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Wednesday 29 January 2020

Ciarán Whelan: 'Farrell must try to maintain stability'

Taking over from best manager ever always tough but unfazed Dessie should keep some staff on

FIRST WIN: Dublin manager Dessie Farrell during the 2012 All-Ireland MFC final at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
FIRST WIN: Dublin manager Dessie Farrell during the 2012 All-Ireland MFC final at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile

When the news came through at 7.20pm last night, I can't say I was too surprised with the appointment of Dessie Farrell as new Dublin senior football manager.

When it was announced last Saturday week that Jim Gavin was stepping down after seven remarkably successful years at the helm, my initial reaction in terms of his successor was that Farrell was probably best placed to step into this illustrious position.

He was the front-runner from the start, well certainly from those not involved with the current set-up, and his experience with Dublin teams at various ages has certainly proved largely positive ones.

You can't forget that he is the only Dublin manager to have delivered an All-Ireland Minor Football Championship to the county since 1984, beating Meath in the 2012 decider having lost to Tipperary a year previously.

It proved a natural progression for Farrell when he took over the county's Under-21 team and while success eluded him initially, he still managed to lead his team to a couple of national titles in 2014 and 2017.

Given how difficult Dublin have found these particular championships in general, his achievements as manager should not be underestimated and in terms of his apprenticeship into the senior role, it's fair to argue that he has served his time.

Indeed, he started off with a Dublin developmental panel at Under-13 level and from that point, he has displayed an aptitude for the role of manager.

The credentials are certainly there and he has delivered success wherever he has been in charge and you could argue that his experiences follow a similar template to those of Jim Gavin, who cut his managerial teeth with the county's Under-21 teams.

Of course, and Dessie doesn't need any reminding of this, following somebody who could justifiably be considered one of the greatest football managers of all time is going to prove hugely challenging.

Gavin, with his six All-Ireland titles in seven years is a desperately difficult act to follow, and the bar was always set very high for whoever was to follow him.

We have seen in other sports how difficult it is to come in after such a lengthy and successful period of management with David Moyes' replacement of Alex Ferguson a stark example of the difficulties that can await the new incumbent.

Farrell has obviously impressed the Dublin County Board, both in terms of his achievements up until this point and also in terms of any discussions that have been had with officials over the past fortnight.

Others may well have baulked at taking over from such a legend as Gavin but Farrell obviously feels that he possesses the mental strength and tactical nous to keep Dublin as the dominant force in the game.

I would imagine that the first task for him will be to evaluate the culture within the camp and that will need to be done quickly as Dublin open up their National League campaign in roughly a month and a half.

Of course, it should help hugely that Farrell is familiar with a large number of the panel, having managed them at underage level, and there's no reason to suggest that the strong bonds developed back then will have diluted with time.

David Byrne was his captain on that successful minor team of seven years ago and the likes of John Small, Ciarán Kilkenny, Brian Howard, Cormac Costello, Niall Scully, Paul Mannion and Con O'Callaghan will be very familiar with Farrell's methods.

You can also throw-in Eoin Murchan, Conor McHugh and Jonny Cooper from his club and the prospect of walking into such a successful dressing room appears less daunting.

However, the biggest challenge for the former Na Fianna manager is to resist the temptation of making too many changes too quickly.

In that respect, maintaining some of the backroom team that served Gavin so well in recent years is pivotal in my opinion as it will help with continuity at a time of this managerial shift.

If he manages in that respect, and we probably won't know for a while yet just who will act in his back-room team, than using his previous experiences should help in taking on the role.

What will undoubtedly help him is that the Dublin panel is a player-led culture and they have shown few signs of their hunger having been sated by all their successes.

As a result, motivation shouldn't be an issue for the panel and I would imagine that Farrell will hope to facilitate and enable the group, in the same manner that proved so successful for Gavin.

We have seen in the past the pitfalls of making too many radical changes and I have personal experience of this having joined the Dublin panel in 1996.

The group had finally delivered on all their promise by winning the All-Ireland a year previously but Mickey Whelan's arrival failed to have the desired effect after Pat O'Neill's departure.

I think the main issue with Whelan's tenure is that he tried to make too many radical changes with some an experienced body of players and there is always a danger of that occurring with any new management set-up.

It is such a difficult proposition to manage the transition from a successful team and many talented managers have suffered in that regard so Farrell should be given time to ensure the process is as seamless as possible.

A three-year contract shows the commitment and confidence that the Dublin County Board have in Farrell. I just don't think that he will be fazed by the task that awaits him.

He arrives as bainisteoir after the most successful period in the county's history and there is unquestionably some pressure on his shoulders in delivering immediate success.

That is probably slightly unfair on him but Dublin's supporters have become accustomed to success and All-Ireland titles and he may not be afforded too much of a bedding-in time.

He has all the qualities to succeed, based on all-known evidence, and as far as I am concerned, his appointment is the right decision for Dublin football.

He is steeped in the GAA, steeped in the development of football in the county and he has played a massive role in the development of players that have become household names throughout the country.

His track record is impressive and while following Jim Gavin is almost a poisoned chalice in some respects, Dublin should look forward in a positive manner after his ratification last night.

It's a tough ask but all we can do is wish him the very best and hope that he can replicate the progress he made at underage level when he takes to the centre stage.

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