'No regrets' for Corkery after seeing Sam glory pass him by
TWENTY-SIX seems young to give up on inter-county football, but that is where Niall Corkery finds himself. He was a starter on a Dublin team that was arguably one point off an All-Ireland last year; turns out it was probably his last chance.
He took a job as a trader with a well-known firm in the City in London and moved over last November; Dublin's and Kilmacud Crokes' loss has been Parnells' gain, but the decision also cost him an All-Ireland medal.
It was not a lack of belief in Dublin that prompted the shift; Corkery is on the record in an interview this July saying that he believed "this Dublin team will win an All-Ireland."
He sounds genuine when he says the situation does not cost him sleep.
"I have zero regrets," he says. "I mean, looking at this year, I get the feeling that it is possible I added zero to that Dublin team. It was humbling to be part of it. I tried to do the job I was given, but this year there were guys who could do that job and a little bit extra."
Corkery makes a habit of self-deprecation, but Pat Gilroy obviously rated him higher than that, starting him at wing-forward in all seven of Dublin's championship games in 2010.
His was the sort of role that is more appreciated in the dressing-room than on the fans' forums: to forego the flashy stuff (he didn't score in last year's championship) and run himself into the ground for the cause.
Such was his industry that it was more or less accepted he would empty the tank and be replaced in the second half -- he was on the bench as Cork overhauled Dublin in such agonising fashion last year. But his faith was well placed, and he was at Croke Park last month to see his friends finish the job.
"Ah, it was perfect," he says. "I was in the Lower Cusack with my girlfriend, great seats, right in front of where Kev Mac stuck the goal. And then to see a friend and clubmate (Kevin Nolan) kick the equaliser and Clucko the winner against probably the best team of the past 10 years...
"I don't remember what was going through my head when they were four points down. I didn't realise there was so little time left or think it was gone. I was just concentrating on the game."
Like many people, Corkery believes this Dublin team is young and talented enough to achieve more. You could say the same about him, but he insists he will not have a Celtic Cross to admire when he puts the boots away for the last time.
"It's not that I don't think Dublin will win more All-Irelands," he says, "but I simply have no intention of moving home in the next three or four years."
While he is committed to his new team's quest for silverware that culminates against Fulham Irish in the London SFC final tomorrow, there is no question that his working career has usurped his football career as the centre of his focus, and that makes him happy with life in London.
"I absolutely love it here, and I know it sounds cheesy and my mates would slag me for this, but I genuinely look forward to every day in work and love every second of it," he says.
So why does trading excite him?
"It is just interesting and it feels important. At the end of every day, you can see exactly how you performed. You either did well or you didn't and there is a number on it, so you can't hide and say, 'yeah but I did this or I did that.' It is like a scoreboard. That's what attracts me to it. It's a competitive atmosphere."
It once seemed that his competitive instinct would be applied in rugby rather than Gaelic football. At Blackrock, Corkery was a No 8 and his schools rugby opponents included Rob Kearney and Jonny Sexton. At 16, he found a new outlet.
"The coaches told us to do something else for the summer, like Gaelic, and I took them literally and went up the road to Crokes," he says. "Conor Deegan, who won All-Irelands with Down, was in charge and I loved it from day one."
Both parties reaped the benefits within a decade, with Corkery setting up the crucial goal and kicking the insurance point in 2009 as his side achieved the ultimate in modern club football: taking on Crossmaglen in an All-Ireland final and outlasting them.
"That really was the highlight, winning with the guys you would have been hanging out with anyway."
Crokes won out in Dublin again last year and Corkery intended to try and help them repeat the All-Ireland success, but a knee injury sustained in the Leinster quarter-final against Portlaoise ended his campaign.
Never missing a chance to talk himself down, he says: "I should point out that we were six points down against Portlaoise when I came off."
Crokes, now playing with the assurance of champions, rescued that game. However, while they retained Leinster, Crossmaglen lay in wait and were not denied a second time.
Corkery manages to still play football at a high level -- it is different to be established on a team rather than feel the pressure to even maintain a squad place with Dublin, where "there are so many other lads who can do the same job that would break their mothers' legs to play for Dublin."
His home club is still part of his life -- connections from Stillorgan led him to elect for Parnells -- and there will be Kilmacud links on both sides tomorrow, including his friend Stephen Molumby, who plays for Fulham.
If others expect him to be a star player here, it is not the way Corkery sees it.
"I was surprised by the standard when I moved over," he says. "There is no player on my team that I feel I am better than and there are probably a lot of players who are more important to the team than me. I mean, if I wasn't playing, someone else could slot in and do my job."
He admits he is still getting his bearings as far as expertise of the London club scene goes, but says that he sees Fulham as "a very big, physical side" who will start as favourites.
Then again, for all that Corkery talks his abilities down, Pat Gilroy might tell you different. And perhaps what he saw, and what Fulham should be wary of, is that Niall Corkery does not like failing when the score is being kept.