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Failure drove us on to the great heights

Dublin coach and selector Darcy pays tribute to role of Sherlock in capital's five in-a-row story

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Declan Darcy, who was a key member of Jim Gavin’s management team who achieved immortality when winning five All-Irelands in-a-row

Declan Darcy, who was a key member of Jim Gavin’s management team who achieved immortality when winning five All-Irelands in-a-row

SPORTSFILE

Declan Darcy, who was a key member of Jim Gavin’s management team who achieved immortality when winning five All-Irelands in-a-row

Declan Darcy has identified the addition of Jason Sherlock to the Dublin senior management team in late 2014 as a key moment in their tactical evolution and ultimately, a driver behind their subsequent five All-Ireland titles in-a-row.

Sherlock was drafted in as attacking coach following the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Donegal, Jim Gavin's sole championship loss in seven years as Dublin manager.

And Darcy, who performed the same role with Dublin's defence, explained that collectively, they made it "quite easy" to play against a deep-lying, zonal defences over the subsequent seasons to Sherlock's arrival.

Speaking about the initial challenge of meeting such a tactic, Darcy stressed: "It wasn't about technical ability,"

"Since you were a kid, you were taught to play football 15 v 15. All of a sudden, this system that's alien to you is put in front of you.

"You have to think and understand why they are doing it and try to dissect and start picking holes in it.

"The one thing that I love, and Jason Sherlock has a huge part in that, it was quite easy to play against that system in the end. It was a challenge in the beginning.

Curve

"It became easy in the end; if teams set up that way, we were happy with it. That was nice to see that curve."

Speaking to former Dublin footballer Eamonn Fennell on Dublin GAA's The Hop Ball, Darcy revealed how he used the Donegal defeat to motivate himself in his role as coach.

"It had a massive effect on me personally," admitted Darcy, who alleviated any blame for the defeat from the Dublin players.

"Particularly, myself and Jim, it hit us ... It hit me very hard. I suppose there were lots of learnings in defeat."

Specifically, Darcy says the selection of Cian O'Sullivan, who had suffered concussion in a training camp before the game was a mistake.

Equally, with the benefit of hindsight, Darcy admits that the team they fielded was "front-loaded" with scorers and "lacked balance".

"We were very hard on ourselves," he stressed. "There was no blaming the players, whatsoever. You'd often look in the mirror before you'd start giving out about others."

Dublin conceded 3-14 that day to Donegal, who then lost the All-Ireland final to a Kerry side who effectively mimicked their style in the decider.

"I put 3-14 on the inside of my locker, 3-14 on my laptop, 3-14 on my printer," Darcy revealed.

"Everyday I woke up, it was on my locker. It grounded me. I knew when I had to go to work, I knew what was at stake. It definitely gave me huge motivation.

"We had MacBooks, we'd be showing players clips. I had it on my laptop, 3-14. Everything we were doing, 'This is why. We don't want to go back'. I was defensive coach, so to concede 3-14 hurt me a bit harder than most.

"Paul Flynn said, 'Why do you have 3-14 written on your computer, Dec?' I says, 'That's the f***ing score Donegal got against us. That's what motivates me. I hope it motivates you'.

"It grounded the group. I firmly believe that we wouldn't have been as successful as we were because it gave us that edge of thought, that deep down thought that at any given day, this can be taken away from you."

Darcy also explained that the relative lack of success that he, Sherlock and Gavin had enjoyed during their playing careers - and the lessons garnered from the much more frequent failures - kept them hugely vigilant about potential pitfalls.

"I've had a lot of hurt. It's been well documented that the coaching group didn't have the glory days that we would have liked (as players).

"We had peaks. But we suffered more than we won in our careers. And I think that gave us that edge to what we were doing.

"We understood the pitfalls for Dublin players. That's why we paid more attention to the media, to protecting them from the media.

"Not sheltering them. But keeping them away from potential pitfalls. You never know. It could be a simple comment. You just never know."

The fingerprints of Darcy and Gavin can be traced on six All-Ireland senior titles and three under-21 wins, yet the former Leitrim captain was adamant that the success of the group ran far deeper than medals and trophies.

"I like to think that any player who has been in that environment will be a better person," he noted.

"Some people say that because you've been successful, because you've won an All-Ireland, it entitles you to be this, that or the other.

"But I think it's deeper than that. Yes, they have an All-Ireland medal but they're better because of the experience and because of the environment they've created.

"When you sit in that dressing-room and you have a look around, if you're not energised by what you see in the room, I don't know what you can do.

"Will be there ever be a group of players put together like that again? I honestly don't know. Maybe. Maybe not.

"But my God, if you're in that room, you make sure that you make the very best of the opportunity you have. Because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You have to squeeze as much as you can out of it."