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Darcy: weight of five was sitting heavily on us

Dub selector will 'miss greatly' massive bond with this group

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Life goes on: Former Dublin selector Declan Darcy

Life goes on: Former Dublin selector Declan Darcy

SPORTSFILE

Pressure off: Jonny Cooper celebrates with selector Declan Darcy following the All-Ireland SFC Final replay win over Kerry at Croke Park last September

Pressure off: Jonny Cooper celebrates with selector Declan Darcy following the All-Ireland SFC Final replay win over Kerry at Croke Park last September

SPORTSFILE

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Life goes on: Former Dublin selector Declan Darcy

Talk of six-in-a-row has gone eerily quiet. Not alone has the handbrake been pulled on the GAA season itself, but most of us are taking a break about that other very Irish obsession: endlessly talking about who is looking good for Sam.

That discussion was liable to happen in any month. But not now, in 'Covid-only' April.

"How are your county fixed?" has been replaced by "Will we ever get our football fix again?"

It's increasingly difficult to debate a county's likely championship starting 15 when you can't even be sure if there will be a championship.

Even that very modern cliché, Sky Blue invincibility, is getting very little traction these days.

The level of coaching and games development funding ploughed into Dublin GAA has generated many deeply polarised arguments in recent times. Now it's no longer a subject of angry bar stool debate - and not just because the stools are all empty.

The intrusion of life has put sport in perspective.

But it hasn't silenced all debate. A new cottage industry in sporting nostalgia has stepped in to fill the vacuum.

Declan Darcy was on SportsJOE.ie's 'The GAA Hour' with Colm Parkinson last week, reflecting on that most famous of all days in the history of Leitrim football, the 1994 Connacht final.

Contrary to what some armchair fans might think, Darcy is not a Leitrim-born hero adopted by Dublin but the other way around.

And, beyond Leitrim's glory day, Parkinson's interview contained some fascinating reflections on what it meant for this native Dub to be part of Dublin's finest hour: completing the fabled five-in-a-row.

Darcy was Jim Gavin's right-hand man throughout his seven years in the hotseat. Before that they were joined at the U21 managerial and coaching hip. And before that (in the wake of Darcy's transfer from Leitrim) they were Dublin teammates in the late nineties and early noughties.

You could argue that Declan Darcy knows, better than anyone else, what makes Jim Gavin the football man tick.

Thus, his reflections on 'The GAA Hour' shone a revealing light on why last year was different than everything that had gone before with this Dublin team.

Not that you would have gleaned this from countless mid-season interviews given by players and Gavin himself. Craving five-in-a-row was the love that dare not speak its name in front of a journalist's 'mic' or dictaphone.

But, deep down, everyone knew differently.

And that's why Dublin's replay triumph over Kerry proved such a release, not just for the players but for the usually unflappable architects of their great achievement. Jim Gavin doesn't do emotion? He did last September.

"Last year, particularly, there was a huge connection within the team. There was a lot of stuff going on in the background," Darcy recalled, referencing the sad passing of Philly McMahon's father, Phil, in the summer of 2018, and the illness that took Declan Small, father of John and Paddy, last December.

"We had Philly's Dad passing away. John Small's Dad was very sick. And there was a huge connection within the group, and there was a lot of emotion after the game," Darcy explained.

"There was a release of the pressure, because probably we didn't want to talk about the five-in-a-row … we all knew it was there. And it was kind of like a monumental weight off our shoulders.

"Because it was sitting heavy on us, no matter what anybody says.

"It's not my form to go up to the Hill, or Jim there, that's for sure! But, look, it was kind of maybe in the back of our heads that maybe that was it. It was a subconscious thinking: we had done our time, we had done our shift, and just to say 'Goodbye and thanks very much'."

It would be another 11 weeks before the manager stepped down. Very few saw it coming but, according to Darcy, people on the outside don't appreciate the phenomenal workload that Gavin devoted to Dublin.

Telling the squad was the hardest part. "To experience the emotions from the players to us, and from us to them … I think we underestimated that," Darcy admitted.

"People don't realise when they look in and they see Jim and they see him functioning, and then they kind of go 'Why did he step down?' But there's a whole lot of stuff. He has a pretty important job as well.

"Sometimes sport can overwhelm you with effort and work. There is a life to live outside of football, as we are witnessing at the moment particularly, and sometimes you just need to take a breath."

Darcy has spent around half his life at the inter-county coalface - playing and coaching. Like Gavin he has a young family and, when he attended their league opener against Kerry in Croke Park last January, it struck him that this was the first time he had been able to bring his kids to a Dublin game.

But, as he openly admitted on The GAA Hour, he will "miss greatly" the massive bond he had shared with this group.

For different reasons, you can be sure Dessie Farrell is missing that same bond right now. He is the man tasked with chasing six-in-a-row and now he can't even coach them in person.

It's the same for every other county dressing-room. And every other county fan too, left waiting and wondering when will the fun and games begin again.