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Sunday 16 December 2018

Bastick wins back destiny

Having overcome injuries and put his discipline issues to bed, Synger Denis is centre stage for Dubs march on Sam

EVERYTHING comes to he who waits. Or rather, in the case of Denis Bastick, everything comes to he who perseveres.

After many years of trial and error, of inter-county auditions and knockbacks, the Templeogue Synge St clubman has finally nailed down a starting position in his favoured haunt. The Dublin midfield cockpit.

And so now, aged 30, Bastick is poised to fulfil one half of his two lifetime sporting ambitions -- and quite possibly both. "To play and win an All-Ireland final," is the typically pithy response, according to his player profile on the Dublin county board's www.hill16.ie website.

For Bastick, it has been a long and circuitous route to Sunday's All-Ireland SFC final against Kerry.



fleetingly

He was first promoted to the Dublin senior panel by Paul Caffrey in 2005 and featured fleetingly that season, before making his full league debut in Tyrone the following February. A game otherwise enshrined in infamy as the 'Battle of Omagh' -- and Bastick was among those dismissed for a second yellow late on.

Over three more years would pass before Bastick finally got to make his championship debut, against Meath in 2009.

There are various explanations for the long hiatus -- he fell down the pecking order under 'Pillar'; there were question marks about his on-field discipline; he tore his cruciate in 2007.

"What's changed for me?" he muses when asked. "I've learned a lot, developed as a player and hopefully improved -- and that's why I'm there today."

The watershed, if there is one, surely came in 2008 when he skippered the Dublin junior footballers to an All-Ireland title, defeating Roscommon in the final. A strange kind of glory, perhaps, when measured against the 80,000 crowds that follow the Dublin seniors in their summer pomp -- but Bastick loved his time with the juniors and it also proved a springboard to greater things.

"We had a great panel of players, a great management team, and I suppose it enabled me -- whilst not on the senior panel -- to still be playing inter-county football," he recalls. "And the following year I got the call off Pat (Gilroy) to come out and try out, so it was very beneficial."

Bastick had played midfield for the juniors. Gilroy, though, had him earmarked for a different role entirely in '09. Full-back!

Others may have blanched, especially given the

fraught experiences of some previous incumbents in this Dublin trouble-spot -- including fellow midfielder Ross McConnell. But Bastick embraced it as a "chance to play inter-county football, which I want to do".

He duly nailed down the No3 jersey during an impressive spring, and held it all the way through summer. It was all going pretty well, too -- "up until the last game".

That game was the All-Ireland quarter-final against a rampant Kerry. "From the position I was playing in, we were under an awful lot of pressure," he recalls. "Coming near the end it was a case of looking at the clock and saying 'When is this going to be over?' We didn't do ourselves justice that day ... but that game is in the past now and we can't control anything like that."

Having spent much of that traumatic Bank Holiday Monday trying to shackle the sublime Declan O'Sullivan, Bastick's punishment was compounded by a retrospectively imposed suspension arising from his flashpoint with Kerry's injured full-forward/water carrier, Kieran Donaghy.

Onto 2010 where ankle surgery led to an injury-disrupted spring, but then Bastick came with a late burst into Gilroy's drastically revamped championship plans for the first round against Wexford.

His latest nomadic role? Wing-back.

But that proved a short and not very sweet experiment: he was red-carded for a reckless barge into Redmond Barry, duly lost his place through suspension, and never won it back as Dublin recovered from a disastrous Leinster campaign to reach the All-Ireland semi-finals.



sceptics

Meanwhile, the accumulation of back-to-back bans caused some sceptics to wonder if discipline was still a problem for the player. But in fairness, once restored to the team this season, he has been a relative model of composure.

"That was the one thing," recalls Mick Deegan, his junior manager in 2008. "When we made him captain, we had a chat with him and said, 'Look, Denis, you are no use to the team or yourself if you are sitting on the sideline beside us.' When playing in the middle of the park, you are going to get hit -- you have to take it and get on with it.

"He has learned," the former Dublin star continues. "Some lads go through that phase; they have to learn that the hard way, and I think he has. He has had an excellent year with Dublin."

The high point, surely, came against Tyrone last month. Much of the pre-match debate focused on Seán Cavanagh's ability to hurt Dublin with his penetrating bursts through the middle.

But Bastick shut him out brilliantly, prompting Gilroy to declare: "I don't think anyone ever thinks that Denis does anything in a game, but he took on probably one of the best footballers in Ireland today and silenced him. It takes huge commitment and discipline to do that. It often goes unnoticed but it certainly does not go unnoticed by us."

The player himself is coy on the subject of man-marking Cavanagh, saying: "I think personally there was more to it than that. If I was just concentrating on him, I wouldn't be doing my job properly because there are so many other great players on that team." For the record, his job-spec that night included a towering 45-metre point bisecting the Hill 16 uprights, belying the best advice he ever got (according to his own player profile) ... "don't shoot".

Dublin thrived that night and just about survived against Donegal. "A bit strange," is how he sums up that dour semi-final, but now all his thoughts are on Kerry and fulfilling his life's ambition.

Getting a sustained run at midfield has been "great", the Bank of Ireland financial adviser agrees, "but I'm under no illusions. There are no guarantees, the quality of players on the bench and on the panel is fantastic, and I'm sure guys are going to come in throughout the course of the next game."

Last word to Mick Deegan: "People will say he is not the biggest midfielder, but he gives you huge heart and determination. And if he is not catching a ball, he is spoiling ball and picking up breaks and getting in for dirty ball."

In short, the type of player every team needs.

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