Cormac Costello trying to reclaim Dublin jersey as he targets his first start in league final

Eight-time All-Ireland winner vying for place in starting team again after latest injury setback

Some people will tell you the only thing harder than winning a Dublin football jersey is trying to win it back, only Cormac Costello isn’t so sure. Going on his now 12 seasons playing for Dublin, there is no great difference.

It also depends on the circumstances. Costello is trying to win back that jersey for Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division One final against Derry, after sustaining a calf muscle strain before Dublin’s penultimate round win over Galway. Given how prolific the Dublin forwards were against Tyrone last Sunday, that task might prove a little harder than usual.

“It’s a daunting task when you have the jersey as well,” says Costello. “Because there are lads chomping at the bit, lads constantly trying to take that jersey off you in training.

“So you can put it on the flip side. Nothing really changes, you’re still putting your best foot forward in training, still trying to impress, still trying to perform to the best of your ability. It’s the same as if you have the jersey, because no one has it for the summer, or anything else like that.

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“And yeah, the lads have been moving very well, have been really clinical the last couple of games. It’s still early days, but another big one on Sunday, and hopefully a big championship ahead.”

At age 29, Costello’s own motivations for trying to win that jersey have also changed over the years. The eight-time All-Ireland winner hasn’t yet started a league final for Dublin in their six appearances since 2013, and his own first league season was unquestionably one to forget.

“I had a disaster. I broke my foot. The night before we played Cork in the first league game in Croke Park on a Saturday night, the Thursday night in training I broke my ankle, so I was out for the whole league.

“I came back and I featured in the championship then. We played Westmeath in the first round of the championship, came on in that game and then I broke my collarbone. That year was just a write-off.

“Is this an itch to be scratched? Look, every game you want to play. It is a national competition, the Allianz League, it’s a domestic final, you want to play it, of course you do, so yeah hopefully I get available for selection and I get my first start.

“I can’t speak for every league final but last year again I picked up a similar calf injury, after the Louth game I think it was, our last game, just put me out for the league final. But I was back then for the first round of the championship. It was just unfortunate the way it fell.”

His latest setback, minor as it is, appears to fit the general trend of players missing more game time due to a greater prevalence of injury, several managers pointing to the condensed season as the root cause of all that. Again though Costello isn’t so sure.

“I haven’t noticed it, and I know you might contradict me, because I’m injured at the minute, but I’ve suffered injuries across my career. For the last couple of years I’ve probably been a bit luckier in that sense but, no, I don’t think you can put it down to that.

“But the league is the same as it has been for years. I know the championship is a little bit more condensed but I love it, I love playing matches. I love playing games. That’s what you play football for. The only downside is that if you do pick up a small injury, in the past you mightn’t miss any games, or you might miss one or two, but that’s the nature of the beast now.”

He’ll turn 30 this July, and at full fitness is still central to the Dublin’s ambitions this summer, given he’s also taken over free-taking duties from Dean Rock. Con O’Callaghan’s exciting return to dazzling form has added further desire to win that jersey back

“Yeah, Con is a top-class forward, very versatile. And very unselfish, the ultimate team player. I know the last couple of years he might say he’s not at his best, but he still is. I think his bar is so high that anything less than shooting the score lights out and being man of the match isn’t acceptable or people think he didn’t perform well. But I think even the games that we might perceive he didn’t play well, you’d still see that he put in a good shift.

“And there are more lads who have been knocking around the panel the last couple of years, and they’re getting used to the systems of play while there are newer lads being bred into it too.”

Some winning that jersey, others trying to win it back.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics