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Saturday 19 January 2019

Dublin's new model army

Gilroy wins battle of bosses as bright Blue era kicks off

IF you're thinking of a Christmas present this year for a mate who's a Dublin supporter, you could do worse than a T-shirt with the legend 71.53 on it.

By my reckoning, that's the time the ball sailed over the Kerry bar for the point that clinched a historic All-Ireland final win for Dublin over their arch rivals from the Kingdom.

A kick-out and a couple of hand passes later, an engrossing, white-knuckle final was blown up and clouds of blue smoke engulfed Hill 16.

Pat Gilroy's re-modelled army had sealed the deal.

Sam Maguire was back in Baile Átha Cliath for another 12 months, at least.

The experiment that had been decried by the fans and derided by the pundits had come good and passed its final test under laboratory conditions.

Dublin are All-Ireland champions.

A season of close calls, near misses and last gasp scores had ended in spectacular fashion with a point by a goalkeeper who walked the green mile during added time to coolly slot the ball between the posts in front of Hill 16.

Name me a scriptwriter who could have dreamed such a fitting closing scene?



Talking

In 2003, before Dublin met Laois in the Leinster semi-final, Stephen Cluxton opted not to have a chat. "I do my talking on the pitch," he told me.

I wasn't sure I should believe him. It was during an era when, under the stewardship of Tommy Lyons, Dublin were sending out mixed messages and coming up woefully short in the hunt for Sam

On Pat Gilroy's watch, Cluxton has become the fulcrum of Dublin's finely tuned and craftsmen-like engineering. Yesterday was another example of his dependability.

With the match 10 minutes old, and the only score on the board a point for Kerry, Cluxton jogged forward to take a free into the old Canal End. From about 30 metres out, he sent the ball wide of the upright.

Eight minutes later, he was retrieving the ball from the back of his net where it was placed by Colm "G for Gooch, G for Goal" Cooper.

In the second half, he must have worried that Jack O'Connor had solved the riddle of his kick-outs when Kerry began to dominate the middle of the park and edged into a four-point lead.

A mere mortal might have been phased when called upon to take a free in the last minute of added time.

Not just any free. A free that could break the deadlock and hopefully give Dublin, their supporters and the history books a famous win.

More erudite observers than myself have undoubtedly already taken you through the sequence that followed and helped you relive the moment of truth when the gods finally smiled on the old three towers, that sometimes seem like the only notable buildings in the country not press-ganged by NAMA.

Under unbelievable pressure, Cluxton expertly executed the part of his job which doesn't usually come under a description of a goalkeeper's duties.

He scored the winning point in a match that is already burned into Dublin folklore. And then he went back and collected his goalkeeping gloves and water bottle before shaking hands with a few opponents and heading down the tunnel to the changing rooms.

"I do my talking on the pitch". Try telling that to the marauding band of news-hounds who'll converge on the northside this week.

I expected yesterday's match to be a fascinating battle of wills, wits and wily strategies and I wasn't disappointed.

A former Kerry great I spoke to during the week had suggested that Dublin would suffer a sort of All-Ireland final day paralysis in the early part of the match.

"I couldn't breathe for the first 10 minutes of my All-Ireland final debut," he said.

He expected Pat Gilroy to deploy his team in a packed defence to withstand an early Kerry surge and give the Dubs a chance to find their feet on the big occasion.

It wasn't like that. Dublin played fairly open football and traded with their Kerry rivals, rattling up six scores (all points) to Kerry's three (a goal and two point) in the first half.

Surprisingly, Paul Galvin helped fashion a couple of those Dublin scores, through fouling, when he was introduced.



judicious

My contention that Gilroy's Championship tactic has been to send out a team designed to meet the specific threat on hand in each game was confirmed yesterday. His judicious use of his bench, and the strength in depth he has cultivated in his panel, were key factors in yesterday's win.

He got plenty of criticism when he first began to reshape a dishevelled and punch-drunk Dublin team. But Gilroy knew it would take some time to get this new creation running smoothly.

"We got huge benefit out of doing things a certain way," he explained in the immediate afterglow of Dublin's All-Ireland title win. "Some people who know a lot about the mind, people directly involved and people on the periphery, have been really helpful to us. They've done exceptional work with us."

The football Pat thinks about is the modern game. In terms of the meta-narrative, Gilroy's deconstruction of the Mickey Harte paradigm shift short-circuited the inter-changeability of old and new modes and forged a new Dublin aesthetic.

In short, he sends out a handpicked phalanx of crack warriors to foil the opposition's scoring chances and, instead, stick over a few points in reply.

This is not Tommy Lyons. "As a supporter, I've been through terrible days here," admitted Gilroy recalling the bad old days. "No matter what happened here today, we were going to get the result. We felt that running at Kerry might yield some dividends for us and we had fellas on the bench who might do that for us."

His tailoring of teams for the demands of the occasion were obvious again yesterday. "That was a particular type of game," he revealed afterwards. "We had ideas in our head. And he (goalscorer Kevin McManamon) came in and did a particular job. Kevin has been in fantastic form but we felt we needed to have game changers on the sideline."

It was Pat Gilroy, not Jack O'Connor, who had his team right on the day. As the Kerry manager admitted: "Maybe the pace and intensity of the game told on us in the last five or six minutes. I don't think many people would give us a chance of lasting the pace with the Dubs.

"They put fierce pressure on us at different periods of the game and maybe that told in the end."

Having made his acceptance speech, captain Bryan Cullen lifted Sam Maguire aloft and shook it like an exorcist attempting to rid a spirit of the demons of disappointment, and years of despair. It had been a good afternoon's work. A fitting finale to three years of preparation, and endeavour. Dublin are All-Ireland champions.

A new era starts here.

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