BACK at the end of December, Barry Cahill had been on the treadmill for 12 long months.
An All-Ireland odyssey – of itself – is bound to sap your mental and physical reserves. But, for this Dublin veteran of ten campaigns, there was an epic sequel as his club, St Brigid’s, embarked on one game after another, one weekend after the next, in pursuit of silverware.
The Blanchardstown boys ended the year as Evening Herald Dublin SFC champions, but their relentless campaign ended on a deflating note when they were snared by Garrycastle in the Leinster club final, just a week before Christmas.
By a strange irony, Garrycastle’s own marathon journey is set to end in Cavan tomorrow when they play Crossmaglen in their All-Ireland final replay… while just a couple of hours later, Cahill will make his first Dublin start of the season in Castlebar.
The play-anywhere Brigid’s clubman came off the bench in Newry 12 days ago, but he’s “absolutely” delighted to now get his chance from the start as Dublin seek the win over Mayo that would secure an Allianz League Division One semi-final place with one game to spare. “At the moment we are only guaranteed two more league games, so we want to be getting as much game time as possible heading into the summer.
“So it’s nice to be back in the team and able to get a run-out,” he told the Herald at today’s team announcement in DCU.
Cahill replaces Alan Brogan on the ‘40’, his long-standing colleague having been ruled out with a calf strain. Cahill himself has endured his own injury problems this spring, dislocating a finger while on club duty in February.
“There was definitely a good few niggles there in January that I had to get right. It took a couple of weeks of rest and then I got a gym programme from our physio, James Allen, and I just followed that for about four to six weeks,” he explained.
“I came back training for a couple of weeks and then I managed to dislocate my finger playing a club match, so that set me back about a month as well.
So it’s only really been the month of March that I’ve been getting back into it.”
In a perverse way, that damaged digit may help the player in the long run because he feels fully refreshed as Dublin seek to finish their top-flight campaign on a high.
“It can be tough enough when you go back training in the first week of January – even from a weather point of view, early mornings and evenings and everything that goes with it. But I got a good break in January… and both physically and mentally I feel fresh now,” he professed.
Cahill offers a philosophical view on the importance of reaching the league semi-finals. “I think most teams would like to get to the play-offs,” he said, “because obviously it gives you an extra game or two competitively heading into the summer.
“It’s not the be-all and end-all, but over the last couple of years, 2010 and 2011, we had good league campaigns.
“Ideally you would want to get a semi-final or even possibly a final, but if we won’t make it we won’t worry about it too much; we’ll try and prepare for the summer as best we can.”
Perhaps crucially, this year’s campaign has allowed manager Pat Gilroy to blood players who didn’t feature during Dublin’s All-Ireland run.
“Last summer you had the guts of 20 to 24 lads who would have been figuring in the championship shake-up, but new lads have come in like Johnny Cooper, Paul Brogan, and they seem to be doing very well,” Cahill acknowledged.
“So it’s great. The As versus Bs matches are going to be even tougher this year, even though last summer we got to a huge level from that point of view.”
Dublin may have ultimately run out nine-point winners over Donegal last weekend, courtesy of two injury time goals, but that hasn’t stopped Gilroy making four changes for tomorrow’s western excursion.
James McCarthy is recalled at wing-back in place of newcomer Johnny Cooper, who had started the last two games in defence, while Ross McConnell steps in for Eamon Fennell at midfield.
Leaving aside Cahill’s inclusion, there is one other change up front. Paul Brogan – a league ever-present until the Donegal game - returns at wing-forward in place of Paul Flynn.
DUBLIN (SF v Mayo): S Cluxton; C O’Sullivan, R O’Carroll, P McMahon; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; MD Macauley, R McConnell; P Brogan, B Cahill, B Cullen (capt); T Quinn, D Connolly, K McManamon.