Tuesday 16 January 2018

'This group bonded through work, effort and heartbreak'

Blues star Denis Bastick talks to Cian Murphy about an unforgettable week of injury, Weetabix, Brian Clough and a cup called Sam

Bastick (r) sits on the Croke
Park turf with team-mates Paul
Brogan, Declan Lally, Bernard
Bastick (r) sits on the Croke Park turf with team-mates Paul Brogan, Declan Lally, Bernard Brogan

FOR three and a half years Denis Bastick has been staring at a picture of Croke Park on his wall at home. It's an iconic shot of the packed stadium from when Tyrone played Armagh in the 2003 final, but it's the words 'Unfinished Business' which he has written across the top of the picture that carry most significance for him.

Dropped by Paul Caffrey in early 2008, Bastick refused to believe his Dublin dream was over. That year he captained Dublin to a junior All-Ireland then won a senior recall from Pat Gilroy and established himself as a regular over the last two years.

But still he looked at that picture every day and told himself he had 'unfinished business'. Last Sunday he honoured his promise as the midfield warrior embodied the bloody-minded determination and character of a Dublin team that refused to be beaten.


Hurt my ankle playing in the last 'A' versus 'B' match. I fall awkwardly making a tackle and my leg gets tangled. It's very sore and I go in straight away.

SUNDAY, SEPTember 11

Go to a wedding show in Carton House with my fiancée Jody. We're having our reception there this December. Then I go to dinner in my mam and dad's and drop off tickets.

Monday, SEPTember 12

I work as a financial adviser in the Bank of Ireland in Drumcondra and walking up Clonliffe Road every day, I have Croke Park there as a constant reminder of what's coming. That makes it easy to get my head right for the match.

Also, there's a massive advertising hoarding with the Gooch on it to remind me of who we are playing. Spend the day icing my ankle.

Tuesday, SEPTember 13

This is our last serious training session. But when I jog onto the field I'm in so much pain I can't do the warm-up. When I walk I feel it pinching near my Achilles. I don't train and the physios start making some calls.

Wednesday, SEPTember 14

I'm at a hospital for an injection and an MRI scan at 7.30am. The ankle is in bad condition and the doctor asks how long more I intend playing. I tell him not to worry about that and just please get me sorted for Sunday.

Thursday, SEPTember 15

We have a video session where we work on what we want to do well. But I'm starting to get really worried about my ankle now. I'm limping in work and starting to get worked up over it. Pat Gilroy is in constant contact with the medical team. We talk and he knows I'm going to do everything to be right.

Friday, SEPTember 16

Speak to the Dublin physio James Allen as I know he is meeting Paul Flynn that night in DCU to assess his hamstring. James is brilliant and does some work on me.

It's great to meet Flynner too, because he is such a positive character. He is telling himself that he is going to play and be right for Sunday and it rubs off on me.

Flynner and James tell me not to be down and I go home and try to chill out. Get a text to say my Templeogue, Synge Street and Dublin team-mate Eoghan O'Gara is a daddy after his partner Elaine gave birth to their daughter Ella. The baby isn't due until next week, but she wants to be here in time to see him playing in an All-Ireland final.

saturday, SEPTember 17

Watch Ireland v Australia and Ireland's victory really gets me in the mood and just proves that no matter who you are playing against, that anyone can beat anyone on a given day.

Head off to training knowing that I have to prove myself by coming through this session. I take pain killers and get strapped up and it doesn't feel comfortable at the start, but as time goes by it feels better and as the adrenalin kicks in, the pain eases off and I get through it.

Pat calls me over. 'You're playing tomorrow.' 'Yes,' I reply. 'What's all the fuss about then,' he says.

At the end of the session we sit as a group around a hilly bank at the side of the pitch in St Clare's. Paul Casey, Mossy Quinn and David Henry each give some inspirational words and you realise that something big is going to go down tomorrow.

Hearing them speak so passionately and confidently when they know they are not walking out to play strikes a chord with the rest of us. It makes you even more determined to do it right for them.

I spend the evening on the couch watching 'X Factor' and icing my ankle. Head off to bed at 10.30.

Sunday, SEPTember 18

Wake up at 7.30am. I like to eat a bowl of Weetabix first and then toast and egg, but there's a panic on when there isn't any Weetabix. Poor Jody bears the brunt of this and goes to get some and then it's off to mass in Coolock and a walk on the beach in Portmarnock, which I like to do on match days to clear the head.

Then it's back home for some more breakfast and I go back to bed and sleep for half an hour before the alarm goes off to wake me.

My cousin Noel is up from Camross and he drives me to DCU, picking up Mossy along the way.

Before I leave home I look for one last time at a picture of Croke Park on my wall that I wrote the words 'Unfinished Business' on over three years ago. When I got dropped from the senior squad by Pillar Caffrey in February 2008 I told him I wasn't finished with Dublin. I've come back since then, but today is about unfinished business.

Our training facility has a lot of good distractions on match day. There's a TV showing the minor game, there's board games, English papers with no mention of GAA inside and a match-day film -- which today is 'The Damned United'. Then there's the physio room where I go to get my ankle strapped.

There'll be less time today to warm up on the pitch because of meeting the President and the parade. From the time we stand at the red carpet and do the parade to the ball being thrown in, almost 15 minutes will pass and guys will be getting cold, so we are well wrapped up and even on the red carpet Rory O'Carroll is getting us to sprint on the spot to stay warm.

We rehearsed the full build-up with meeting the President and marching behind the band a week earlier so that it's not something new that can throw you off. Caroline from our back room stood in as Mary McAleese and went down the line shaking hands.

We know our game plan. We know we want to play until the final whistle and leave everything on the pitch.

In previous games, I've had to focus on stopping my direct opponent like John Doyle and Sean Cavanagh. I'm marking Bryan Sheehan, but today is about getting a tackle on anything green and gold that moves in that middle third. We know we can't let Kerry settle. It's about going as hard as you can for as long as you can and then let someone else in.

From the moment the ball is thrown in the pace never drops and there's no time to think about the ankle. At half-time we know we are doing well but that we will have to give every last drop of energy in us.

I steal forward and slip a ball to Bernard Brogan and keep running and get the ball back in my lap in front of goal and instinctively swing it over the bar.

I'm out of gas and taken off in the 62nd minute and things are not going well. I can't bear to look and as Kerry pull away I look across and see their substitutes jumping up and down with excitement.

Then I can tell by the roar of the crowd something has happened and look up to see Alan Brogan tearing forward and passing to Kevin McManamon to crash home a goal.

It's our turn to go crazy.

There's only one man for the job of the late free and it's Stephen Cluxton. 'Clucko' is early for every session, kicking frees. It's a pressure kick but nothing really fazes him and he steers it over.

The final whistle goes and its delirium, running around, jumping and hugging all over the place.

This is a group of Dublin players who have bonded together by the work and effort we've put in and the heartbreak we've endured.

When you're working so hard for so long, the All-Ireland can look way off in the distance and you wonder will it ever happen. Now we are All-Ireland champions and Bryan Cullen has Sam Maguire.

You feel a mixture of disbelief and relief. We come back in and form a huddle with the cup and various people speak. Then Davy Henry sings 'Dublin in the Rare Auld Times'.

I go back and sit down on the bench and realise there's no training on Tuesday. Dublin football has taken care of business.

Irish Independent

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