herald

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Lilies and Royals have to look at their structure

Dublin’s recent success has its roots in how the team handled earlier defeats says Barney

Dub legend: Barney Rock at the launch of this year’s Bord Gáis Energy GAA Legends Tour Series at Croke Park. Details at www.crokepark.ie/gaa-museum
Dub legend: Barney Rock at the launch of this year’s Bord Gáis Energy GAA Legends Tour Series at Croke Park. Details at www.crokepark.ie/gaa-museum

It wasn't that Barney Rock didn't believe David Hickey and his bullish prophecies.

It was just the scale of Hickey's prediction that he couldn't quite fathom.

"No, no, and I don't think anybody ever did," Rock-the-elder immediately responds when asked if he ever foresaw Dublin being so far in front of the bunch of counties euphemistically dubbed 'the chasing pack.'

Then, he recalls Hickey and his big talk about this generation of Dublin players and the potential therein.

"I always remember talking to John McCarthy," he says.

Brian Fenton of Dublin celebrates with fans following the Leinster SFC quarter-final win over Wicklow at O’Moore Park
Brian Fenton of Dublin celebrates with fans following the Leinster SFC quarter-final win over Wicklow at O’Moore Park

"David Hickey was involved in the backroom (under Pat Gilroy) and always saying it was a very special bunch of players.

"He even was saying at that stage that they were going to win five in a row," Rock recalls.

"That was away back, and then all of a sudden they were beaten by Mayo (in 2012) and then they came back and won again.

Positive

"He was still positive that the team was still capable of winning.

"Now they have done five, but it's not in a row.

Kildare manager Cian O’Neill after his side’s loss to Carlow
Kildare manager Cian O’Neill after his side’s loss to Carlow

"It's going back as far as then really, and Hickey played in all those big matches under Heffo and could see the talent in the group."

Hence Rock and McCarthy, two icons of Dublin football, have had to concede defeat in the achievement stakes to their sons over the past few years.

Quite how far Dean and James go past their famous football fathers is difficult to predict and it's true that no-one sees a knock-out punch coming until it lands.

But currently, at least on ground level, the landscape couldn't be any more welcoming for Dublin.

Mayo, their annual bête noir, have been beaten early again and face the long road back to Croke Park.

Even if it's a path well travelled at this stage, they have staggered on it often enough in the past to make a terminal fall a genuine possibility.

Tyrone have suffered defeat too, and the question marks Dublin raised about their tactical inflexibility last August are now beginning to flash loudly above their heads as warning signs.

Meath and Kildare meanwhile, managed to hit new modern lows for provincial disappointment on precisely the same day last Sunday.

"When you consider the population between Meath and Kildare, they overwhelm the likes of Longford, Carlow and Laois," Rock points out.

"Realistically that's something that the Meath and Kildare county boards will have to look at, which way they're doing their development.

"I think back in the mid noughties, we were getting beaten by all these teams; Meath, Kildare, Westmeath beat us, and those teams went on and won Leinster.

"So Dublin have probably been going back that far working on it.

"At the minute, it's only because we've been winning Leinsters (that there's a problem), people say Leinster is not competitive but when Dublin were getting beaten it was competitive.

"It's just Dublin have sort of steam-rolled and moved forward."

Rock was on a Dublin team that went for seven Leinster titles in a row in 1980, only to run into a group of Offaly footballers beginning to develop a taste for ruining historical victories.

Enigmatic

"If Dublin are beaten at some stage," he points out, "who knows what will be the reaction from there?"

Still, the only blips on the Dublin seasonal radar have been the injuries to Bernard Brogan and Cian O'Sullivan and the ongoing absence of Diarmuid Connolly.

Jim Gavin's stance that the door will remain open for Dublin's most enigmatic footballer is reflective of his undeniable talent but it would constitute something of a shock for Connolly to come back so deep into the season.

"I think they just have to move on," Rock reckons.

"Only the inside people know what's going on and I think from Diarmuid's point of view, he's an exceptional footballer.

"The three or four things he did in the All-Ireland final here last year, not too many players will ever do.

"But it's like everything.

"Everybody moves on. And you have to grow with it and you have to accept it.

"People will be saying 'Diarmuid should be back,' but the lads are going out at the minute.

"They're performing well," Rock stresses.

"And the big test will be the Super Eight, when it comes to that stage.

"Because Diarmuid had been very good - as had Paul Flynn.

"So," Rock concludes, "it's a time maybe for new people to come through."

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