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the blues ‘I didn’t watch it, myself and two other lads went for a bit of food’ – Dublin’s Niall Scully avoids final hurt

Workaholic wing-forward happy in new space of going from hunted to hunter after All-Ireland semi loss

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Niall Scully playing in the O'Byrne Cup back in 2016

Niall Scully playing in the O'Byrne Cup back in 2016

Niall Scully at the announcement of Peugeot Ireland as the new official car partner to Dublin GAA. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Niall Scully at the announcement of Peugeot Ireland as the new official car partner to Dublin GAA. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Peugeot Ireland is the new official car partner to Dublin GAA across all four codes for the next three years. At the launch was Dublin senior footballer Niall Scully

Peugeot Ireland is the new official car partner to Dublin GAA across all four codes for the next three years. At the launch was Dublin senior footballer Niall Scully

Niall Scully

Niall Scully

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Niall Scully playing in the O'Byrne Cup back in 2016

Where were you when Pádraig Hampsey lifted Sam Maguire last September? Well, Niall Scully can tell you where he wasn’t: Croke Park.

Dublin footballers have become so accustomed to being there, and winning there, on the ultimate day of the All-Ireland championship, that it’s perhaps no surprise that one of their number wasn’t too fussed about watching Tyrone/Mayo unfold.

Nothing beats being there? Try telling that to a fallen giant.

“I didn’t watch it now, to be honest,” the workaholic wing-forward admits. “Myself and two other lads went for a bit of food. That was just to keep ourselves busy. We were in a different position last year than we were any other year – so I just tried to avoid it.”

Maybe he tuned into The Saturday Game highlights later on that night?

“No, I wouldn’t have watched that either. I would have been well aware of what the score was at half-time, what the score was after the game. It just wasn’t something that I would have sat down to watch.”

Now it’s January, and Dublin find themselves in that strangest of locations: the outside looking in.

When Scully first fully established himself as a Sky Blue senior, on the back of a brilliant O’Byrne Cup campaign in 2017, Jim Gavin’s squad was setting out in pursuit of an All-Ireland hat-trick.

For the next four seasons, 2018-21, each year began with Dublin in the familiar role of champions. Legends of the game were more likely to be on a sun-kissed team holiday or recovering from same whenever the O’Byrne Cup rocked around.

Now it’s 2022, and the hunted have suddenly become the hunter. Dessie Farrell has spread his net far and wide during the first three rounds of this year’s pre-season tournament, but the most fascinating feature has been the fact that two-thirds of last year’s starting team have already seen game-time, including Scully.

On Saturday, instead of jetting out to Bali or the Caribbean, the Dublin team bus will drive in the direction of the Costa del Carlow for this year’s O’Byrne Cup decider.

Listening to Scully wax lyrical about a renewed sense of hunger in the camp, that isn’t such a bad thing.

“It’s a position that a lot of lads haven’t been in for a few years, so it’s something new,” he says, speaking at a launch to announce Peugeot Ireland as the new official car partner to Dublin GAA for the next three years.

“From my feelings so far, it’s something exciting and a lot of the lads are very motivated to go after this year. It’s a new space for a lot of us and a lot of us haven’t been there for five or six years, so it’s an exciting time.”

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Before looking forward, though, a quick look back in angst to last August. Multiple reasons have been touted to explain Dublin’s demise from a position of such apparent rude health at the midpoint of their All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo.

One of the theories is that Dublin’s Plan B – a subs’ list revered by the Hill and feared by everyone else – no longer offers any fresh impetus. Each new retirement (Kevin McManamon and Philly McMahon, the latest decorated veterans to walk) has amplified that chatter.

Scully begs to differ.

“The bench last year and, going forward, will be as good as it ever was. I just think maybe it wasn’t the names that the media would have been used to that were coming off the bench – but, definitely, the bench, I felt, was strong enough,” he maintains.

“I don’t think that was the issue. I think, going forward, the young lads there and the lads who were on the panel last year will definitely be more than enough.”

Next theory: after six-in-a-row, was mental fatigue the deciding factor?

“No, I think if you look throughout all of the games, it was just a lack of consistency. We had a good first quarter, good second quarter against Mayo and fell off in the third and fourth quarters. That would have happened in the Leinster final as well. I think that was just the reason for the downfall against Mayo.”

Reinvigorated by thoughts of recapturing lost glories, Scully has featured in two early-season outings so far – as a sub against Offaly and starting in a new wing-back role against Louth.

Or newish: it was in this very position he initially featured in the 2017 O’Byrne Cup, a five-match run that propelled the Templeogue Synge Street clubman firmly into Gavin’s longer-term plans.

Since that breakthrough, he has started the vast majority of Dublin league and championship games.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to say to a few of the younger lads coming in, and even my clubmate Lorcan O’Dell – just the significance that good performances in the O’Byrne Cup can play for your future,” he says. “It’s just great to be back out there, no matter what the competition is, it’s great to be representing Dublin.”

Asked about one of the rookies to feature this month – former U-20 scoring-machine Ciarán Archer made his senior debut against Longford last Saturday – Scully says: “Ciarán is obviously a phenomenal footballer and has proven that in the underage group as well. So, obviously, it’s a chance for Ciarán to push on into the senior group, which I’m sure he will.

“But the biggest thing is that everybody is different. You know, it took me three or four years to transition from ‘20s’ to senior. It took Ciarán Kilkenny no years to transition.”

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