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'I didn't have any flair to begin with' - Dublin's Darren Daly quits after seizing seven titles

Darren retiring from Dubs 'to be fair to team and himself'

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Dublin’s Darren Daly playing in the league back in 2017. Photo: Sportsfile

Dublin’s Darren Daly playing in the league back in 2017. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Dublin’s Darren Daly playing in the league back in 2017. Photo: Sportsfile

"I kept it very, very simple," says Darren Daly, reflecting on his 12-year inter-county career from the vantage point of recent retirement, outlining his contribution to the greatest concentration of success in Dublin GAA history.

"There was never any flair with me…I didn't have any flair to begin with!"

In those 12 transformative years, Dublin won seven All-Irelands and Daly was there for all in some guise or other, coming off the bench in six of their nine final appearances.

He, along with nine now former Dublin team mates, are huddled together second on the pantheon of All-Ireland football medallists, one shy of Paidí Ó Sé, Mikey Sheehy, Pat Spillane, Ógie Moran and Ger Power.

"If I was given a particular role, I was always happy with that," Daly explains. "I wasn't thinking about any other role or what I felt I should be doing."

"And as time went on, I think Jim trusted me because of that."

"In big games, he could have a game plan that needed something to be done that might have taken a bit of discipline to shut someone down and do nothing else."

"And that's all I did. I'd do my homework on the opposition player. And if I got the shout, I'd do that job."

"I wouldn't do much more than the job I was given. I was a safe bet. And that's why I was around for so long."

He'd have hung on longer had the body allowed.

Daly is 33 now but decided fairly quickly after the hasty commencement of the Dessie Farrell era that he would commit to its maiden voyage.

Stepping back from the panel during the League to mend his body - in particular, troublesome hamstrings - seemed a wise move, given Daly's subsequent performances for Fingal Ravens.

"Honestly, I thought I had it sussed," he admits.

"But once I started to step it up, to really push the button and sprint hard, I tweaked the hamstring again.

"I just said 'right, that's it. It's time for me to step away.

"Both for my own mental health and physically on the body. I just felt it wasn't fair for me to hang in there.

"It wouldn't be fair for me to take a spot in the squad based on what I had done previously with no guarantee that I would even be able to play again, based on the way I kept breaking down.

"I had to ask was I being fair to myself? Was I being fair to the rest of the squad?"

The memories abide.

A couple of weeks ago, TG4 screened the 2013 All-Ireland final and what struck Daly was how well he remembered every single moment, how quickly his senses tuned into the atmosphere of that day.

At half-time, he came on for Jack McCaffrey, tasked with curtailing Kevin McLoughlin.

"I'll never forget the feeling of being in the mix in that game. The football, the atmosphere…that was the first real taste and buzz. That match will live with me forever."

While he was watching, a text dropped from Paul Flynn, Daly's brother-in-law. Another came from Bernard Brogan.

Past players reliving old glories.

"Holy shit. The hits in that game. The scores. The strategy from both teams - proper football. It was fast. It was hard. It was everything an All-Ireland final should be.

"I remember every moment of it. And I think it drove me on, to keep chasing that feeling, that buzz."

And yet, like any Dublin player whose career started pre-2011, Daly's initial aims were humble.

He recalls the aftermath of a particularly galling League defeat in 2009, floating in an ice bath next to Ciarán Whelan.

"He was bolloxed!," Daly recalls. "And he was looking at me saying 'you've ten more years of this ahead of you.' And I remember thinking 'imagine getting one All-Ireland. That would be incredible.'

"You'd never dare think of seven. How could you? It's ridiculous."

And still, as the cliché goes, it's the memories he cherishes now more than anything.

Tadhg, Daly's eldest, is 14 now. Caolán is nine. Odhrán is four.

His seven All-Ireland medals are, along with his trinkets from Leagues and Leinsters won, rattling around in a bag in his house.

But when he decided late last week to retire, it was the pictures of big transcendent days for Dublin football with his sons and wife Sarah on that Daly reached for first.

"The earlier years, if you're being honest, it was all about the dream of winning an All-Ireland and how that would feel," he admits.

"You'd be thinking as a young lad that that (winning an All-Ireland) is the be-all and end-all of it.

"But as time went on, it became about the training, the internal matches…they were the things you really tried to embrace.

"The bond with the lads. Like, we had some amazing times together.

"It was all about coming together and pushing each other on, to get better collectively.

"The sense of togetherness. The camaraderie and the friendship. Look, it's been special."

Herald