017

'When you're 19 or 20 you fear nothing, you just play it as you see it' - Declan Darcy

Saturday Interview: Dublin selector Declan Darcy

Dublin selector Declan Darcy is full of hope for tomorrow’s clash with Mayo
Dublin selector Declan Darcy is full of hope for tomorrow’s clash with Mayo
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

IT'S ALL about the bike now for Declan Darcy. Yes, of course Gaelic football remains his first love and enduring passion and he's passed on the gene.

He and Niamh have three young kids and when their two girls don't get to play for the Clanna Gael U-10s (whom he coaches), "they tear the house down!"

But, when it comes to himself, an obsessive about football and fitness who still craves the adrenalin rush that comes from pushing your body to the limit, there's nothing better than the bike now.

He cycles to Dublin training in DCU from his home in Sandymount and is even happier the nights they're out in Malahide, which means he gets to clock up 45km.

Darcy's ideal Saturday morning is spent spinning up the Sally Gap – "up at six, back by eight" – in the company of the Dublin Wheelers, who have given him new-found respect for their sport.

Like many retired footballers he took up golf and was down to a 14-handicap before quitting when he realised there was a lot more he still wanted to do with the body while he still could.

He has clocked up 10,000km in the last two years and getting involved in Eamonn O Muircheartaigh's charity cycle 'Race the Ras' has had particular resonance for Darcy, who fundraises and proselytises for cancer awareness after his sister Sinead, a 39-year-old mother of three, died from skin cancer in 2011.

His heart is set on doing one of the famous Etapes next, those lung-busting mass-participation cycles up legendary Tour de France stages like Alpe d'Huez or Col du Tourmalet.

So, where do you stand on Lance then?

"I'd still admire Armstrong, because, though he was laden with drugs, he still won a huge amount and he was probably no more drugged-up than the rest of them!" he reckons with a grin.

For a man caught between two stools in his football career, you sense that Declan Darcy is completely at home now.

Dublin born and bred, a Leitrim footballer by parentage and now a Dublin senior selector, he brings pragmatism and unique insight to this latest seismic football clash between the city slickers and their country cousins.

He is also a member of Eugene McGee's Football Review Committee (FRC) and his down-to-earth approach is demonstrated when asked how defenders Ger Brennan and Kevin O'Brien would recover their confidence after being taken off against Kerry.

"They need to scrub themselves down, get up and get on with it because the train ain't gonna stop for anybody," he replies dispassionately.

"They're fantastic players, they've done very little wrong previous to this. Every player has his blips and how you react to the bad days is how good a player you are."

Darcy knows, from personal experience, just how easy it is to get thrown out of whack by an All-Ireland semi-final.

He declared for Leitrim under the parentage rule and spent a decade with them, famously captaining them to the second-greatest day in their history, that unforgettable 1994 Connacht senior title which ended 67 years of hurt.

The county went ballistic, but when its tiny population decamped to Croker for the semi-finals, Dublin ritually slaughtered them (3-15 to 1-9).

Most Leitrim folk reacted with a happy sigh of "sure wasn't it fantastic to get there and we'll always have Connacht."

What galled Darcy was their one-point Connacht semi-final loss to Galway the following summer. "We were well better than them, we just let it slip."

While Leitrim's world spun, Darcy was uniquely detached from the madness and idolatry.

"There was all this mass hysteria going on and, when I came back up the road, there wasn't one, maybe two, who knew what was after happening.

"I was coming from this complete carnage in one spot, back to Dublin 4, where there was zilch! It was a strange contrast.

"I saw guys crying going through their villages, but I didn't go to my village," he explains.

"I had Aughawillan that I played with, but I never had a home to go to, to bring the cup to, even though I was captain. I didn't have that experience and maybe that was what I was missing to make it that big for me."

Three years later he returned to his roots, joining St Brigid's and lining out for Dublin.

His dual football passport gives him unique perspective this weekend.

"The country player is put up more on a pedestal in his own community for sure," he says.

"If they walk down their village or community they're going to be acknowledged and praised, whereas if Rory O'Carroll walks down to the Stillorgan shopping centre, only four or five people might recognise him."

Yet he believes "the flip side is the media. There's a huge amount of people and a huge media circus in Dublin, the team gets an awful lot more attention than any other county.

"If Bernard Brogan wore a red pair of shoes tomorrow, I'd say it could be in the paper!"

Ah hold on, didn't the 'Mayo News' and 'Western People' produce 64 and 72-page All-Ireland supplements this week?

"It's a fair point," he concedes, but outlines the paranoia that dogs some Dublin footballers socially, especially in this phone camera, Twitter era.

"When I played with Leitrim I felt no sense of that. I could do what I wanted, but, if you're a Dublin player, whether it's there or not, you're always looking over your shoulder. The players feel a little more watched, they'd be terrified."

He jokes of falling into management when Tommy Lyons gave himself and Jim Gavin "the soft trap-door" off the Dublin squad in 2003, when it was suggested that they could make themselves more useful by training the county U-21s, which Lyons also managed.

He and Gavin had "already bonded as team-mates" and clearly share an attacking football philosophy, as their successful U-21 teams demonstrated.

Mayo also seem to share that approach, but can he see them changing it up and throwing in an extra defender in tomorrow's showdown?

"I suspect that they'll do their best to nullify our positive players up front, but I don't think they will," he decides. "To be honest I think Mayo will go gun-for-gun with us."

Dublin's callow youth, he feels, could yet be their trump card.

"You can get a careful edge in your career," Darcy observes.

"But when you're that young you fear nothing. I remember when I was 19, playing in Newbridge on what was Mick O'Dwyer's first day in charge (of Kildare).

"I don't know who I was marking. They had a fantastic set-up, but I didn't care, I just went out that day and felt I was better than anybody else!

"I was in that bubble and sometimes, when you're 19 or 20, it's a great bubble to be in, you fear nothing, you just play it as you see it.

"Paul Mannion and Jack (McCaffrey) are testament to that. Sometimes they might do good or bad things, but they're just in that carefree mode where they're just playing it as they see it, which is great.

"Mayo, in fairness, have some fine young players in their armoury as well, but that just might be the trick for us."

Irish Independent

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