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Howard: I was in awe of the lads

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Dublin footballer Brian Howard, who will be speaking at the AIB Future Sparks Festival 2019 at the RDS on March 14. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Dublin footballer Brian Howard, who will be speaking at the AIB Future Sparks Festival 2019 at the RDS on March 14. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Dublin footballer Brian Howard, who will be speaking at the AIB Future Sparks Festival 2019 at the RDS on March 14. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

If it looked as though Brian Howard took to inter-county seniordom with unnatural ease, the Raheny man admits now to being "in awe" of some of his team-mates when he first entered their dressing-room in 2017.

"Maybe I'd have liked to come across better to other players," he says now from the vantage point of having won an All Star and an All-Ireland medal is his 'breakout' season of 2018.

"But I was still in awe of some of the lads, just sitting there looking around and staring at the senior members for about 10 minutes straight and not even realising it, thinking, 'Jeez I'm in the same dressing room as these greats'.

"I remember seeing all these lads…I always wanted to be there but I didn't know if I'd make it. And just…when you walk in first, it's so surreal. And it still is now.

"For a young lad, I know talking to all the other young lads, you're beside your heroes. Bernard Brogan, Stephen Cluxton…

"But," the Raheny man adds, "from day one, you just felt like part of the team. Lads coming up to you introducing themselves and having the craic straight from day one. So if you're nervous and you still don't know how to go about it, you can talk to him - they're so welcoming.

"And that correlates on to the pitch. We know we have each other's backs when we're playing."

In between his introduction to Jim Gavin's squad after Dublin's All-Ireland Under 21 success of 2017 and his coming-of-age summer of last year, Howard was tipped for greatness by no less a figure than Diarmuid Connolly.

Cleared

As it transpired, Howard's path to the Dublin starting team was cleared by Connolly's exit from the squad.

Although the St Vincent's man's prophecy had no pressurising effect on Howard, he stresses.

"I knew I had the ability if I kept the head down and kept training away," Howard explains.

"Learning from the management and the backroom staff and the players too.

"The likes of Diarmuid Connolly, learning from him and the players who are in my position; the likes of Paul Flynn, Ciarán Kilkenny - that I was going to naturally get better the more I trained.

"No, there was no extra pressure. It was obviously nice to hear that from such a big star in Gaelic football."

Chief among Howard's playing arsenal in '18 was a sidestep that drew gasps of admiration every time he used it to dart away from would-be tacklers.

"I didn't think I had one, really," he laughs, "and then I did it once and thought 'I think I like that' and just kept doing it.

"Obviously, I can do a sidestep but all the teams playing at that level have little tricks we have to look out for and they have to obviously look out for in us.

"The sidestep is obviously a nice trait but there is always other things I can do."

Having won one All-Ireland medal as an extended panel member and a second as one of Dublin's most influential performers, Howard now finds himself in search of a third Celtic Cross in a season when some of his team-mates are seeking to win a seventh.

Collectively, they would achieve a fifth Sam Maguire success in a row for Dublin, a possibility Howard is reminded of on a weekly basis.

Bogged down

"It's there and we're all aware of it but it's something that we're not getting bogged down about," he asserts. "It's in the background but we're just focusing on every game.

"It's important for us, game by game, to build and if we get a loss we learn from that and see how we can build.

"It's an exciting time going in - hopefully - off the back of a good League campaign and then into the Championship.

"So we have to deal with Leinster first and see where that takes us.

"If that's to the five-in-a-row, happy days," he admits, "but if not we can only do what's best."