Monday 9 December 2019

'All I cared about was Nigel Dunne, what I scored... that's changed'

Offaly's Nigel Dunne. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile
Offaly's Nigel Dunne. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

A chance meeting with Pat Flanagan before the 2011 All-Ireland final told Offaly footballer Nigel Dunne everything he needed to know about his current manager. And from that moment on he was sold on his credentials.

The Faithful senior football scene had resembled a merry-go-round in recent years with countless comings-and-goings of both players and management, but Flanagan has brought stability, and a wealth of experience.

Dunne was well aware of Flanagan's pedigree after winning championships with his native Clara and Tyrrellspass, before leading Westmeath from Division 3 to the top flight, yet it took some time for him to be landed in the Offaly hot-seat.

"He tipped me on the shoulder in a pub in Dublin and said 'I'll manage Offaly in the future and if you get yourself right you'll be centre-forward'.

"I walked away thinking 'why do Offaly not have this guy as manager?' He knows what he wants and seems to have a plan for Offaly," Dunne says.

"I could never understand why he wasn't managing us then. He's one of the best managers in the country and he's allowed to go manage our neighbours when we had managers who weren't as good as him. It didn't add up."

The 26-year-old feels Flanagan has assembled "the 30 best footballers in Offaly, something not the case in previous years" and admits to being "immediately hooked" when he laid his vision for the future on the table in his first squad meeting in late 2014.

That wasn't the case in the past and, while Dunne has been an ever-present since 2015, he spent the previous years growing disillusioned during Emmet McDonnell's ill-fated reign.

GAA Newsletter

Expert GAA analysis straight to your inbox.

"When Emmet came in I think there were a couple of things, he didn't rate me and I didn't rate him. There was no major fallout, it was a case of he probably didn't think I was good enough and I thought the same of him," he says.

It all came to head against Roscommon in a 2014 League game in a moment the Bank of Ireland official is not proud of, but it summed up the malaise in Offaly football at the time.

"It's wrong what I did but we hadn't spoken for the week coming into the game and I was only picked corner-forward because there was an injury crisis," he recalls.

"I was taken off after 20 or 25 minutes - two balls came in and I didn't win either of thems.

"Fair enough, that's not good enough but I got the curly finger. I was just p***ed off so I just went home. I rang my father, got him to collect me at the back of the stand, drove home and by the time the match ended in the 'Hyde 'I was sitting at my kitchen table eating a breakfast roll."

Dunne also confesses to once eating a bag of chips before county training but these are things he'd "never do now".

He has matured, he's engaged to Tracey, his girlfriend of 10 years, who keeps him on his toes.

"I do hear some lads saying that they're given out to for going training the whole time. I was lying watching Netflix a few weeks ago and she said 'should you not be out practising frees?'"

Dunne now appreciates the talent that he has been blessed with and is focused on Offaly's re-emergence. It's all about the team now, not himself. That hit home when he was sacrificed last year against Longford after a sending-off.

"I shook Pat's hand and just sat encouraging the lads. I was raging of course but I had too much respect for the set-up. If a manager believes in you, you must believe in him and trust him, even if you don't like it.

"Three years ago all I cared about was Nigel Dunne and how I played, what I scored. Now it doesn't matter.

"I know that if I don't score tomorrow that I can contribute in other ways. And I won't feel embarrassed at being taken off. I would have been very egotistical thinking that I had to play every minute of every game but that's not real life."

After three years with St Sylvesters in Malahide, where he feels he became a "far better player" after regularly marking the likes of Philly McMahon and Cian O'Sullivan, he's ready to do what it takes in Mullingar to secure back-to-back wins in the Leinster championship against Westmeath.

"We've trained like maniacs since the Longford game, we're in prime condition and there's no excuses," he says.

"It's 50-50 but I believe if both teams play to the best of their ability Offaly will win."

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Irish Independent

The Throw In: From 1955 heartbreak to 2019's five in-a-row - Inside the Decades of the Dubs

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport