“It was starting to feel a bit like a chore and when it gets to that stage you kind of question what you’re doing. The Mayo game didn’t go too well for me. As much as I tried to get myself back to what I was in 2011, I honestly found it difficult.”
This introspection has led to Cullen - who was married on New Year’s Day - agreeing to rejoin the panel later than he is used to and he won’t be back in the Dublin dressing room until “sometime in February”, effectively ruling himself out of Jim Gavin’s plans for a large part of the Allianz League Division 1 campaign.
“I said I’d take a little bit of time away from training and try and get that bite back before I go back,” he explained. “I just felt if the same thing would happen again, I’d go back in January and by the time the actual important stuff came around, I’d be looking towards the end of the season as opposed to looking forward to the big days.”
He may be just 28, but Cullen is a veteran by any accepted measure. Tommy Lyons called him in as a pup in his last minor year in 2002, meaning this season - when he does finally rejoin the group - will be his 12th as a Dublin senior.
It goes without saying that the highlight was that day in September 2011, but he’s arrived at the stage when he would prefer it actually did go without well-wishers saying it at all.
“Living in Dublin, having not won it for so long, it’s all people want to talk about,” he says, sounding suspiciously like he has endured, as much as enjoyed, large parts of the 16 months since he lifted Sam Maguire.
“The cup was put away, we didn’t speak about it much. We obviously spoke about trying to retain our title and that but I don’t think lads were out parading the trophy. I don’t think that affected our performances.
“But everybody still wants to talk to you about it. Even this morning, a guy who works here (at the Aviva Stadium) in the ground still wants to talk to you about it and it happened two years ago. It can be difficult to block it out of your mind but I don’t think it was a factor in any of our performances.”
That notion of Cullen as the absentee captain is something he is quick to dismiss. He hasn’t discussed that particular issue with Jim Gavin, who has already stated he will rotate the role until the summer, and Cullen is thinking exclusively in terms of earning a spot on the team rather than leading it.
“People still refer to me as Dublin captain, but that was under Pat’s tenure,” he insists. “Things change and we have new management so whatever Jim wants now we will all be fully behind him.
“I really enjoyed my time as Dublin captain,” he says. “I’ll sit down and talk to Jim if it’s on the table, but, being honest, my concern is just getting back and getting fit. There are no guarantees that I will even be in the team when I come back so any talk about the captaincy is a bit premature.”
As for Dublin’s prospects, he sees no reason why a rejuvenated, refreshed and possibly revised group can’t rescale the summit in the immediate term.
“I definitely think teams are capable of coming back and winning a title again,” he stressed. “I wouldn’t be going back if I didn’t think that.
“I’m sure Donegal feel the same, Cork will feel the same and Kerry as well - the last four winners.
“The demands are huge and then you throw in the club championship on top of that. Coming back in January, it feels like your season is barely finished and you’re only going again. It can be difficult but that is the challenge for management and fitness guys - to try and keep players fresh,” he concludes.