Monday 23 October 2017

Dubs axe inspired me to play best football of my life - Hubbard

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

WHEN Pat Gilroy picked up the phone to call Alan Hubbard back in 2011, it was to jettison him from a Dublin panel that had the stars aligned for them.

The Ballymun Kickhams man had been in and around Gilroy's set-up since the St Vincent's man took over, but the manager told him his time was up. That it was on his birthday, didn't help, but the rejection stung even more when Dublin went on to win the All-Ireland.

"At the end of the day, that's water under the bridge," Hubbard recalls.

"In fairness, I've talked to Pat since and he has been very good to me. I'm just putting the head down and my club is the number one priority. If I did get a call with Dublin, I would be more than happy to go back and play."

Hubbard struggled as he watched Dublin build up a head of steam in their quest for Sam. He found it "quite hard" and didn't go to Dublin matches that summer as they won the most dramatic All-Ireland final in years.

"To be honest, in hindsight, it probably helped me, because when I went back to the club, I was more determined to become better and I got myself fitter and stronger.

"I started playing the best football I'd ever played. All I can do now is keep playing well with the club, and if I keep doing that, I might get a call off Jim (Gavin)."

Seven of the Ballymun squad are in line to join up with Dublin, but Hubbard isn't among them. Under Gilroy, he was used in a variety of positions, but he has nailed down a half-back position under Paul Curran at his club.

Dr Crokes, Ballymun's opponents in today's All-Ireland Club SFC semi-finals, have used two of their most in-form players – Kieran O'Leary and Brian Looney – as half-forwards and facing such a quality pair provides a great chance for Hubbard to prove his worth. "That is the one thing in the back of my mind," he says.

"I played two seasons at corner-back and I played wing-forward and corner-forward in another season. But, personally, I don't feel any of these would be my best position.

"I've played wing-back with my club for the last two years and I've nailed that down and if I got a chance, I'd love to get a chance to play wing-back with Dublin."

Hubbard is speaking in the Ballymun clubhouse. We're under photographs of some famous Ballymun and Dublin teams.

The faces of Dermot Deasy, Gerry Hargan and Barney Rock are above us. Incidentally, Gilroy is there with the 1995 All-Ireland-winning side, but of all the heroes on the wall, perhaps Paddy Christie resonates most with Hubbard.

Hubbard was one of the group of kids Christie gathered up when the club's underage structure was on its knees in the mid-'90s. Hubbard played some soccer, but Christie's standing turned his head.

He coached them through the grades and by the time they were in minor, Christie had them good enough to contest consecutive minor championship finals. The improvement continued and they won back-to-back U-21 Dublin titles in 2007 and '08.

"I played with Paddy since I was 12 and I never looked back. There is a real sense of brotherhood between us all." Christie is still on the playing panel with Ballymun, but has taken up a coaching role with Dunshaughlin in Meath. He's also back in the underage ranks with Ballymun and won the All-Ireland Feile last year.

The next breed are coming hot on the heels of this generation of Ballymun players, who have learned the happy knack of winning.

"You have Dean (Rock), Ted (Furman) and James (McCarthy) after winning U-21 All-Irelands and then Philly (McMahon) and James (McCarthy) winning senior All-Irelands with Dublin for the first time in 16 years. They bring it into club level."

Crokes have stars who are even more decorated, but Ballymun have to trust that the preparation they've put in throughout the year will be good enough to send them into the St Patrick's Day decider.

"You know who you're going to be playing against. But we can only control what's in our dressing-room. And, hopefully, what we do is good enough to come out on top."

Irish Independent

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