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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Life of Brian - a Bronx tale with a Croker twist

TOMORROW, ten years after making his SFC debut against Dublin, Brian Kavanagh returns to the scene of the crime, so to speak. A 19-point drubbing in Croke Park. Ouch!

His journey from there to here has been nothing short of eventful, incorporating a near-ambush of the Dubs in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park just a year later; a club transfer to Kilmacud Crokes that delivered some of the biggest days in his football career; and an actual career break from his job as a primary school teacher that brought him to New York.

Where to start? Well, let's try the Big Apple.

He was working in a Manhattan bar, right beside Madison Square Garden. "You go from correcting maths copies to making a Mohito!" he laughs.

"You just totally forgot about the football and the responsibilities of having to train every night. You just lived your own life and lived freely for a year."

No football?

"Played a bit of junior B for Longford, and we won the junior B championship," Kavanagh explains, before underlining the polar extremes between inter-county preparation and cobbling together a team for a Tuesday run-out in Gaelic Park.

SUIT

"There was one game we had a lad in a suit in goals," he recounts. "And he did quite well - short kickouts were very good! We got him gear at half-time.

"There was two water coolers on the sideline - one with water, the other with Bud Lite - and if you put your hand in the wrong one, you could be opening up a can of beer! But it was great craic."

Kavanagh came home for the start of the school year in 2013 - mentally revitalised but not quite boasting the same pristine condition as he launched straight back into action with Crokes.

"I was home maybe four days, and we played Portlaoise in a challenge and everything just went right, scored about five points," he recounts.

"Then they decided 'Jesus, we'll start him against Ballyboden' … and I realised how far off the pace I was. Like, Dublin championship - hadn't trained in 15 months, and I was just totally whitewashed."

The pessimistic viewpoint is that a different type of whitewash awaits Longford tomorrow but the team cannot think that away.

ROOFTOPS

"We're not shouting from the rooftops over what we're going to do, but we're not going up with a defeatist attitude," the 29-year-old declares. "We're going to give it our best shot; otherwise we might as well just throw our hat at it.

"We know we're going to be spending a lot of time without the ball, and we have to be so economical when we have it. If we get a goal chance, we have to take it. We have to take all our points. We went up to Derry last year and scored 2-16 and just got over the line, so we need something of that magnitude."

Yet, he accepts the Dublin of 2015 are a "totally different animal" to the Dublin that survived by two points in Longford nine years ago. "They might have had one or two marquee forwards back then," he recalls. "But they come at you from everywhere now.

"And it starts with Stephen Cluxton. Once you kick the ball wide or over the bar, there's wing-backs, corner-backs, everybody attacking.

"So it's a huge task and you just have to be so tuned in all the time ... I think they have a four-second rule, where it's four seconds from when the ball goes wide to kicking it out. And you can't be looking at the big screen, admiring your point, and then your man is gone up the field!"

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