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King of the 'Castle

TODAY, he's better known as father of his illustrious All Star namesake ... but Dessie Dolan Snr is a Gael of substance in his own right.

He has achieved a multitude during half-a-century of playing with, and coaching, Gaelic football teams.

This Sunday he will attempt one of his most daunting Houdini acts: magically disappearing St Vincent's from this year's Leinster club SFC race.

The reigning All-Ireland champions are 1/8 while the odds against Garrycastle, provincial champions of 2011, are further lengthened by the semi-final location: Parnell Park, citadel of St Vincent's.

Still, we shouldn't forget that Garrycastle were being dismissed as yesterday's team when Dolan took charge at the start of the season - and were still playing in that vein when on the brink of elimination at the Westmeath SFC group stages last August.Three months later, they're just an hour from reaching a third Leinster final since 2009. Stranger things?

DAUNTING

Their veteran manager, who turned 70 in August, is relishing what he terms a "daunting challenge". High on his priority list, this week, will be devising what many previous managers have tried with negligible success: a plan to stop Diarmuid Connolly.

"Probably the best overall forward in the country," he surmises. "While James O'Donoghue is regarded as the best, a great man to score and a great man to get a goal - but I think the power of Connolly, and the ability and pace of him, everything about his game.

"He was marking (Portlaoise's) Cahir Healy, who's an absolutely outstanding defender ... and Connolly treated him like a baby, he just went by him for sport. In my opinion he was the Footballer of the Year, but there again that doesn't always apply."

Dolan would probably concede that his forthright opinions aren't always listened to by people in authority. As a coach/manager he has won county championships with clubs in Westmeath, Longford and Offaly; he has managed Longford and Leitrim; his name has been routinely linked with the Westmeath job whenever a vacancy occurred... but he has never filled the hotseat in his native land.

Any regrets? "Without a shadow of a doubt," Dolan affirms. He then recalls how, in 1977 and again in '79, having won the Westmeath 'treble' each time with Athlone, he was offered the manager's post by influential county board figure Brother Sebastian ... "and I wasn't ready for it".

Later, when his coaching CV had expanded significantly and he was ready, it never materialised. Sin scéal eile - a very long one, too. Suffice to say, that Westmeath boat has sailed. And even if it were to somehow happen, his county - and everyone else in Leinster - is now playing an impossible game of catch-up on the Dubs.

He was "shocked", like everybody else, when Jim Gavin's men didn't frank their unbeatable early-summer form to retain Sam. And he rejects any post-Donegal reassessments that talk of a 'Dublin dynasty' is overblown.

"I think it was two years ago or three years ago: the GAA gave Dublin eight million. Now, I don't know how true that (figure) is. And I can't understand, for the life of me ... I mean, you put two and two together in that situation and you say: 'Do the GAA want Dublin to be more successful than anyone else?' In terms of every time Dublin are in a semi-final or final, they fill Croke Park. Is that the ambition for the GAA now?"

He goes on: "As far as I'm aware, there's fully-professional GAA coaches in most clubs in Dublin now. That has to bring the standard up in Dublin. You have the numbers already there in terms of population.

PINNACLE

"I mean, when I was down at Leitrim, I had to pick from about 50 club footballers (in the right age bracket). A panel of 30 ... whereas Dublin have probably 50,000 to pick from. And that's the difference."

A Leinster title, he argues, is now the highest pinnacle that Westmeath, Offaly, even Kildare or Meath, can aim for - and even that is "an outside bet".

He doesn't have a solution, except to say: If they gave Dublin eight million, why not give it to Offaly or Westmeath or some of the Leinster counties? To try and bring them up. Because obviously money talks. I was down in Leitrim, and I had to train at the back of a pitch in Cloone on stones that we put sand over ... so we wouldn't break our ankles."

"Other things bug me as well," he declares. "I mean, the state of refereeing at county level bugs me. I think it's time for the GAA to get the best 20 or 30 young referees in the country and make them professional.

"I'm not advocating professionalism for the footballers, but I am for the (inter-county) referees. For the simple reason that you get two referees refereeing a match one Sunday after the other; you'd think they were totally different rules. So I reckon employ them, make them full-time professionals, coach them, train them, they're all on the one wavelength - and then you have consistency of refereeing."

The veteran coach is warming to his theme: "God knows, the GAA have enough money. Christ's sake, they don't know what to do with their money. They're sending money out to China now to create a league ... why not take the bull by the horns?

"They're afraid of their life of professionalism," he concludes. "Even at club level - we've 120 sessions, between matches and training, done this year so far. That's an awful commitment for amateur players. And then to get a referee that will make a decision that will screw you ... "


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