Friday 24 May 2019

Dubs delight as Kenny takes over the reins

Gilroy exit was 'like a death in the family': O'Donnell

UP FOR IT: Dublin’s Alan Nolan (l) and Eoghan O’Donnell (c) compete with Galway’s Conor Whelan during their Leinster SHC Round 5 match last June at Pearse Stadium, Galway. Photo: Ray Ryan/Sportsfile
UP FOR IT: Dublin’s Alan Nolan (l) and Eoghan O’Donnell (c) compete with Galway’s Conor Whelan during their Leinster SHC Round 5 match last June at Pearse Stadium, Galway. Photo: Ray Ryan/Sportsfile

Mattie Kenny was the preference of the Dublin hurling squad to take over as manager from Pat Gilroy, according to Eoghan O'Donnell.

The Whitehall Colmcille man admits now that Gilroy's unexpected decision to step down from that post felt "almost like a death in the family" when he learned of it.

Yet the presence of Kenny as a ready, willing and very obviously able replacement has quelled some of the angst over Gilroy's abrupt departure.

"Mattie probably was the first choice between the players," O'Donnell readily admits, "his record speaks for itself."

As it happens, O'Donnell was one of three Dublin players who met with Kenny in the Clayton Hotel in Liffey Valley last Friday "just to go over plans for the year".

At that meeting, Kenny "made it clear that this isn't a transition period, we are going to build on what happened last year and we won't reinvent the wheel".

O'Donnell was in Croatia when Pat Gilroy phoned him late on a Sunday in mid-September.

At first, he admits now: "I thought it was one of the lads taking the pi** out of me, I couldn't believe it at all."

Then, as the reality of what Gilroy had called to tell him set in, O'Donnell feeling "like a death in the family almost, it was a shock to everyone".

"We had such a good year last year and it came out of the blue completely.

"It was like bomb dropped.

"There was disbelief and there was a few phone calls after to see if we could make it work and heat said no, he was going and would be away for most of the year.

"And that put a nail in it….you can't do anything about what is gone."

"It was more the disbelief part. next year is my sixth year un Dublin and I only turned 23 last week.

"Before Pat rang there was a buzz that I have never seen around Dublin hurling, lads couldn't wait to get back to the gym and it was August and lads were meeting to do programs and do hill runs in Phoenix Park.

"So when Pat announced it things took a back seat because it was such a blow."

Gilroy's sole year in charge, O'Donnell stresses, was more successful than results indicate.

"I think someone told me a stat, we were leading in the 70th minute of every Championship game this year," he notes.

"So if you'd offered us that at the start of the year, results aside, we'd have bitten your hand off for it and used it as a progression for the next year.

"It's pretty obvious how it was a blow to all of Dublin hurling when we heard."

So naturally, he has been in contact with a couple of Cuala's players to find out what's coming down the tracks over the coming months.

"It's a bit like they're a bit brainwashed," O'Donnell laughs, "they're just saying that the sun shines from everywhere from him!

"So we took that with a pinch of salt.

"When players are winning thing they'll always say that this method is the best for success.

"I've only met Mattie once myself.

"He came across very positive, had a massive structure in place so when we get out in front in the team sessions it'll become clearer to lads who haven't had him before."

Clearly though, Kenny's focused, meticulous approach looks easily transferable to the inter-county stage.

"I think Cuala and our style last year have very similar styles," O'Donnell reckons.

"It's all about how hard you work when you don't have the ball so it's all about tackling, it's all about work rate, hooks and blocks.

"I'm sure it'll take a small bit of adjusting for him but his expertise from the meeting itself looks very positive.

"Everyone is delighted, all the backroom team around him, all the players are available, we're delighted with how it's shaping up so far."

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