David Dunne on his on-going journey from rugby player to Gaelic footballer and why London should be setting the bar high
By Damian Dolan
Victories over Waterford on Saturday and Wicklow will give London their most wins ever in a National League campaign, since the Exiles entered the competition in 1993.
But London should be setting the bar far higher than that, says David Dunne.
The Exiles go into the penultimate round holding up the rest of the league, but the St Brendan’s man, and Wicklow native, believes that London have nothing to fear in this division.
“We’re here to win league campaigns and I think there’s a realisation among the group that that it is very achievable,” Dunne told the Irish World.
“In the next year or two London can far surpass people’s expectations,”
Beating Waterford and Wicklow would be a start and Dunne believes the Exiles can do just that.
“We’re 100 per cent confident that if we execute our game plan we can turn over those two teams. They’re both very winnable games,” he added.
“But longer term that bar has to be a lot higher than three wins. For now, there’s two games left and let’s make sure we get two wins.”
Dunne, in his first full year on the London senior panel, has started all five of the Exiles’ league games so far, scoring the team’s early goal in Antrim.
But London have so far only been able to produce one victory, against Wexford at McGovern Park.
Dunne, 28, says the Exiles have been guilty of showing their opponents “too much respect” at times.
“It’s about slipping the perception that London are able to compete more than people have given them credit for historically,” he said.
“Leitrim didn’t deserve the respect we showed them. I don’t see why London can’t emulate what they’ve done.”
Despite frees from Conor Doran and Liam Gavaghan giving the Exiles the perfect early platform against a nervy Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon, the visitors couldn’t build on it.
The positives for Dunne were the team’s structure and its defence – Leitrim’s goal was the first conceded from play by the Exiles in five outings.
But London’s final tally of 0-7 was their lowest of the campaign so far. Fearghal McMahon and Killian Butler are both recovering from hamstring injuries, while Ryan Elliott is a long-term loss.
All of which has deprived the Exiles of some serious attacking talent. Dunne, however, isn’t unduly worried.
Despite this @thenutritionisr goal early on we couldn’t manage to bring any points back home from Belfast #LondainAbú 💚⚪️🇳🇬 #Exiles #COYBIG #allianzleagues #GAA #WeAreLondon pic.twitter.com/uaXj1e57HM
— Official London GAA (@LondainGAA) February 24, 2019
“It’s not something we’re particularly concerned about, but it is something we’re very aware of, and something we want to get right for Waterford,” he said.
“As individuals, there’s a number of us that need to step up – we can’t rely on those guys to score all of the time,” he said.
“We worked ourselves into some good positions against Leitrim but failed to pull the trigger. When we get into scoring positions we need to take them.”
Unable to spoil Leitrim’s party, Terry Hyland’s side’s five-point victory confirmed their promotion to Division 3.
It ended 11 seasons in the GAA’s basement division and earnt Leitrim a first trip to Croke Park since 2006.
As for London, it was a useful barometer as to how far this much changed and youthful panel has come, and just how far they still have to go.
“On another day we easily had the run of them. Man-on-man there were no [Leitrim] players on that pitch that were outstandingly better – we just failed to execute high up the pitch and let in a silly goal,” said Dunne, who points the finger at himself for Shane Quinn’s crucial first half goal.
“That ultimately cost us the game. But there was nothing Leitrim threw at us that on another day we couldn’t have overcome.”
For Dunne, it’s been a learning curve. He quit Gaelic football when he was 15, only picking it back up again in the last few years. Rugby has always been his first sport.
From Greystones in Co Wicklow, he played Gaelic from a young age for his hometown club, Eire Og, but stopped when his rugby got “more serious” at school level.
He moved to London when he was 18 to attend St Mary’s University in Twickenham and played for the university’s rugby team.
After graduating he played for south-east London side Blackheath in National League One – a more than decent amateur level.
Mainly a fly half, Dunne was also able to slot in at inside centre or fullback, if required.
A shoulder injury, however, forced him to “knock rugby on the head” and for the next few years he put his career, as a performance nutritionist working in professional sport, first.
He’s worked at several Premier League football clubs and for the last six years with Harlequins rugby club. His services have also been sort by British canoeing and golf’s European Tour.
— the Irish World (@theirishworld) February 10, 2019
It was the club’s then director of rugby Conor O’Shea who brought him into Quins.
“He took a chance on me when I was a youngster and it’s worked out so far,” said Dunne.
“I’ve been fortunate to be involved in sport as an individual at the higher end of the amateur level, and as a practitioner at elite level.”
Eventually tiring of just going to the gym he picked up Gaelic football again in 2016. Recreationally at first, before realising that he was missing the “competitive edge”.
He joined St Brendans and was a late addition to the London panel for last year’s championship. He was named on the bench for the Exiles’ first-round qualifier with Louth, but didn’t feature.
He went on to help Brendans reach an intermediate championship semi-final, losing out to St Josephs. They did, however, have the consolation of inflicting the only defeat in last year’s championship on the eventual winners, Neasden Gaels.
The transition from rugby player to Gaelic footballer has not been a straightforward one, though.
Recognising the contrasting physical demands of both sports, Dunne set about increasing his aerobic capacity, with Gaelic football possessing a greater running demand than rugby.
Dropping some weight – previously put on for the collision nature of rugby – assisted that aerobic capacity, as well as improving his “running economy”.
That was the easy part. A decision-maker on the rugby pitch, the harder adjustment for Dunne was adapting to the technical and tactical sides of Gaelic football – reading what’s in front of him and choosing the right option.
He admits Gaelic football doesn’t “come naturally” to him, and he’s still learning.
Some extra sessions from London manager Ciaran Deely have helped.
— David Dunne (@thenutritionisr) December 31, 2018
“I’ve given him the nudge to say, don’t talk to me in terms of soccer analogies. I need rugby analogies,” said Dunne, who is unashamedly looking forward to London’s Round 7 trip to Wicklow.
He’s expecting a strong ‘Dunne’ family turnout for the game, including possibly his professional golf playing younger brother, Paul.
“I can’t wait to get back and see some familiar faces and play against some people that I haven’t played against since I was a young lad,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say Aughrim is a quick track – if it’s raining we’ll deal with it, but it’s a bit of a bog.”
All more experience for Dunne on his Gaelic footballing “journey”.