Ballymun Kickhams star John Small’s path could have been very different.
The Dublin Senior footballers will once again appear in the National Football League Final this weekend. And it’s their sixth consecutive final in the competition. We know they’ve won four of the last five, having been beaten by one point against Kerry in last year’s finale. So they’d love nothing more than to get their hands back on silverware.
In the 2015 final John Small was a 62nd minute substitute for Philly McMahon, with Dublin successfully beating Cork to capture their third consecutive league crown. A few years earlier Pat Gilroy had called him up to the Senior set up as a very successful Minor, but was later sent back to the U21 panel, which at the time Jim Gavin was in charge of.
But things could have been very different for the Ballymun star, had he chosen another path as a kid growing up.
Small played centre midfield for St. Kevin’s Boys football club and also played his gaelic football at the same time in Ballymun. But when games started to clash, John eventually had to choose.
“I wasn’t exactly going to be the next Ronaldo, so…” he told the Irish Times.
“I actually started playing with Tolka (Rovers) because Kevin’s was on Saturday, and so were my games with Ballymun Kickhams.”
“I was born in 1993 and Robbie Brady was ’92 and I remember hearing about him a lot when I was growing up with them. I still play a bit in the off season, a bit of five-a-side and that. But no regrets, no.”
It’s probably refreshing for Dublin fans to know that Small concentrated on his Gaelic Football, but maybe that could have had a lot to do with his father Declan being Chairman of the club.
Nonetheless, Since 2015, Small has been an integral part of the Dublin Senior set, happily picking up three All Ireland medals, as a substitute in 2015 and a starter in the last two finals.
This year, Small has started in all seven of Dublin’s Allianz League games, and will no doubt feature this Sunday in the final against Galway. Since his league debut in 2015 Small has only been on a losing side three times. The opener that year against Cork was his first, and luckily for him he didn’t feature when Dublin lost to Kerry one month later in round 3.
And up to their loss to Monaghan at the weekend, the only other defeat John had experienced was of course in last year’s League Final against Kerry.
“It was a big disappointment.”
“We go out to try and perform as best we can in every game so yeah, we went out and tried to do our best and on the day Kerry beat us by a point. That’s the way it goes.”
Two weeks ago in Salthill, they were pushed to the edge by Galway, who are their League Final opponents this weekend. So there is no doubt that the Tribesmen will come to Croke Park with their tails up ready for this repeat encounter.
“They play a physical game and we are happy to take it whatever way it comes,” Small admits.
“They’ve only conceded one goal I think in the whole League so very difficult game, looking forward to it.”
“Whether it’s open or physical, we’ll play it and try stick to our philosophies and principles.”