Such was the impact Brian Howard made for Dublin last year, it’s easy to forget that 2018 was his first proper year on the senior squad.
The Raheny man slotted perfectly into their lethal forward unit and displayed skills and abilities that we are used to seeing from some of Dublin’s older, more experienced brigade.
It’s no wonder that at the start of 2018, Diarmuid Connolly earmarked Howard as one to watch and the 21-year-old backed up his statement, making Connolly’s old jersey his own.
Naturally, Howard was delighted by the vote of confidence from an “icon” of the game but staying true to form, he didn’t let the comment phase him.
“Diarmuid Connolly is such a massive player in Gaelic over the last number of years. I heard that, there was no added pressure from it, I didn’t feel it anyway – it was nice to hear from such an icon of the game.
“To hear that, not only does he know who you are, but also that he sees something in you. It did, it gave me a confidence boost to hear it from him.”
Given his talent, you would imagine that Howard dedicated the majority of his teenage years to the sport but in reality, he credits a number of different sports with developing his skill-set.
“When I was in school I played a lot of basketball, a good bit of rugby, soccer, hurling and, obviously, Gaelic. But my heart was always in Gaelic so at U-16s I gave up hurling because I wanted to focus solely on the Gaelic.
“You hear of a lot of teams doing basketball training in the pre-season to get the hand-eye coordination and it has a massive effect. There’s a lot you can learn from basketball.”
One skill in particular that he has become synonymous with is side-stepping his opponents, leaving them frozen to the spot, dazed and confused.
Howard insists that it is not something he works on, crediting rugby for drawing out the natural skill, but reveals that there are other areas that he is developing, an admission that is sure to spark fear in his opponents.
“The thing is, I don’t even know what I’m going to do. If the defender can read it, fair enough but it was never something I worked specifically on, it was something that I always knew I had but I never know when I’m going to do it or use it up until the last second really.
“It’s not something that I’ve really worked on, there are a few other things I can do but I mightn’t have shown them yet.”
Despite his obvious maturity, both on and off the field, Howard admits that his first outing in the blue jersey was a nerve-wracking experience while he can clearly recall his first introduction to the senior dressing room.
“I remember it very well. On one side was Johnny Cooper and on the other was Ciaran Kilkenny, they were like heroes of mine growing up – as were the rest of the team – so sitting around, looking at them, it was so surreal, the whole experience but from day one, the lads were welcoming me into the team.
“My first League start was against Kildare and I was obviously nervous in Croke Park for my first proper game starting there, but from on my confidence built and I learned by picking up little tricks from the other lads.
“I just kept developing, getting more confident. And Jim Gavin, he’s a real man for if you’re playing well then you’ll get an opportunity, and, thankfully, I took mine when I went out against Kildare.”
A major factor for helping him to settle in was the presence of club teammate, Brian Fenton, who Howard had always looked up to and the duo quickly developed a tight friendship.
“Having Brian Fenton there, he was a sort of a mentor for me coming through right from when I got called in 2017 right the way through and he still is to this day.
“He’s a great friend of mine, one of my best friends, and that made the transition from U-21s to senior very easy for me because he’d give me advice and tell me what to expect from training sessions and how to go about everything. “
In a special moment for the Raheny club, both Howard and Fenton collected All-Star awards in 2018 with the latter also being named Footballer of the Year.
“It was a big deal in the club. It’s not every day that there’s two All-Stars, let alone in the same position. It’s a great honour for us individually and, as a club, it’s a good reward.”
Often when a player has such an eye-catching emerging season, there is an expectation on him or her to maintain, and improve that standard. There’s also a target put on their backs by other teams.
Howard feels no such pressure from the outside world, but internally, he is driven to keep developing as a player. With a long career ahead of him, it’s almost intimidating to think how good he could become.
“There’s obviously attention, other teams know that I had a good year last year, whether it’s the same this year, who knows yet?
“There’s no extra pressure put on me this year, I just have to keep developing my skills, I’ve a lot to work on and hopefully, I’ll just keep doing it.”
Dublin footballer Brian Howard will be speaking at the upcoming AIB Future Sparks Festival 2019, taking place in the RDS on 14th March. AIB Future Sparks Festival brings together the best in Irish business, sport, entrepreneurship and technology to inspire over 7,500+ second-level students for their futures through a range of inspirational talks and panel discussions.