Wednesday 29 January 2020

Conor McKeon: 'Farrell is man with all right experience'

Respect, discipline, humility - new Dublin boss carries all the hallmarks of continuity

NEW CHIEF: Dessie Farrell has been appointed new Dublin manager. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
NEW CHIEF: Dessie Farrell has been appointed new Dublin manager. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

There, under the Cusack Stand in the moments after the 2012 All-Ireland minor final, Dessie Farrell happily contemplated the effects that losing the previous year's final had had on winning that one.

Clearly it was the first time he had felt any benefit from the experience.

Dublin had been favourites for both All-Ireland finals but not to nearly the same degree in 2012 as in '11, when the team that Farrell cultivated through the age grades were gazumped by Tipperary in the final.

That 2011 side contained Ciarán Kilkenny, Jack McCaffrey, John Small and Paul Mannion. And with each passing September, so their collective reputation as one of the most talented minor teams ever assembled increases in direct correlation to their medal haul.

Not only were they deeply talented, they had fostered a close bond under Farrell, who initially began coaching in 2006, a year after retiring from playing when he took an under 13 West Dublin development squad.

That Tipperary loss affected Farrell deeply.

In an interview with the Irish Independent in October, 2012, he admitted: "last year's minor defeat hit me really, really badly."

"It's funny, for the players themselves there's always another challenge just around the corner.

"They maybe get back up on the horse with their clubs the next week. But, for the rest of us, there was this massive ache."

But the experiences of losing in '11 and winning in '12 also shaped his views on the value of character versus talent.

His management of the under 21s were repeat lessons.

In 2014, a team festooned with players who would go on to dominate the rest of the decade at senior level, were beaten by Longford in the first round of Leinster in Parnell Park.

A year later, with the bones of the 2012 minor team and the limbs of the 2011 side, Farrell won an under 21 All-Ireland. Hard lesson quickly learned.

Then, in '17, he won a second one completely against the head against a much-fancied Galway team who had taken out a Kerry side practically anchored to the floor with minor All-Irelands.

Dublin weren't particularly fancied even to win Leinster that year.

Yet Farrell, with no real prior exposure to most of the players, put together a flinty and courageous team, best exemplified in the performance of Eoin Murchan in the final.

In fact, all through Farrell's managerial career, he has demonstrated an innate ability to carve sturdier units out of less obviously talented groups.

"As a management team, we were trying to encourage them to be the best they could be on and off the field," he explained back in 2012.

"Sure, if there's a 50/50 tackle, you'd better not be seen pulling out of it. But the other side of it is the respect, the discipline, the sense of humility in victory and graciousness in defeat.

"Those values are so transferable and I'm passionate about that type of stuff."

All of which sounds familiar to anyone who has listened closely to Jim Gavin's interviews over the past seven silver-plated years.

The values. The acute sense of responsibility.

The focus on life away from sport and how productive development of all aspects of a player's life would impact directly on how that player performed on the pitch.

It is difficult to conjure a more qualified Dublin manager than Farrell just now, scars and all.

Indeed, there has always been a managerial air about Dessie Farrell.

As a player, he was famously headstrong and battled for the things he believed in off the pitch as fiercely as he fought for them on it.

In October 2001, after the wind changed on Tommy Carr's continued tenure as Dublin manager, Farrell attended a county board meeting in Parnell Park.

There, the future of the man who made him captain would be decided and Farrell went in an official capacity, having persuaded the Na Fianna hurling representative to allow him attend in his stead.

One delegate, unimpressed by Farrell's loyalty to his manager or his pro-activity in securing a voice, remarked that 'footballers should stick to playing football and nurses should stick to nursing.'

A sneering reference to Farrell's professional background as a psychiatric nurse, albeit a job he no longer held by then.

In 2003, after the wheels began to loosen on Tommy Lyons' tenure as manager, it was Farrell who headed an attempted coup to oust Lyons, although it failed after the panel were divided on his continued tenure.

It was hardly surprising then that he went on to be such an influential - and divisive - figure in his various guises with the GPA.

There is no doubting, however, that he was immensely beneficial for the organisation.

When he left the job of CEO in 2016, Farrell had just delivered a deal with the GAA worth €6.2m a year between 2017 and '19 for the players' body.

Their revenue that year came in at just under €8m and at the time, the GPA had 11 staff in their new offices in Santry, a far cry from the early days of operating out of the back room in his parents' house in Grangegorman.

After leaving the GPA, Farrell was asked repeatedly in interviews whether the decks were now clear for him to take over as senior manager. Repeatedly, he denied any interest.

Always though, it had the feeling of a man trying to avoid 'Dessie Sets Sights on Dubs Job' headlines in the following day's editions.

He takes over perhaps the greatest football team in history at the peak of their powers after the greatest run of winning their sport has known.

Written on Farrell's Twitter biography is a slogan used by his company, 'Compete With Compassion'.

It says 'Run To The Roar.'

He can scarcely avoid it now.

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