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Tuesday 17 July 2018

Dubs star small is getting set for second battle

Defender expects another physical confrontation with Galway in final

All set: At the launch of the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final at Croke Park were Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael John Horan (left) and John Small of Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
All set: At the launch of the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final at Croke Park were Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael John Horan (left) and John Small of Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Showdown: John Small knows what to expect when Dublin meet Galway again in Sunday’s League final

Had he been born a year earlier, John Small might well have played with Irish internationals Robbie Brady and Jeff Henderick with St Kevin's Boys.

As it went, he was part of the less celebrated 1993-born group and followed a dual sporting path for as long as the trail allowed.

When the time came to make a sporting choice, his family ties with Ballymun Kickhams - where his father, Declan, now serves as chairman - played a deciding part.

Secondly, as he admits himself, "I wasn't exactly going to be the next Ronaldo, so..."

Later, in 2012, just a season out of being a highly-rated minor, he was drafted into Pat Gilroy's All-Ireland winning squad but later let go back to the Dublin Under 21s.

His form dipped somewhat at Ballymun, too and that was it from John Small in a Dublin senior context until Jim Gavin invited him aboard in 2015.

"Was I confident? Well, I was just hopeful," Small explains now, having established himself as robust fixture in the Dublin defence.

Experience

"I think a lot of the Dublin squad is selected on club games and stuff like that so I was trying to perform in them to get the opportunity to play and to get called into the group."

It seems topical then to ask Small what a Dublin dressing-room looks like after a defeat, a rare environment in his own experience. In his three full seasons inside it, he has yet to sample a single Championship loss.

Sunday's defeat to Monaghan in Croke Park was just the fourth time Dublin have come out the wrong side of the result since Small was called up by Gavin in '15.

That year, he was on the team that lost to Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn on the League's first day but played no part the following month when they were again beaten in Munster, that time in Killarney to Kerry.

The biggest loss of his Dublin senior career - and until last Sunday, the most recent - remains last season's League final.

"It was a big disappointment," Small confirms of the one-point loss to Kerry that prevented Dublin from winning a fifth League title in a row.

"We go out to try and perform as best we can in every game so yeah, we went out and tried to do our best and on the day Kerry beat us by a point. That's the way it goes."

After Salthill two weeks ago, it's inevitable that next Sunday's League final between Dublin and Galway will be a spicy affair.

"We played them two weeks ago and we got what we expected," Small confirms.

"A very good side, good forwards, the likes of Shane Walsh and Damien Comer, these guys, Brannigan, very dangerous forwards and they've a very good defence as well.

"They've only conceded one goal I think in the whole League so very difficult game, looking forward to it.

"They play a physical game and we are happy to take it whatever way it comes," he adds, "whether it's open or physical, we'll play it and try stick to our philosophies and principles."

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