The conversation with Peter Dowling runs for 13 minutes and a second.
The Midleton midfielder, arms folded and perched upright in the chair, opens up to every question fired across the table. A trend however, begins to manifest itself as the interview progresses. The towering midfielder repeatedly refers to his team-mates and the club at large as ‘they’ rather than the expected ‘we’.
On the hype which has enveloped the club this week: “I suppose it has been so long since they have been in the final so there is bound to be plenty of buzz about the place.”
Commenting on the age profile of the Midleton team, he offers the following: “A lot of them would have been kids the last time Midleton won the county final. It is a new experience for them really.”
When quizzed about the experience of Sars, he pointed to Midleton’s recent minor and U21 success: “They have been in a good few underage finals. They have won minor and U21 so they know what it is to win a county final.”
Without being tasked on the matter, Dowling lets slip the reason behind his unintentional phrasing.
“I am not from these parts,” he smiles.
You see, Peter Dowling was born and bred in Kilkenny city, developed as a hurler out the road at O’Loughlin Gaels.
In September of 2010, the secondary school PE and maths teacher took up a position at Midleton CBS. Later that year O’Loughlin Gaels marched to a third county title with Dowling occupying the number 8 shirt. Any potential approach by Midleton top-brass would have to wait.
Leinster success ensued and Dowling netted one of three goals in the semi-final victory over Loughgiel Shamrocks.
As for St Patrick’s Day? “It just didn’t happen,” he sighed. “20 minutes of brilliant hurling followed by 40 minutes of shocking hurling. Mark Kerins came out the field for Clarenbridge midway through the first-half and started to dictate. Things went badly from then. They hammered us in the end.”
The final result aside, it had been a positive campaign and all involved felt there was enough left in the tank to at least retain their Kilkenny crown. Dowling decided to continue to make the three-and-a-half hour round journey twice a week. O’Loughlin Gaels came a cropper in the semi-final to Ballyhale later that summer and the midfielder knew he had played his last hour in a green shirt.
No longer could he tolerate the bright lights of Youghal as he arrived back into Midleton well past midnight on a Tuesday and Friday night. The features of the N9, the quirky houses either side of Dungarvan he could identify seamlessly. Enough.
“This is my fourth year at the school, but I was travelling up and down for training for the first year. After Ballyhale beat us I decided I had enough of driving up and down. You would do it in an hour and 40 minutes, but around the time of the All-Ireland club final it was twice a week and then the weekend again. You’d get sick of it. It is fine driving up that evening. It is the drive back. You’d be after a hard session, you’d be stiff and the last place you’d want to be getting into is a car. Driving down at 12 o’clock in the night is not that enjoyable.
“It wasn’t a snap decision to leave O’Loughlin Gaels and transfer down. It was something I mulled over for a couple of months. I felt the drive was making me dislike hurling. You can’t get to know anyone in an area if you’re constantly travelling home. I hadn’t settled really because of it.”
Dowling is fuzzy on the details of his first session with the Midleton senior outfit, but laughs that a bonding weekend within a month of his arrival proved a perfect tonic.
“I didn’t know anyone to be honest. Now a couple of the panel were in sixth year and I was the new teacher showing up at training. They didn’t care who I was. It is hard to settle into a new club. I felt I put myself under pressure. You want to perform well, but it doesn’t necessarily happen. You don’t just slot straight into a team. You have to work your way on to it. I felt accepted straight away. We had a team bonding session in Limerick in the first month and that helped. Job done.”
Not alone does he stand out as the only member of Peter Smith’s panel with a senior county medal in the back pocket, at 32 Dowling holds the distinction of being the oldest member of tomorrow’s starting 15.
“Dowling is the granddad sure,” laughs team captain Padraig O’Shea.
Smith added: “He was one of the missing pieces of the jigsaw that we required in the past few years.”
Dowling, given his experience, expected to have been more hands-on with the younger players this week, but is surprised by the level of composure emanating from the squad.
“I won three senior titles in Kilkenny, although I was only starting for one of them. It helps myself this week. Pressure-wise it doesn’t bother me being in a final. I would have thought I would have to tell the lads not to be worried about the parade, signing autographs for kids. I thought I would have to be more in their ears. Lads seem very calm. We didn’t celebrate the semi-final really a hell of a lot. It was low key. Lads are tuned in. Lads know what our aim is. They don’t need my experience.
“It is cliche to say that it takes a one-to-15 effort to win a match but until that happens you are going nowhere. Definitely we have a strong panel this year and that has made it harder to pick the team. Guys that are there are probably more physical this year. Conor Lehane and Luke O’Farrell definitely are stronger. Overall, physical size or not, it is the effort that is making the difference. We are defending from the full-forward line back.”
And as for back home?
“A few of the lads know about it. I will get a few texts this week closer to the game. The family will come down. Some of the lads might, adopted Midleton supporters to follow the adopted Midleton hurler.”
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