‘David was a goliath’
IT is a testament to David Henry’s many qualities as a footballer that he exits the Dublin stage with any number of different tributes ringing in his ears.
Ciarán Whelan – his clubmate, former Sky Blue colleague and now incoming Raheny manager – salutes a player who made the Dublin number two jersey his own during the second half of the noughties.
And yet Whelan admits to often thinking Henry had “too much” football for corner-back and that the curtailment of his earlier, all-too-brief, wing-back career was actually an opportunity lost for the Dubs.
Meanwhile, the manager who transformed Henry into a first-choice corner-back cannot speak highly enough about the “ultimate all-rounder”. He was also one of the first names on Paul Caffrey’s team-sheet because ‘Pillar’ always felt guaranteed an |eight-out-of-ten performance.
That Henry’s last run as a Dublin regular (in 2010) came as a deep roving forward tells you something more about his versatility. That his last summer (after returning from an extended overseas trip) was spent among the Dublin subs tells you something else about the man … from his berth on the ‘B’ team, he kept pushing the first 15 to a point where, last September, that elusive All-Ireland goal was finally achieved.
So Henry departs with the one medal he craved above all others. And one he richly deserves for a decade of stellar and selfless service.
“He came onto the panel in 2002,” Ciarán Whelan recalls. “I remember him playing championship against Louth in ’03 – he played right half-back, was probably ‘Man of the Match’ that day, and was strangely left out against Laois.
“That was the last time he was seen at number five. He later relocated to the number two jersey which he made his own for a good few years, but I always felt number five was a missed opportunity, attacking from right |half-back.
“He settled into the number two role and picked up a couple of All Star nominations and had fantastic years in there. With his reading of the game, and pace to get out in front, he was a revelation under Pillar Caffrey at corner-back.”
Afterwards, when Pat Gilroy responded to the calamity of Kerry 2009 by instigating wholesale defensive changes, Whelan surmises that his club colleague became a “victim” of his own versatility.
In the wake of Paul Griffin’s season-ending cruciate injury, Henry ended up skippering Dublin to within tantalising reach of the 2010 All-Ireland final. But while he generally started up front that summer, with the brief to roam back into old defensive haunts, he almost invariably ended up being substituted too.
“I am probably being biased and feel he didn’t get a fair crack of the whip,” says Whelan. “Playing centre-forward is a difficult position for anyone to play in – a very, very tough position to play, because the game can pass you by.”
It’s a moot point whether a lack of game time last season has prompted Henry to call time at the age of 31, or whether achieving his All-Ireland goal has made it an easier decision to make. Either way, Whelan declares: “He is a loss to Dublin football and I would rate him as among the best 15 players in the county – I still would.
“Certainly, last year, he played a significant role with his leadership and driving on the ‘B’ team, to push Dublin all the way to the All-Ireland. That was recognised by Pat Gilroy – the role that himself, Mossy (Quinn) and Paul Casey would have played.
“Overall, I think he has been a fantastic servant for Dublin. If you wanted someone to give 110 percent, you wouldn’t look any further – and I am looking forward to getting some of his quality time,” concludes Whelan who, having just taken up as club manager, expects Dublin’s loss to be Raheny’s gain.
Whelan’s high praise is echoed by the manager under whose watch Henry’s career truly flourished. According to Paul Caffrey, the player was totally “open-minded” about whatever position he was asked to play in.
“Sometimes that can be to the detriment of a player but, in fairness to ‘Henno’, he never complained,” Caffrey expands.
“I saw a new role for him when I took over in 2004 and Henno was one of the first names on the team-sheet. He was the ultimate all-rounder. He could catch a ball, he could play ball when he had it. He could defend, he was brave and – above all else – a lovely, lovely fella to deal with and a consummate ‘professional’.”
The former Dublin boss never had to spend much time “coaching or coaxing” the best out of Henry. “He knew exactly what you were looking for,” Caffrey relates.
“You would always know Davy Henry would give you an eight-out-of-ten performance. And his versatility... when he got up the field, we used to love to see that because he was such a good ball player\[Ian Winterton\] and more than likely we would get a score off it.”
He reckons Raheny will now “see the best” of a great club man who has “plenty of years left in him”.
Crucially, he departs the inter-county scene with something priceless.
“Every player's goal when they get onto the Dublin senior squad is to win an All-Ireland,” Caffrey explains.
“There have only been two in the last 30 years, so there are only two batches of 30 players around that have them. You only have to look at his Raheny team-mate, Ciarán Whelan, to realise how precious those medals are. When you get on to around 30, it's a big ask.
“The demands of the last 10 years are greater than any other 10 years in terms of playing for Dublin. The goalposts keep changing and the bar keeps getting raised in terms of commitment and dedication.
“I think if we're having this conversation in 10 years’ time, it will be very interesting to see how many players have played for that long.”