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Friday 9 December 2016

Bastick won't forget the pain

Dubs ace still remembers the bad days and is taking nothing for granted in another showdown against old enemy Kerry

Dublin senior footballer Denis Bastick joined the U14s from Fingal Ravens GAA Club for
a training session at St David’s Artane, organised by Aer Lingus, official airline to Dublin GAA. Pics: Sportsfile. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Dublin senior footballer Denis Bastick joined the U14s from Fingal Ravens GAA Club for a training session at St David’s Artane, organised by Aer Lingus, official airline to Dublin GAA. Pics: Sportsfile. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

The pain may have eased but never fully left him. "Ah, no," says Denis Bastick. "That's ingrained in your heart."

A majority of this Dublin team has yet to experience the empty feeling that comes with a championship defeat to Kerry.

Bastick has been that soldier, with deep wounds to prove it. We're talking about the 17-point massacre of 2009, when Dublin entered the quarter-final arena as favourites … and exited as slaughtered earwigs.

Stephen Cluxton, Paddy Andrews, Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan and sub Cian O'Sullivan were all present at the crime scene too. Bastick, a good old fashioned midfielder by trade, was full-back - something he has never been allowed to forget. He picked up a retrospective suspension afterwards, just to crown a forgettable day that, conversely, he will never forget.

So as the clock ticks down to Sunday's semi-final renewal with Kerry, Bastick still appreciates the threat posed by a county that, more recently, Dublin can't stop beating.

"We often talk about '09 but we've moved on; they've moved on," he says.

"But you don't forget about those things and I'm sure they haven't forgotten about last year's final or the 2013 semi-final. You don't forget - you don't forgive either. But you just have to move on."

Still, in the traumatic aftermath, how would Bastick react if someone told him they would be going for a fourth consecutive SFC win over Kerry in 2016, on top of an 11-point league final triumph?

"You'd laugh I suppose, wouldn't you? But that just shows how fickle sport is and how it can change, that you're only as good as your last game," he points out.

"It's a case of that's in the past, it's there, and eventually there'll be no one left from '09 so there'll be no connection."

The memory of '09 "makes it more valuable - the win - because you're always reminded of those defeats. But each player involved has those defeats somewhere along the way - with other teams maybe, or with other bad performances. So everybody is carrying the bit of hurt somewhere."

Failure

For most of his colleagues, that hurt has manifested itself in Dublin's failure, in 2012 and 2014, to go back-to-back. Now, they hope, the lessons learned can be put to profitable use.

Bastick describes a "huge difference" between the winter of 2011, when Dublin partied hard in celebration of their first All-Ireland in 16 years, and how they approached the off-season just gone.

As he explains, "2011 was all new to us; 2015 wasn't. Everybody wanted a piece of us. And it was important to do that for the city and the schools and the families.

"But I think we've moved on from that stage - and so, maybe, have the supporters who have got used to winning a bit more since. We realise that while it's important to celebrate, you can't take away from your position the following year. If it's going to affect it that much, then you're not doing the right things.

"We had to go and do what most teams have to do on the back of a win, and that was important too. But I think we over-extended ourselves possibly, and that was very difficult to get back the following year."

Older and wiser? Perhaps. But for a player who espouses work-rate as the key differential between glory and failure, he accepts that you can never quite know if the hunger is there until crunch-time comes.

"Looking back at other years like, say, 2012 … you think you're okay and you think you've got the hunger and you think you've trained well," he reflects. "And you don't realise until the whistle goes at the end of the match that what you did wasn't enough."

How does that manifest itself?

"You find yourself in a difficult position … and then it's how you cope with that. So can you push on, or do you rest in a game? That's when the s*** hits the fan and you say, 'Well, what's going to happen? Are you going to drive on past it or are you going to retreat?' That's what happens in games, and some teams kick on and some teams don't."

He continues: "If you look at your testing, your strength and fitness tests, there's not any huge difference year on year. So it can't be physical. The mental piece of the game, I think that's the extra 10 per cent.

"Everyone across the country is doing similar training in similar conditions. It's the mentality then of players who are going to go for the ball that they shouldn't go for. Or do that extra run that they didn't have to run … I think that can be the difference between champions and not champions."

Cluxton may be captain and the one with far more Dublin game-time in his legs but - at 35 - Bastick is the squad's most senior statesman. Yet the Templeogue Synge Street clubman indulged in little or no retirement soul-searching last winter. When the O'Byrne Cup kicked off on January 3, he was there on the pitch in Enniscorthy.

"I don't have the luxury of taking a few months out or trying to get back in.

"I've looked at previous seasons and it was an easy decision for me, knowing that it's easier for me to continually train rather than take a break and try to play catch-up," he explains.

Full health

"This year I was in full health and it was a case of, 'Yeah, let's get back on the bike and go again.' I played the first game; hopefully I'll play the last game."

There is no "exit strategy", no dream two-in-a-row departure, because that would only dull his focus.

"Hopefully I'll be in a position to make that decision myself rather than being asked to leave," he laughs.

"I don't think it's going to come to that anyway, but hopefully for me it's a case of when the time is right, then that'll be it and I'll be happy with what I've done in my time with Dublin."

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