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Friday 30 September 2016

Jamie's aim to beat the best

Westmeath defender Jamie Gonoud is going to Croke Park with a point to prove. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Westmeath defender Jamie Gonoud is going to Croke Park with a point to prove. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

If Jamie Gonoud took The Sunday Game as gospel, he wouldn't even get on the team bus tomorrow.

Instead, the Westmeath defender prefers doing his own research - studying his likely direct opponent in Sky Blue, even venturing to Breffni Park recently for a close-up look at how those vaunted defenders from Donegal and Monaghan go about their business. A future teacher in constant pursuit of knowledge.

And never mind the match odds, Gonoud will be on the bus. In fact, he can't wait.

"Last year we had two weeks after the Leinster semi-final to get it right," the Tyrrellspass clubman points out.

"This year we've had three weeks to get it right. Last year for the group as a whole it was our first Leinster final and maybe the occasion was a bit more than the game itself.

Parade

"We were happy to be there after beating Meath, happy to be in the parade, happy to see the dressing-rooms and happy to go out in front of 40-50,000 people.

"This year we have been there and done that. We want to put in a performance to try and beat probably the best team of this generation. We are under absolutely no illusion that for us to win this game, we need Dublin to have a very off day and we need to have the game of our lives.

"Every team has their day and every top team could have a bad day. You just have to be prepared for that."

As you listen to the straight-talking Gonoud, it's quickly apparent that preparation is not something he skips on. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail? Not this 23-year-old UCD HDip student.

This will be his first time in the Leinster final parade - he made a late substitute appearance 12 months ago, Dublin's latest provincial coronation long since secured.

In fact, he only made his first SFC start against Offaly last month, but he excelled that day in Mullingar and has retained his defensive berth for the semi-final against Kildare and now tomorrow's Croke Park showpiece.

"I've been around the panel for three years now and I just find this year, more than any other year, I've finished playing Sigerson football and I'm actually coming into the summer fresh in the body," he reflects.

"I know it might sound a bit silly, but I just always thought coming into May, June, July I was extremely tired because I would have been playing since November, December, January, February, all those months. It's great to come in this year fresh and injury-free."

Higher Education football, though, was a formative experience. He got to share a Maynooth dressing-room with Sky Blue trio Michael Darragh Macauley, Eric Lowndes and Emmet Ó Conghaile; and he skippered the college in 2014 when they reached the Sigerson semi-finals.

"Paddy McBrearty would have been full-forward on that team. Eamon Wallace, Paddy Brophy who's now in Australia. Paul Cribbin. So we had a great team," he recalls.

"We got beaten in the semi-final by UCC up in Belfast. Michael Darragh Macauley - what an athlete. I thought he was an unbelievable footballer.

"But, you know, on that, I didn't think as footballers Westmeath are in any way inferior to the Dublin players."

A keen student of the game, he highlights the importance of studying your next opponent - "what feet they kick with, what way they hand-pass the ball."

Two weeks ago he travelled to the Donegal-Monaghan replay for some further enlightenment.

"I like to see how your Colin Walshes, Ryan Wylies and Karl Laceys are playing. It is interesting to see how they play in the full-back line, and how they go about attacking the play when there's a turnover defensively . . . this stuff of a defender being a defender is gone now, you're a footballer."

Gonoud has heard all the accusations about "puke football", that the game has gone too defensive and lacks imagination. He doesn't buy it. "I don't care what people say about the modern game, I love it," he declares.

Lament

But what about that perennial lament from some pundits that football was better in their day?

"If we were always to listen to the lads on The Sunday Game, there'd be no point in Westmeath getting on the bus on the 17th of July," he muses.

"They have their opinions and you have to respect them too; some of them have won All-Irelands. But if you listen to them the whole time, you wouldn't even look at or play football any more."

He's not listening. And retirement can wait.

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