WHEN you win, you don’t feel the cold. It was near freezing as Paul Cribbin stood chatting on the field, still dressed as a footballer.
As he stood talking about the ‘greatest accomplishment’ of his life, Cribbin’s body shook from the icy weather but it barely registered with him as he relived the glory of winning a Leinster title with his county. In Melbourne it’s 18 degrees when night falls but nothing could warm Cribbin’s heart like the joy of this success.
“I was saying to the boys, who needs Australia after this? If I was in Melbourne, I would have been flying home this week. There’s no way I would have been able to miss this game. I would have been tearing the hair out of my head.”
Cribbin has endured a trying time since returning from his Aussie Rules adventure last September. He was left out of the Kildare senior panel while some of his under-21 teammates made the jump and as the Lilies geared up for the Leinster championship, he was curtailed by injury.
“When I came home from Australia I sat down with Kieran McGeeney. He just said he was going to challenge me mentally and that I was, because I wasn’t asked onto the senior panel whereas other lads were and I think that was a good thing. I suffered with a few injuries which kept me focused as well.
“He didn’t get in contact with me then. Not being in contact with him and not being in with the seniors in itself was a mental test.”
After a frustrating start to the season it all came together for Cribbin in the Leinster semi-final against Laois when he contributed four points from wing back – a performance that earned him a shot with the seniors in round six of the league against Tyrone. In just 35 minutes he landed three points from play and could have had more. He had passed the Geezer’s tests with flying colours.
“Geezer is a phenomenal man. He’s straight down the middle, there’s no messing with him. There were people around the county talking us up but in fairness they weren’t talking us up until Dublin were knocked out. He kept reminding us of that. If we had come into this game with our heads in the clouds, Longford would have wiped us away.”
Wednesday night’s Leinster final gave Cribbin the chance to finally win something with his county yet, like his season so far, he had to overcome a frustrating start. He failed to score from four shots and in the first half he cost his side a point before half-time when he lost possession and then fouled close to goal.
“We said we wanted to be different with this Kildare team and in fairness we were. I think there is something within the group that – there’s a hurt or desire from three years ago from that minor that we weren’t going to let it slip this year,” said Cribbin afterwards and he showed that desire to be different more than anyone else in the second half with a goal-saving block in the 52nd minute.
“I seen a lad cutting through and I remember Geezer saying to me at half-time this is where I need to show my fitness and that kind of thought came into my head. I kind of knew I had to make it across.”
It was as if Cribbin came from nowhere. Just as Mark Hughes was about to pull the trigger, having rounded the Kildare ‘keeper, his shot looped into the air and it was only when the ball finished wide of the target that Cribbin’s block was apparent.
“It was one of those slow-motion moments,” he said. “It was surreal. I had to look at the referee straight away to make sure I did everything okay but I’d have to thank Kieran McGeeney for that one because his thought was in the back of my mind when I did it.”
After the final whistle, Cribbin posed for photos with his Johnstownbridge clubmates, Daniel Flynn and Sean Hurley, who was named man-of-the-match. Flynn and Hurley have attracted interest from the AFL as well now and even though Cribbin’s Aussie adventure failed, it feels like there are bigger days ahead.
“That there is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. If anything gets much better than that, I’ll be in heaven.”