Longford skipper Dermot Brady: 'Croke Park is the biggest stage, it's where you want to play'
WHEN Paul Barden stepped off the inter-county carousel last February, Dermot Brady assumed the role of elder statesman in the Longford dressing-room.
To put it less delicately, he was now the oldest Slasher in town.
"My first year playing championship was 2001. I'm that ould!" laughs the 33-years-young Longford skipper.
And to think it all started (well, almost) against Dublin 14 years ago. On Sunday, the same David and Goliath rivals meet again in Croke Park.
Brady made his SFC debut in a 2001 qualifier defeat to Wicklow, having been an unused sub in their nine-point Leinster exit to Dublin.
Then, in the mid-noughties, the counties met three summers running. Brady started all three, each won by men wearing a lighter shade of blue: by 1-17 to 0-11 in a 2004 Portlaoise qualifier, by 2-23 to 0-10 in a 2005 Croke Park landslide and then, in 2006, by just 1-12 to 0-13 in a tension-soaked Pearse Park encounter.
"I remember coming down to Longford that morning at half-nine and the floods of Dublin supporters getting off the train," Brady recalls.
"And I said, 'Jaysus, this is going to be a bigger day than I thought it was'.
"It was a great occasion - a real good sunny day. There was a big buzz around Longford and the only disappointing thing was we didn't get the win."
Close but no cigar? "Oh, we were coming back but I think we gave away a lot of soft frees. That's what kept Dublin in it that day - we just gave away too many soft frees and their experience got them over the line."
The notion of Dublin being brought to Glennon Brothers Pearse Park - or any other provincial outpost - has long since been abandoned by the Leinster Council accountants.
However, Brady has no issue with the venue.
"Croke Park is where everyone wants to be as a player, playing in the biggest stadium in the country," the corner-back proclaims.
"Look, it might be a small benefit to Dublin all right because they'd be used to playing there."
Yet, don't the contrasting margins in 2005 (19 points) and 2006 (two) suggest it's more like a massive one?
"Oh, I agree with you there - but it's in Croke Park now, we can't be talking about playing it in Pearse Park. We just have to get on with it."
The Longford Slashers man has spent his career just getting on with it; he still relishes the chance to keep body and mind healthy in his dual role as a pig farming inter-county footballer.
"I've really enjoyed my 15 years," he says. "I was lucky, I haven't had many injuries ... I know I mightn't have been winning too much but, look it, it was the joy of taking part."