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Thursday 24 January 2019

Eric's Dub dream for 2019 - to finish year as he starts

Lowndes keen to feature in Royal clash close to his heart

Dublin’s Eric Lowndes is determined to nail down a starting spot in Jim Gavin’s team for the entire season
Dublin’s Eric Lowndes is determined to nail down a starting spot in Jim Gavin’s team for the entire season

It's one of those eye-watering statistics that catches you by surprise, even though it probably shouldn't.

Eric Lowndes is the holder of five All-Ireland senior medals.

There's no doubt he feels privileged to belong in such august company. It's equally clear that the 24-year-old wants to achieve something different in 2019 ... come the business end, he craves to be on Jim Gavin's starting team.

"I've been in and around the squad for a while now, and been in and out of the team as well. We just have a massively competitive squad," he acknowledges.

"It's an old cliché but, when you have the jersey, you have to keep it ... and then if you don't have it, you've got to try and win it back off somebody else."

Mistaken

The stats suggest Lowndes is getting closer. In the summer of 2017 he started all three Leinster rounds plus the All-Ireland quarter-final against Monaghan; came off the bench late in the semi-final against Tyrone (when he was famously mistaken by some fans for Diarmuid Connolly); but didn't get a minute in the final against Mayo.

Last summer he was an ever-present once more in Leinster; a starter in the dead-rubber 'Super 8s' clash with Roscommon; and made two substitute appearances against Donegal and then Tyrone (his second All-Ireland final cameo after the 2016 Mayo replay).

The trend is similar: four starts in each of the last two championships, but back among the subs from the semi-final onwards.

"For myself it's just about getting in the team and staying in the team for as long as I can," he reflects. "I haven't managed to do it 'til the end of a season so far, so that's a target for me - to get into the team and keep my place.

"But every year is different and the squad changes and new lads come in and perform well with the clubs. It really is an open squad and I don't think we've ever fielded the same team twice. So, yeah, it's a massive challenge and it's something I'm looking forward to now for next year."

Which only partially explains why Lowndes is keen to put his hand up for early-season selection - not just in their abbreviated O'Byrne Cup campaign (Dublin have a bye to the semi-finals) but in this Sunday's Seán Cox Benefit Fund challenge between the Dubs and Meath in Navan (1.30).

The other reason? This weekend's showdown between these best of enemies is close to his heart for several reasons.

Soft border

Lowndes may be a decorated Dub but he belongs to that 'soft border' frontier where West Dublin meets South Meath. He plays for St Peregrine's, yet his own family is steeped in St Peter's Dunboyne, the GAA club whose popular member is the subject of Sunday's fundraiser.

The sad fate that befell Seán Cox last April, when he travelled to watch Liverpool in Champions League action only to be assaulted outside Anfield and suffer life-altering injuries, has been documented at length.

The GAA community in Meath has played a central role in the campaign to raise the money required to finance Seán's long road to recovery, and Dublin have been happy to lend their assistance. The Lowndes family were just as pivotal, last October, to Dunboyne's first Meath SFC triumph in 13 years. Stuart Lowndes, Eric's older brother, scored the title-clinching goal against Summerhill. Another brother, Craig, came off the bench in the final - and their father, John, was a Dunboyne selector.

To further muddy the Boyne waters, Stuart lined out for Dublin in the 2015 O'Byrne Cup (against Meath!) ... but then played in the same competition for Meath two years later, having transferred club allegiance from St Peregrine's to Dunboyne.

Eric himself is a "six or seven-minute drive" from Dunboyne, on the far side of Clonee village.

"One of my brothers is living down here," he says. "My Dad was born and raised here. I've uncles and aunties and cousins living around, so connections are massive."

He didn't know Seán Cox personally before last April's tragic event, but his son was a year behind him in school.

"It's an absolutely massive occasion for everyone in the community," he says of Sunday's match. "I went to school in Dunboyne myself as well, so I'm involved with a lot of people who knew him very well. It means a lot to be able to make a small contribution towards the cause on the day, however big or small."

For now, though, there is no chance of the most famous Lowndes footballer traversing the border, even at club level.

"I've never played for Dunboyne myself. I played schools football here - unsuccessfully! We didn't win a whole lot; we won a league or two," he explains. "It would probably be nice for my family to see me coming back and maybe retiring there, but I don't see it happening any time soon, I'm happy enough with my club."

Elusive

And just as happy with life as a Dub, even as he targets that elusive regular summer berth.

Lowndes was fresh out of minor, an All-Ireland winner under Dessie Farrell in 2012, when called straight into Jim Gavin's first senior squad.

"We won the minor in 2012, and four of us were brought into the squad," he recalls. "I had a lot of injury troubles that year, broke my foot and tore knee ligaments and the whole lot, so I was there but I wasn't there, if you know what I mean. I was on the squad but I did very little training.

"So, 2014 was my first full year, making championship squads ... I've been around a while now!"

In recent seasons, several younger colleagues have leapfrogged him onto All-Ireland final teams - the likes of Con O'Callaghan, Brian Howard and Eoin Murchan.

Yet he views this as a positive.

"It's encouraging, absolutely," he maintains. "We've had guys come in every single year since I've been in there … some come in out of nowhere, some come in off underage success and manage to bed themselves into the team.

"I'm trying to learn from both the older guys and the younger guys. We've talent all around us. Whether that's a 19-year-old coming into the squad, or it's a 35-year-old who's been there for 15 years, there's always something you can learn off someone.

"If I could learn anything off any of those guys and bring it to my game and improve myself as a player, then I'm moving closer to where I want to be."

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