Thursday 21 February 2019

Gilroy move could prove master stroke

Former Dub football boss will shake up hurling scene

New Dublin hurling manager Pat Gilroy. Pic: Sportsfile
New Dublin hurling manager Pat Gilroy. Pic: Sportsfile

At the time of Pat Gilroy's appointment as Dublin senior football manager in October 2008, it was assumed that Kevin Heffernan had conjured his name from thin air and presented it to the other members of the committee charged with identifying a repl acement for 'Pillar' Caffrey.

Rumours had it at the time that Heffernan was Gilroy's godfather, a story the latter denied. But the two were tight.

Jackie Gilroy, Pat's father, was a close friend of Heffernan's.

Their proximity to one another melded with the remoteness of Gilroy's claims on the job to form an accepted wisdom that it was Heffernan who made the recommendation.

"It was I who suggested Pat," clarified Pat O'Neill in 2012.

O'Neill managed Gilroy to his only All-Ireland as a player in 1995 and was part of that king-making committee along with Robbie Kelleher, Heffernan, John Costello and then county board chairman, Gerry Harrington.

"There was a little bit of stalemate that had developed in the committee meetings and I suggested that Pat could be a candidate," explained O'Neill.

"Initially, one of our main principles (Heffernan) on the committee said, 'No, he's a little bit young. But maybe later'.

"The following morning he rang me and said it was a good idea, let's go for it."

Quite who ushered Gilroy's name from the margins towards prominence for the hurling job over the past few weeks isn't yet clear but all that's relevant now is that Dublin's Management Committee thought it an idea good enough to agree upon.

It says something about his standing within Dublin GAA that Gilroy was preferred to a candidate as qualified and available as Mattie Kenny. Indeed, there was a kind of intoxicating intrigue to Gilroy's candidacy.

He may not be au fait with the nuances of the inter-county hurling scene - but that may be no bad thing either.

Neither will Gilroy be particularly familiar yet with too many of the players he will attempt to construct a team from but again, there's no harm in assessing a group that contains gripes and divisions with a fresh pair of eyes.

Dublin's management committee will have noted that while they are taking a risk in appointing someone with such little recent hurling experience, Gilroy wasn't weighed down by qualifications for the football job when he took it either.

Support structures

But his ability to erect the necessary support structures, to build a team containing the right sort of characters, a game-plan and - vitally - drive that plan towards fruition, made him the man who rang in Dublin football's golden era.

"Pat could see the wood from the trees very clearly. That stuck with me," O'Neill explained. "And his ability to work with a strategy in an organised fashion."

Gilroy will now assemble a backroom team, that it is believed will include former Galway manager Anthony Cunningham, and given his lack of experience in hurling management, that task is of greater importance than when he engaged it as football manager.

Initially, it was Mickey Whelan who did almost all of the football coaching in 2009. Gilroy oversaw every aspect of the operation, delegating where necessary, and he will adopt a similar structure once his management group has been appointed.

Gilroy is 46 now and has been living in Dublin since last summer after taking over as Managing Director of Designer Group, an Irish-owned engineering company based in Dublin. So his return to GAA management shouldn't come as a shock, even if the role may not have been the one anyone envisaged.

He finds the hurlers at a low point just now. Results have been awful, defections have been many and disillusionment is rife.

Last year, one of the many front-liners to walk from Ger Cunningham's squad, Michael Carton, spoke out against what he felt was "a toxic environment".

"There was no clarity, people weren't getting on, and it just wasn't a nice place to be," he explained.

Cunningham's man-management caused friction between himself and his squad, a group that crumbled in quality with each passing year due mostly to his methods.

By contrast, Gilroy's communication has always been considered to be excellent, even among those who failed to find favour with him, and even if the message wasn't always flattering.

Paddy Andrews, who missed out in 2011 after being dropped in March of that year, has spoken about how Gilroy was '"fully right in his decision" and how that proved to be "a light switch" moment for him.

Jonny Cooper, credited Gilroy with telling him how he "just wasn't good enough" in 2012 and providing specifics as to why - a revelation that forced him to improve and become a four-time All-Ireland medallist.

For all that, there's no doubt Dublin have taken a chance with Gilroy, just as much as Gilroy has with the Dublin hurlers.

Then again, as Gilroy has already proved, sometimes the unexpected appointments work best.

Already, he has aroused the curiosity of the hurling world.

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