Monday 19 August 2019

'After I put the phone down, I was back' - How one call from Pat Gilroy convinced Dublin All-Star to return

Danny Sutcliffe. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Danny Sutcliffe. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

ALL it took was a call from new Dublin hurling manager Pat Gilroy.

“After I put the phone down,” says Danny Sutcliffe, “I just kind of accepted it. I was back.”

He can’t stress enough that he has no regrets.

None.

Sutcliffe is still just 25 and as a result of his wanderlust, has a Masters in finance from DCU and a year working in the industry in New York on his CV.

“I wouldn’t ever second guess myself about anything,” he says now, recently repatriated with the Dublin hurling squad he left exactly two years ago.

“Not on the field or anywhere else.”

Dublin hurling’s most high-profile defection returned to these shores a little under three weeks ago.

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As it happens, Sutcliffe explains, his visa was up in America anyway and any next move was being guided purely by professional forces rather than sporting ones.

He resolved to either head for London or come home to Dublin.

“I wasn’t thinking about coming back hurling at all,” he told The Herald.

“It wasn’t top of my list. I was only thinking work-wise.”

Before he had assessed his options, Gilroy phoned.

“It was one or two phone calls. And he just offered me a place on a training panel – and that’s all it is at the moment – and I accepted.”

So, early last Monday morning, he and a hardy bunch of over 50 began the laborious process of convincing the new Dublin management they have something to offer for next year.

According to Sutcliffe, all Gilroy offered him was a place on that bloated training panel. Everything after that was up to him.

“We watched from the trenches what he did with the footballers,” he says while admitting to subsequently phoning his St Jude’s club-mate, Kevin McManamon for the lowdown on Dublin’s new hurling manager.

“He said it was brilliant. He enjoyed it. There was a great team ethos and a great atmosphere around the squad.

“So that was it.”

On Sunday, he will be part of the smaller group chosen to represent Dublin in Boston in the AIG Fenway Hurling classic, two years after he made his last appearance in his county’s jersey at the same venue.

The night Dublin and Galway renewed their sparkly rivalry in one of American sports’ most iconic stadiums, no-one knew it would be Sutcliffe’s last for at least two years.

A couple of days later, he informed Ger Cunningham that wouldn’t be part of his squad in 2016.

Already, Cunningham had informed a couple of unsuspecting experienced panellists that they were being dropped.

From that moment, things unravelled badly for Cunningham and though an enquiry subsequently came about his availability for the season just passed, Sutcliffe had already made plans to spend a year in New York.

He is keen to stress that he enjoyed every second.

With no hurling in the Big Apple until May, Sutcliffe decided to attend an open trial to play for the New York footballers.

He made the cut and lined out at wing-forward in two challenges against Donegal in April.

A month later, he played for New York against Sligo in the Connacht SFC in front of 5,000 people in Gaelic Park alongside the likes of former Mayo player Tom Cunniffe and Conor McGraynor of Wicklow.

They led with 20 minutes to go but lost by eight points.

As life experiences go, Sutcliffe says, it wasn’t an unenjoyable one.

The three pitch and two gym sessions a week they were put through kept his fitness to a decent level and he spent the rest of the summer playing hurling with Ulster and football with Kerry.

Looking back, Sutcliffe admits he only really ever kept half an eye on the final acts of Cunningham’s reign.

“It was actually nice to get a break from it because you’re in a bubble when you’re involved.

“Obviously you watch the games and you have friends playing but I wouldn’t be asking questions of lads.”

Of his decision to leave the squad in the first place, all Sutcliffe wants to say is that the decision was his own.

The masters degree he completed in 2016 required all of his time and probably a little more.

He always intended on spending a year in America at some stage too.

People have drawn their own conclusions about his relationship with Cunningham but he is loath to look backwards.

“I took the first year to do my masters and my second year to travel. That’s it,” he insists.

“Hurling is a big part of my life but you have to get on with the rest of your life too.

“I’m delighted I got the chance to go when I did and I’m delighted that I’ve gotten the chance to come back in.

“I’m two years gone. So I’ve a lot of do with the coaches to get in shape. But I’ve no regrets about going,” added the St Jude’s clubman.

“It was my own decision. I wouldn’t want people to think otherwise.

“People question why you take two years out when you’re coming into your prime physically but that’s what it was.

“I went with it. And I have definitely no regrets.”

As it happens, Sutcliffe has relations in Rhode Island - big Red Sox fans for whom Fenway Park is “sacred ground.”

And while this week, they’ve accustomed themselves to the rules of ‘Super 11s’ hurling, Sutcliffe senses a buzz among the current members of Gilroy’s extended panel. 

“Anyone who’s there is happy to be there,” he stresses.

“They know something good is building. And the thing is, people have the sense to know that you have to get on the train early if you want to be on board.”

AIG FENWAY HURLING CLASSIC SEMI-FINALS (Sunday)

Fenway Park, Boston: Dublin v Galway, 5.30pm (Irish time)

Fenway Park, Boston: Clare v Tipperary, 6.30 (Irish time)

AIG FENWAY HURLING CLASSIC FINAL

Fenway Park, Boston: Dublin or Galway v Clare or Tipperary, 8pm (Irish time)

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