Future is bright for teenage star Archer after stand-out summer
There's an image that lingers in Ciarán Archer's mind, even now, nine days on. It's the sight of the Cork players celebrating in O'Moore Park after winning the EirGrid All-Ireland U-20 Football Championship.
"I'm still not fully over it," the 18-year-old admits. "It was tough to take, especially being on the pitch, looking up at them lifting the trophy."
A bad way to end a brilliant year, but few who witnessed Archer's star go supernova in recent months could find any cause for cynicism. Yes, Dublin fell at the final hurdle, having no real answer to Cork's second-half surge, but Archer absorbed that hit with a wisdom beyond his years.
"We couldn't really stop their counter-attack play," he says. "They really punished us in the end but they deserved it: they wanted it a lot more and the right team won in the end."
It's an attitude to match his ability, a teenager from Rush who is gifted with rare athletic qualities. On the path to that final Archer scored a scarcely credible 8-30 in four games, the St Maur's full-forward racking up a higher tally than the rest of his Dublin teammates combined.
Word of talent like his tends to get around, and a few years back interest arrived from abroad. Archer played Gaelic football since the age of four but by his teenage years, he had gravitated towards soccer. His domestic career was forged at Home Farm and at the age of 15, he moved to England and signed a two-year deal with Yeovil Town.
But reality differed from expectation. "I packed it in fairly quick, it wasn't for me," he says. "I was 15, about to turn 16, and moving away from home is tough at that age. You're in that training ground for six, seven, eight hours of the day and it felt more like a job than a hobby I'd been doing all my life. That took away from the fun side of it."
He missed home, missed what sport had always been for him.
"People here see the professional footballers and the money they're earning and the lifestyle, but only a very small number of people achieve that so it's fairly tough going up through ranks to maintain your belief in yourself. In the GAA you're appreciated a lot more as a person whereas in soccer you're more an asset."
He returned home at the age of 16 and turned his focus back to Gaelic football, emerging as a potent attacking threat for St Maur's and in the underage ranks for Dublin. All the same, he never could envision such a breakout year for the U-20s. "I didn't expect to be scoring as much as I did but I was happy I could help the team progress through the competition," he says.
For many, Leaving Cert year is one where they bury their head in the books and do little else, but Archer was adamant he wouldn't surrender sport at the altar of academics. Throughout the spring and early summer, he never missed a minute with the Dublin U-20s.
"That's a measure of his dedication or madness, I'm not sure which," said manager Tom Gray.
But Archer always saw it as a nice distraction. "A lot of people built [the Leaving Cert] up too much. It was important to stay grounded and go out and play a bit of sport, an hour or two hours, then I'd do an extra hour of study in the night."
Tomorrow he returns to St Joseph's Rush to pick up his results, and all going well the plan will be to enrol at DCU to study primary teaching.
On Saturday evening Archer was watching on TV with his family as the Dublin seniors took another step towards five-in-a-row and while many see that side as his next obvious step, the player himself - who is U-20 again next year - isn't jumping ahead.
"I don't think it's for me to decide," says Archer, who turns 19 this month.
"I'm going to keep playing my game, try to keep improving over the next few months while I'm back with the club.
"I don't think there's any pressure or rush to push on, but I obviously wouldn't say no."