FORMER Ilen Rovers player and Cork minor footballer Alex Hassett recently lined out for St Jude’s in the Dublin senior county football final.
The county final ended in heartbreak for Alex and his colleagues as Kilmacud Crokes defeated St Jude’s by one point to complete the double. Despite the nature of their defeat, Alex enjoyed the occasion.
“It was great to play in front of such a large crowd which was probably the biggest I’ve ever played in front of. We as a team managed the occasion well. A lot of our team would have experience of consistently playing in the latter stages of the championship, so I felt we managed the build-up quite well and just took it like any other game,” he said.
St Jude’s who were chasing their first-ever county final title, led until the closing stages when they were reeled in by a strong Kilmacud Crokes team who secured victory with the last kick of the game.
“The way they won it in the end with the last kick of the game was heartbreaking. We were in a good position going in at half-time but in the second half they were managing to get men free within our scoring zone and we were getting turned over a bit more than we have been all year.
“This was the third county final St Jude’s have now lost. We also lost against Crokes in 2018 and against Ballyboden in 2009. Kilmacud are a very strong team. A lot of their players have played with Dublin at various points of their career and they were certainly the best team we came up against this year. Their defence was particularly impressive,” he added.
He is confident St Jude’s will maintain the enthusiasm to mount a renewed bid for county championship glory this season.
“We made a lot of progress last year in terms of some players who’ve been knocking on the door getting game time and also through improving our scoring rates. I’m confident we won’t be far away this year as long as we can keep most of the same player group together.”
Having played his club football at a senior level in both Cork and Dublin, Alex said there are notable differences between the two championships with the Dublin senior football championship being ahead from a tactical and physical perspective.
“The Dublin senior championship is ahead. It’s very rare that you’ll see tackles being broken due to the physical conditioning of players. Defensive systems also make sure that even if you break one tackle, you’re probably just going to run into traffic anyway so there’s often no point.
"This probably forces players to improve their agility and skill level under pressure as they can’t just run through other teams. I remember the speed and intensity of my first challenge game against Vincent’s feeling like a championship game.
"The level of preparation from a tactical point of view is the main thing that stands out.”
Hassett enjoyed a very strong season from a personal perspective despite being tasked on numerous occasions with negating their opponents most dangerous forward.
“It was my first season properly playing corner-back, whereas before I had been playing a good bit at wing-back. I feel I’m probably more of a natural corner-back than wing-back so it was nice to find a spot there last season. Overall I felt I made a good bit of progress and I am just hoping to push on another level this year.
“Most teams will have forwards who would have been on Dublin U20 teams and occasionally you might be marking Dublin senior forwards which is a great opportunity and something I always look forward to.
"With our team, you’re never left completely isolated and if I have to switch off my forward for a play, none of our other defenders are going to take a step back,” he added.
The former Ilen Rovers player who is now working Dublin as a physio initially joined St Jude’s at the start of the 2019 playing season. He is loving playing with his new club and is thriving in their player-led environment.
“There’s a fantastic culture in the club which is something that they are very conscious of developing. The management has placed a big emphasis on facilitating a player-led environment.
"Players are collectively willing to be pushed beyond their comfort zones. Players also take the lead in meetings and during breaks in training which means that there’s a huge amount of leaders and player influence on various things. Off the pitch, lads get on very well, while on the pitch, whether it be in matches or in training there’s a certain standard expected.”
He counts the Coakley brothers Niall and Brian who previously played with Carrigaline among his team-mates with St Jude’s. Former Dublin senior star Kevin McManamon also remains a key player for the Saints.
“It has been an unbelievable experience so far learning from them. Kevin is also a qualified sports psychologist so it’s great to have someone with that experience on top of all his All-Ireland titles on your side.
"Niall and Brian are both excellent players. I would have known Brian from playing with him on the various Cork underage teams.”