Veteran Dermot remains on Hand
Injury hell not stopping Carlin from fighting Tyrone's cause
BLAME Dermot Carlin for all of football's ills.
Heap scorn down upon the veteran Tyrone defender for his part in the most controversial and isolated incident of the summer, the antithesis of all that is rotten in the game.
Seán Cavanagh did.
For it was Carlin who, in a moment of apparent defensive bamboozlement, left Conor McManus through in space, galloping clear on goal in the All-Ireland quarter-final, only for Cavanagh to haul the Monaghan man down so infamously prior to the potentially lethal application of boot to ball.
"He said if I had stayed on my feet none of this would have happened," laughs Carlin now. "I was out in front by a couple of yards and I went to turn and I slipped and down I went. (Tyrone coach) Gavin Devlin told me nicely afterwards that I needed to get a new pair of boots."
New boots ... and a hurling helmet.
If Tyrone have been in the wars this year between their arduous qualifier campaign and with the growing public perception of them as the great purveyors of the dark arts, Carlin has been to injury hell and back, dating all the way back to Donegal's vivid Ulster put-down in Ballybofey.
In one particular passage of play during the second half of Tyrone's six-point loss and as Paddy McBrearty was shaping to shoot, Carlin came across to block the kick but got the full brunt of the Donegal man's elbow – accidentally he stresses – in the face.
Two minutes later, after a temporary patch-work job had been completed on his bloodied mug, Carlin and McBrearty clash heads.
The Red Hand man later required staples to repair the damage.
All that is without mentioning the reason he didn't start the Donegal match was because of a long-standing Achilles tendon problem. Or that he suffered knee ligament damage playing in the McKenna Cup in February and didn't play again until the league semi-final win over Kildare.
Or, for that matter, that he hobbled off injured in the league final loss to Dublin after just one half of football. "I am fresh anyway," he announces. "I'll tell you that much."
Anyway, three weeks later, during a club match for St Mary's against Eglish, and whilst wearing a protective mask, Carlin took the brunt of another errant elbow. Unhelpfully, the mask slipped across and his nose gets broken. Again.
"I decided not to get it fixed a second time, so it meant that I was able to play two weeks sooner," he says now bearing some very misshapen scars of war. "It has straightened up a bit. I have had more bangs on it that I won't worry about at this stage. I'll get it sorted soon, hopefully."
Desperate times called for desperate measures and so Carlin, bearing in mind his malfunctioning 'protective' mask, took to the training pitches in Garvaghey wearing a hurling helmet.
"The boys stood well clear of me," Carlin recalls. "It's not that bad. If you look a couple of years ago when some of them (hurlers) were running around with helmets and others weren't, I used to think it must be very hard to wear."
Carlin has, in his time, been through the most of it and the least of it. He made his debut in 2002 at the age of 18, won an All-Ireland in 2003 and watched the '05 final from Hill 16 after spending the summer in San Francisco with Kevin Hughes and returned for another Celtic Cross in 2008.
He, Pascal McConnell, Conor Gormley, Cavanagh and Stephen O'Neill are the only survivors from 2003 and he says he has thought about retiring often since '08.
"Any time I ever spoke to older lads who have retired the one thing they always say is, 'play when you can play because whenever you get to my age, you will be thinking that you should have kept playing for those last couple of years. At that stage it will be too late'.
"So I'm just going to keep ticking along and I'm sure the other boys are thinking that way as well. I'm sure Conor Gormley is the same and Stevie is the same. They're going to keep playing as long as they think they're up to it and I'd say that's how most guys will go.
"But look, every year you're back at square one again. You have to put the effort in again, you have to put in the hard work. And you have to do it on the days that count in the games. And maybe that's what has made us stand out a wee bit – everybody is prepared to work for everybody else. It's not about one man, everybody tries to work for each other.
"I suppose that's Mickey's mindset that rubs off on us," Carlin concludes. "Everybody knows how he is and what he's like. I don't know what it is. I'm sure if Mickey did, he'd put it in a bottle and try to sell it."