The words have only just come out Tom Gray’s mouth when immediately he regrets them.
The Dublin manager is sitting among reporters, chatting about the phenomenon that is his young full-forward Ciarán Archer and inadvertently adds to his lore. “I’ve known him for three years, previously he played a bit of soccer. I think he had a contract with Yeovil Town...he won’t thank me for reminding you guys,” said Gray.
His concern is natural. After a breakthrough summer in which Archer’s name has shot into the Dublin GAA consciousness, scoring goals for fun, there’s a danger he’ll be chewed up by the hype machine and spat out. There are differing reports of his tally against Longford in the opening round of the Leinster championship but even going with the conservative version, 2-8, leaves him on 8-30 for four games.
Given that he’s just finished school and is eligible for the EirGrid U20 championship again next year, 8-30 might sound more like a reasonable bed-time for the St Maurs prodigy.
“He did his Leaving Cert in June and I suppose it’s a measure of his dedication or madness, I’m not sure which, that he was available for all of the games during the development league,” said Gray.
“But it would be unwise to think that huge hype about any footballer wouldn’t affect a young man of 18 or 19. I think he’s best placed of anybody to deal with it but by the same token it’s not something me as his manager should be encouraging.”
Broken down, Archer’s tallies in this year’s Championship have been 2-8 (v Longford), 1-8 (v Wexford), 3-8 (v Laois) and 2-6 (v Galway).
When David Clifford posted similar numbers in the 2017 minor football Championship for Kerry, Jack O’Shea suggested he’d throw him into the senior team there and then. Clifford has gone on to establish himself as one of the best senior forwards in the game but Gray knows there’s nothing guaranteed for a player like Archer. Particularly in Dublin where the intense competition for a senior jersey is an even bigger destroyer of dreams than hype or publicity.
“It’s a difficult thing to get into the Dublin senior forward line,” said Gray, a Na Fianna club man in Glasnevin.
“Conor McHugh was the U21 Player of the Year in 2014 and Aaron Byrne — both clubmates of mine — was U21 Player of the Year in 2017, and neither of them are playing for Dublin this weekend.”
Still, Archer’s languid style, the way he slipped between two Galway defenders for his first goal last weekend, his nonchalant finish for his goal against Wexford, all hints at a bright future. Cork can’t say they haven’t been warned though Gray is quick to play up the quality of the Munster champions, describing it as a bone fide 50-50 game. “We played them in the development league, down in Portlaoise too, a fantastic game of football that ended in a draw,” said Gray. “They’ve a fantastic style of football, great support lines, coming from the back, a very, very strong forward line and they’re racking up huge scores. They can score from anywhere on the pitch so it’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”