Dessie Farrell. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
warming up

Dublin ready to assume control and start their season afresh

Those pronouncing panic among the Metropolitans are caught in melodrama.

ONE OF THE more amusing elements of the football leagues is the rush to condemn teams and players after two games played on the cusp of Imbolc.

Right now, Dublin are the appointed whipping boys. Sure, they have company in Kildare and Cork for now, but if we can’t panic about the future of Dublin football after two one-point defeats in the opening rounds of the league, well then hotdammit, when can we panic?

Last year in the All-Ireland series, Dublin met Monaghan in the semi-final. It was a tough enough afternoon, until they both rounded the last bend and could see the finish in sight.

From then on, it was Brian Fenton’s day. He dominated the close like a young Jack O’Shea. Dublin finished up seven-point winners.

The previous round, they were up against Mayo in the quarter-final. These two have served up some storied encounters over the last dozen years. This wasn’t one of them as Dublin crushed the Connacht men by 12 points.

So when they met Monaghan on the opening night of the league, and then Mayo in Castlebar a week later and lost both those games by a point, it caused a mild tremor in the capital.

Where you place Dublin after the dormant week in the national league after this all depends on your appetite for melodrama.

Monaghan gained promotion to the top flight in time for the 2015 season. They finally beat Dublin in 2018 and remarkably, have not lost to them since in the competition. They even memorably relegated the Dubs in a famous last-day game in Clones in 2022.

However, in the three championship meetings since 2014, Dublin have won by margins of 17, 10 and last year by seven points.

Roscommon are next up for Dublin on a Saturday night in Croke Park. Last year they came like a comet to knock Mayo out of Connacht on Easter Sunday and by the time they faced Dublin in the round-robins, they nabbed a draw while controlling narrative.

Dublin still won the All-Ireland.

Consider their devotion to the bottom line. When Dessie Farrell was in his prime, Dublin won the league in 1993.

It took them another two decades to win the next one, in Jim Gavin’s first year.

They won five in six years, during that golden spell. Every team in the country wasn’t given the sniff of progress as they would routinely hand out heavy beatings in those years.

After 2018, there was a shared league (with Kerry) in 2021. In that time, teams have become used to the feeling of beating Dublin teams. Armagh have done it. Mayo have done it. Derry have managed the task.

Does that allow them a glimpse of what can be done later down the line? Or does it lull them into thinking they are better than what they are?

Now, Dublin are not without their problems, either.

The untimely death of their selector Shane O’Hanlon will have affected the group.

shane-ohanlon-and-dessie-farrell The late Shane O'Hanlon pictured with Dessie Farrell. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

The St Vincent’s man was a hugely popular figure in Dublin football. He ran the accounts for the senior team, sorted the logistics and formed relationships with players. He was a walking bank of knowledge of the talent pool in the county.

He was with Jim Gavin when they won Under-21 All Ireland titles in 2010 and 2012. He died of a heart attack while checking out possible venues for a training camp.

Such a loss will undoubtedly affect young men who have travelled this road with him for over a decade.

Another factor seems to be the absence of Pat Gilroy. Reports have it that he is saying he will not be back, which would almost through the more shrewd observers into feeling he definitely will be back. 

Drafted onto the management team by Dessie Farrell, it was a shrewd bit of business. Unencumbered by being the actual manager, Gilroy would deliver home truths to players that an actual manager might think twice because of the risk of pushing things too far.

“He’s just very much to the point and he’s able to get the most out of individuals and players,” said Dean Rock at a press event this week.

“Maybe by riling them up the right way or just speaking really honestly and being open and transparent about what’s expected from individuals. Perhaps that was what we needed last year in terms of him coming in.

“…He gave it to us between the eyes and I think lads responded really well to that.”

You can only respond if you are on the pitch though.

Allow us to take a crude measure. Dublin won the All-Ireland final by beating Kerry by two points last July.

They lost at the semi-final stage to the same opponents in 2022 by a single point.

They made changes. Farrell brought back Stephen Cluxton, Jack McCaffrey, Colm Basquel and Paul Mannion. Con O’Callaghan recovered from injury.

On paper it’s some arsenal to unleash. In reality, not all returns were roaring successes. McCaffrey struggled to get to the pace required and his body betrayed him. Paul Mannion himself had resolved to return before sustaining another knee injury while O’Callaghan’s form tailed off in the last three matches of the season.

However, the addition of Gilroy might have had an effect of shaking people out of their comfort zones.

pat-gilroy Pat Gilroy. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“Maybe just to rock the boat a little bit after two years of not getting over the line and maybe lads not being overly honest with themselves and maybe not getting that honesty from other guys in the management team,” said Rock.

It’s hard to think of this line and not believe it refers to Ciaran Kilkenny. An ever-present due to his general excellence, Kilkenny was cut from the starting team. Now, nobody was safe.

Perhaps he will come back. Or maybe someone else fulfils that role. But it needs to happen quick. 

They’ll get back to that cut-throat attitude. Roscommon is the start of it and afterwards, they are at home to Kerry and then away to Derry.

Dublin’s season will kick into gear on Saturday evening. Hammer time.

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