Sunday 18 March 2018

Joey Boland is relishing fresh Dublin start under Ger Cunningham after shaking off injury

Joey Boland is looking forward to a new era for the Dublin hurlers (INM)
Joey Boland is looking forward to a new era for the Dublin hurlers (INM)

Jackie Cahill

Joey Boland has some unfinished business to attend to with the Dublin hurlers.

The last couple of years, he admits, have been largely forgettable and while some high-profile departures from the camp may have grabbed the headlines before Christmas, Boland insists that it's a happy ship under the stewardship of Ger Cunningham.

Both Simon Lambert and Alan Nolan spoke out publicly after they were deemed surplus to requirements by Cunningham while Danny Sutcliffe's decision to step aside was another major blow.

Doubt still hovers, too, over the future of Conal Keaney and Boland concedes that only time will tell if the squad is strong enough to absorb the blows.

For 28-year-old Boland himself, it's a big year. An Achilles tendon injury robbed the stylish and experienced half-back of the vast majority of 2015 and while he returned for the concluding stages of the championship against Limerick and latterly Waterford, he felt like a "fish out of water".

Having qualified as a physiotherapist from UCD, Boland then gained a Masters in Sports Medicine from Trinity. He spent some time working in private practice before taking over Functional Training Ireland and transforming it into Sports Physio Ireland, based on Upper Fitzwilliam Street in the capital.

Sports rehabbing, particularly for serious injuries such as cruciate knee ligaments, is one of Boland's specialities but the athlete in him often sees little or no danger.


That's how it was last year when Boland, still attempting to recover from an ankle problem, damaged his Achilles.

Despite his extensive qualifications, expertise and knowledge, Boland smiles and admits that he's not the best at self-diagnosis.

He says: "I'm terrible! I've got two hats, one is my medical and physio hat and the other the athlete who, if I'm injured, will push myself too hard and not listen to my body.

"I was too ambitious and wanted to get too fit, too quickly."

And so Boland found himself reaching a point where he was taking painkillers before training, simply to get through the sessions. In effect, what he was doing was kicking the problem further down the road and the time came, which deep down he knew it would, when his body said 'stop'.

He explains: "What I did was, I outsourced the injury to the Dublin physios.

"I had no input in my own rehab because if I did, I wouldn't be honest with myself.

"I trust the guys who work with us, Eamon O'Reilly and Enda King, and if they were injured, they'd want me to look after them. You can't see the wood from the trees when you're in there. All I would want to do is get back and cod myself that I'm fine."

And so Boland listened, eventually returning for the last 20 minutes of the qualifier victory over Limerick before starting the Waterford defeat.

He recalls: "I was like a fish out of water, hadn't hurled for eight months at a proper level.

"It's such a fast game and you have to be in the groove, have to be hurling the whole time and have matches under your belt.

"You can't just rock into championship any more. I played against Waterford then, didn't play that well, so it feels like it was a nothing year last year.

"That's why I'm hopping off the ground this year, focusing in on practising what I preach."

The team's strength and conditioning coach, DCU-based Ken Robinson, has a 21-point recovery system, with three points on offer for various elements including sleep, food, wearing compression socks, swimming, massage.

Boland has been trying to ensure that he's on the high end of the scale.

He's spent six weeks in Thailand in each of the past two years - getting some sun on his back and developing his own chill-out routine by lying down and attempting to channel what can often by a myriad of thoughts into just one.

Right now, his mind is firmly focused on the year ahead with Dublin, while at the same time juggling his business commitments.

And he feels the buzz coming back, which had been absent for some time.

Boland admits: "I hadn't enjoyed it for the last 18 months, through injury and so on and the stress levels of taking over businesses. But I'm really enjoying it at the moment, with this new young team, and Ger Cunningham has a great vision for Dublin hurling.

"He's going to change our style and I'm really enjoying learning about a new style of play, I just want to put my hand up and enjoy being part of the group."

There's been a rate of flux in that Dublin group, with the aforementioned absentees creating much debate.

And Boland's honest enough to discuss them. "They're huge blows to take and tough for the players as well.

"I'd have grown up with them lads and had great respect for them, been in many a battle with them but it's like anything, stuff comes in cycles. We might have a couple of those guys back yet but a manager has every right and who's to stay that he's not right dropping those lads and bringing in new young lads?

"Only time will tell but all I do know is that there's a great bunch of young lads, everybody's rolling in behind the management and as players, our job is to play and perform. What's the other option?

"You can start giving out and moaning about how this lad or that lad shouldn't have been dropped but that's the nature of sport, unfortunately.

"There's no shortage of talent coming through, and maybe these lads just need to take their chances, just like I did ten years ago."

From the Na Fianna club, Boland has watched clubmates like Jonny Cooper and Tomás Brady win All-Ireland medals with the senior footballers.

He might have privately envied such achievements if he was younger but now he's immensely proud of them, happy with the path he's chosen and insistent that no inter-county player hoping to win big things can juggle both codes.

Boland's a decent footballer himself, still plays a bit when he can, and won a senior league medal a few years back but hurling's his number one and he's anxious to attend to that unfinished business.

He smiles: "We won the league final in 2011 and one of the abiding memories I have was being stretchered off with a dislocated shoulder with ten minutes to go. I was in the ambulance to the Mater Hospital in injury time and when I got there, the doctor came in and said, 'Ye won'.

"My mam and dad were there and without them, you're nothing. They dropped me to training, cleaned my gear, did everything. Without them guiding you in the right direction, you could go off the rails at 16 or 17 and go on the beer but they tried their best to get me back on the right track.

"I grew up in Glasnevin, where Glasnevin meets Ballymun meets Finglas. That's the type of character I was, always a messer in school.

"I don't where it comes from, that little bit of devilment, I was always a bit of a bold boy but it may be one of the reasons why you get on in life as well. You're a bit cheeky and a risk-taker and you're not afraid to try one or two things out as well."

He's not finished just yet, either. Far from it. Unfinished business.

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