Sunday 20 October 2019

I knew I had the ability if I kept my head down - Howard on his rise to top

Despite winning an All-Star last year, Dublin’s Brian Howard insists he’s still learning his trade. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Despite winning an All-Star last year, Dublin’s Brian Howard insists he’s still learning his trade. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Diarmuid Connolly had us all warned.

It was the end of 2017 and Dublin were celebrating three All-Ireland titles in a row.

That year, Con O'Callaghan had burst on the scene, winning the Young Footballer of the Year award, an All-Star and an All-Ireland medal along with his club heroics with Cuala's hurlers.

Dublin supporters delighted in the emergence of another top-class talent but Connolly revealed that they had another star in the making.

"Keep your eye out for one guy, he is a lad from Raheny, Brian Howard," Connolly told a Hill 16 Army podcast.

"He came in last year, he was on the U-21 team. He is going to come on next year. In the next six or eight months, Brian Howard is going to put his hand up for a jersey.

Dublin’s Brian Howard. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Brian Howard. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

"He came on this year in the championship and didn't put a foot wrong. I was actually surprised he didn't play a little bit more to be honest."

Howard played twice in 2017 but started the first round of the league the following January against Kildare and never looked back.

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He kicked two points that night and would start seven of Dublin's eight league fixtures.

The championship was similar. He missed just one of Dublin's eight games on the way to four in a row as he sat out the dead-rubber against Roscommon in the final round of the 'Super 8s'.

By the end of the year he had won a third All-Ireland medal in 18 months, picking up a second senior crown to go with the U-21 one from 2017. Things got even better when he was named at midfield on the All-Star team alongside his clubmate Brian Fenton.

Did Connolly's prediction heap any extra pressure on him going into the 2018 season?

"No," Howard replied at the launch of AIB's Future Sparks Festival sport panel, which takes place in the RDS on March 14.

"I knew I had the ability if I kept the head down and kept training away, learning from the management and the backroom staff and the players too. The likes of Diarmuid Connolly, learning from him and the players who are in my position; the likes of Paul Flynn, Ciarán Kilkenny - that I was going to naturally get better the more I trained. No, there was no extra pressure but it was obviously nice to hear that from such a big star in Gaelic football."

Walking into the dressing-room full of players he admired did take some adjustment, especially when going head-to-head for a place in the team with the likes of Flynn, who had presented him with medals in the past.

"I remember seeing all these lads… I always wanted to be there but I didn't know if I'd make it.

"And just… when you walk in first, it's so surreal. And it still is now. For a young lad, I know talking to all the other young lads, you're beside your heroes. Bernard Brogan, Stephen Cluxton.

"But from day one, you just felt like part of the team. Lads coming up to you introducing themselves and having the craic straight from day one.

"So if you're nervous and you still don't know how to go about it, you can talk to him - they're so welcoming.

"They're a great bunch of lads. And that correlates on to the pitch.

"We know we have each other's backs when we're playing. It is something you can fall back on if you know that you're all friends at the end of the day. But obviously it's a great place to be and a special group of lads."

Dublin started slowly, losing two of their first three league games, but they have slowly found their groove.

Last weekend's win over Roscommon has put them in a good position to secure a league final spot at the end of the month.

From there, Dublin's focus will shift towards the championship and a shot at history.

"Obviously it's (talk of five in a row) there and we're all aware of it but no, it's something that we're not getting bogged down about.

"Obviously it's in the background but we're just focusing on every game.

"It's important for us, game by game, to build and if we get a loss we learn from that and see how we can build.

"Obviously it's an exciting time going in hopefully off the back of a good league campaign and then into the championship. So we have to deal with Leinster first and see where that takes us. If that's to the five-in-a-row, happy days but if not we can only do (our) best."

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