Wednesday 29 January 2020

Colm Keys: 'Few could step into Gavin's shoes and not feel intimidated'

Stephen Cluxton. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Cluxton. Photo: Sportsfile

Dessie Farrell won't have to introduce himself to too many of the current Dublin squad whenever he comes face-to-face with them for the first time as their new manager in the coming days or weeks.

He may not have to work too hard to win their trust either, having helped to nurture so many of their careers at underage level.

They know what he brings.

From the Dublin team that started the All-Ireland final replay against Kerry 10 had played for him in either of his two successful All-Ireland U-21 campaigns in 2014 and 2017.

From the outset, Farrell has been the lead candidate. and few could stand in that dressing-room right now, laden with so many All-Ireland medals and some of the best footballers ever to grace the game, and not be overawed by it.

But Farrell, a three-time All-Ireland-winning manager (he was also in charge when the Dublin minors won the 2012 All-Ireland title), and an All-Ireland winner as a player in 1995, is one of the few who can. He trades in that currency. It is his time.

Farrell was an established member when the last Dublin manager checked out as an All-Ireland winner in 1995. Mickey Whelan's accession to succeed Pat O'Neill was not a seamless one as an ageing and experienced team failed to embrace the new man's methods and didn't warm to some of the challenges that doing things differently presented.

Farrell will be conscious of that and the need to continue adhering to all the things that worked well throughout this decade. He won't want to, or even need to, rock too many boats.

To mitigate against any further upheaval following Gavin's departure, it's hard to imagine that one of his first conversations in his new position won't be with Stephen Cluxton, who will make a decision in his future in January. Another year from Cluxton would provide a welcome bridgehead.

Traditionally, following in the footsteps of iconic managers has been challenging in all sports, but Dublin's pitch to Farrell, with his strong affinity to many of the current players, aims to soften that impact.

The macro challenges will be the same as they would have been for any other manager and even Gavin himself in 2020. With the ceiling that five successive All-Ireland titles had been above Gaelic football in the previous 135 years now shattered, where do Dublin players draw added motivation from?

Human nature being what it is, the pressure of landing 'the five' will, naturally, lead to some level of relaxation. Even Gavin cut a different demeanour in the immediate aftermath of their September win over Kerry. You don't climb the highest peak without taking time to draw breath and survey the scene around you.

Much of the motivation will be personal. A number of players are one All-Ireland medal away from matching the feats of the five Kerry footballers who have been out in front with eight for so long.

That's a milestone that will privately exist in the back of their minds as they dust down and get ready to go again. And winning is a habit that an ambitious group won't countenance being broken easily.

But having given so much of themselves over the decade, the desire for some to travel or pursue other interests related to their careers will be there. Jack McCaffrey may need to broaden his medical horizons beyond this country in the coming years, for instance.

In Kerry, Dublin now have prime rivals that they could well find themselves in lockstep with for much of this decade and that will provide renewed impetus. But it will also dilute their dominance.

Like the great Kerry team of the 1970s and '80s, it could take a defeat to spark the second phase of some of their careers.

For Farrell, the scrutiny will be intense coming after a manager who enjoyed a near-pristine time at the helm. Such a standard has been set that failure to maintain it will be seized upon.

Farrell will be well aware of that. He followed Gavin as U-21 manager too and while he matched his All-Ireland haul at that level - they both won two - defeat to Longford in the 2013 campaign and subsequently to Tipperary and Mayo in All-Ireland semi-finals cast his term in slightly different light for some Dublin supporters.

He has always surrounded himself with good people and in that respect, he can probably integrate a new backroom team en bloc.

But he needs to strike a balance there too to ensure that some of the personnel who worked well for his predecessors remain in place.

As the driving force behind the Gaelic Players Association, he has learned to deal with adversity well. Ironic as it may seem, inheriting the most successful team of all time will provide him with plenty more.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News