Monasterevan captain John Dempsey admits it was strange watching his diet over Christmas ahead of this weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final in Limerick.
“You would be minding yourself more than normal. Usually over Christmas you let yourself go a bit knowing that you would be coming back into a hard pre-season,” said Dempsey.
And that means that Monasterevan have been easing up while the rest of the clubs around Kildare are getting down to a hard slog at the start of the year.
“It’s just been a case of keeping ourselves ticking over. Training hasn’t been strenuous but it’s just about keeping ourselves in shape. It’s just a continuation of what we were at last year really. Nothing has changed, the lads are still in good shape after Christmas. It’s kind of weird, you’re watching yourself all over Christmas knowing that you were coming back to play in an All-ireland semi-final,” said Dempsey, who began his footballing life in Laois playing for his father’s club Arles-Killeen.
Christy Dempsey moved his family to Kildare in time for John to link up with the Monasterevan under-12s along with his brother, also Christy, two years his junior. These days, Christy is a vital cog in the Monasterevan midfield but he didn’t always have the dedication to football that he does now.
“I’ve been on the first team for a long time now but Christy wasn’t playing much himself,” said John. “It’s only in the last few years that he has really started getting back into it. He got himself right and got himself fit in the last few years and it’s paying off for him now. He holds the midfield for us very well – he is very big and strong in there. I suppose we didn’t think at that time we would end up playing in an All-Ireland semi-final beside each other.”
Having successfully cleared the Kildare and Leinster hurdles, Dempsey is well aware that Monasterevan will have to lift their game to a new level if they are to get past Kerry and Munster champions Finuge. All-Ireland winner, all-star and current Kerry manager, Eamonn Fitzmaurice, could be Dempsey’s direct opponent on Sunday but the teak tough full-back is not worried about reputations.
“I’ll treat him the same as anybody else. I wouldn’t know that much about him. How he plays, I might have to look that up during the week. I’ll just prepare as I always do and going up against him, I’ll just try to do my best, that’s all I can do, it doesn’t matter who it is,” said Dempsey.
“We just take it as it comes along. It’s all new to us, it’s like an adventure really. You really start to come up against the big names now, they have Galvin and Fitzmaurice whereas we don’t have anybody who is known outside the county. It gives you a boost as well to play against the likes of them, it’s something to look forward to,” said Dempsey.
Like any player Dempsey is keen to trot out the line about only looking at one game at a time but he would be lying if he said he hadn’t thought about leading his club out in an All-Ireland final at Croke Park.
“That’s our aim now, to get there. It would be some honour to play for your club in Croke Park. I think that’s everyone’s goal when they start out playing football, the aim is to get there with your county but to bring your club there would be a great achievement. Since we won the Leinster that’s definitely been in everybody’s mind, to get to Croke Park. We’re outsiders for this game, fairly big outsiders if you look at the odds. That’s the way we like it, as underdogs,” he said.
And while the players are trying to distance themselves from the hype and focus on the game, it’s difficult when that is the hot topic of conversation around town.
“It’s all anybody is talking about in Monastervan. Even around Kildare, anybody I meet is asking how we are doing and how is preparation going. It’s definitely something new to us but it’s good. I’m sure we’ll get good support on the day. Everybody has their plans made about staying over or whether they are staying the night before. Since the Leinster final everybody has been planning for this game. There is a great buzz around the place.”
Now it’s up to the players to make sure those days of sacrifice and abstinence weren’t for nothing.