It was the cheer that gave birth to a torrent of sneers.
Dublin were home and hosed against Tyrone in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final when Eric Lowndes was ordered to take to the field. A fringe player since 2013, his imminent arrival was met with acclaim by Hill 16 who had mistaken him for Diarmuid Connolly.
The latter’s absence from the scene for the majority of the summer, after his contretemps with a linesman in Portlaoise, had made him a cause celebre for the county’s fans so this case of mistaken identity was seized on with some delight by others.
For the cynical neutral it was proof positive of the phenomenon known as the fairweather Dublin fan: the type who isn’t likely to frequent Castlebar or Tralee on a cold spring evening but who wouldn’t dare miss a summer Sunday at HQ.
Lowndes, in fairness, took the whole thing well.
“I was just in the moment and there was only a couple of minutes left in an All-Ireland semi-final, so I was just thinking about getting on and doing my job at that stage. I know it’s kind of clichéd to say I blocked it out but I genuinely didn’t pay much attention to it.”
It wasn’t a moment that he would be allowed to forget.
A schoolteacher at Scoil Bride in Blanchardstown, one of his colleagues went to the trouble of getting a mug with an image that transforms from Lowndes’ face into that of Connolly’s. He still has it as a keepsake at home.
“There’s a bit of a resemblance there, but...” Lowndes is fairly typical of this generation of Dublin footballers in the sense that he comes across as a genuinely decent skin but he must have a hint of a tough hide on him as well, given a Meath background that could generate an even greater volume of slagging.
A member of the St Peregrine’s club in West Dublin, he went to school in St Peter’s, Dunboyne and his family’s roots are found on the other side of the border in the likes of Kilmessan, Drumree, Moynalvey, and Navan.
Trevor Giles was his childhood hero.
His brother Stuart, having lined out for Dublin in the O’Byrne Cup in 2015, featured in the same competition for Meath last year on the back of a transfer to Dunboyne but there was never any chance of the other sibling following that route.
“No, I never played club football in Meath or anything. I went to school in Meath, played Meath schools football and Meath colleges football but, no, never was a prospect or never was thinking about playing for a club team in Meath or playing county football in Meath.”
Still, the blurred lines made for some interesting times.
Lowndes was a member of the Dublin minor football side that beat Meath in the Leinster and All-Ireland finals in 2012. Three of the Meath team were schoolmates of his in St Peter’s.
Two of them took the same English class.
If that was awkward then it was nothing compared to the All-Ireland’s aftermath when he was asked to bring the cup back to the school. Six years later and he has added an U21 All-Ireland, four senior versions, five Leinster and three league titles.
If that sounds straightforward, then the truth has been different.
Lowndes was, by his own admission, a waiflike 18-year old fresh out of minor when he first joined up with Jim Gavin’s squad and he has had to work assiduously and show admirable patience in awaiting his chance for a regular run in the summer side.
That chance has finally arrived with the absences through injury of stars such as Jack McCaffrey, Cian O’Sullivan and John Small helping to pave the way for the 24-year to take his place in the defence against Wicklow and Longford thus far.
Gavin would frame that somewhat differently.
The Dublin manager’s mantra is that sides are picked on the basis of performances in training, not on reputation or past exploits. There is, he insists, no such thing as experimentation. Lowndes, he would tell you, has earned his shot.
“When we’re going training, we’re all aware whoever is performing well is going to play and it’s great when you’re in that position, performing well,” said Lowndes. “It’s maybe up to guys who are outside then trying to get in.
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