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Sunday 26 January 2020

Outsider Gilroy was crowned by kingmakers O'Neill and Heffo

Pat O’Neill helped appoint Pat Gilroy
Pat O’Neill helped appoint Pat Gilroy

Two days after 'Pillar' Caffrey stood down as Dublin manager in August 2008 following an All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Tyrone, a feature assessing potential replacements was published in the Evening Herald .

Under the not-altogether original headings 'something old', 'something new', 'something borrowed' and 'something blue', 16 candidates were evaluated by suitability.

The scope of selection was necessarily broad, ranging from Tomás Ó Flaharta to Mick Deegan to Páidí Ó Sé to Brian Mullins.

None of them was Pat Gilroy.

Interviewed that same evening on Newstalk, Charlie Redmond implored the Dublin County Board to break the last taboo and take their search beyond the pale by way of identifying the best possible manager.

"I know a lot of diehard Dubs would frown at the idea of someone from the country coming up and showing us how to play football," Redmond warned. "But maybe the time has come to look at that."

By then, Joe Kernan had already publicly ruled himself out of the running while Jack O'Connor's name was suggested and repeated as the ideal high-achieving non-Dub to take the job Tommy Lyons once described as "the biggest gig in town".

Pat O'Neill, under whom Gilroy won his sole All-Ireland as a player in 1995, was happy to clarify the story of Gilroy's appointment after the St Vincent's man ended the county's Sam Maguire famine in 2011.

Along with Kevin Heffernan, Robbie Kelleher, John Costello and the late Andy Kettle, O'Neill was part of the sub-committee charged with identifying a replacement for Caffrey.

It's probably fair to say they weren't over-burdened in the whittling down stage of the process.

Dublin hadn't won an All-Ireland minor title since 1984.

Their 2003 Under-21 success was the county's first and only at that grade at the time.

Suitable-qualified and interested parties weren't exactly kicking down the door of the boardroom in Parnell Park.

"There was a little bit of stalemate that had developed in the committee meetings and I suggested that Pat could be a candidate," O'Neill revealed in 2011.

"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."

Gilroy had only finished playing earlier that year when St Vincent's won an All-Ireland club title on St Patrick's Day.

Other than a brief player/manager stint with the Marino club, his football management experience was effectively non-existent.

"I was always impressed with him," O'Neill explained.

Intelligent lad

"He's an intelligent lad. Sometimes intelligence can be a bit of a burden too because you can over-assess situations, but he was very good in the dressing room when the strategy was being thought out and the implications for it were being put in place.

"Pat could see the wood from the trees very clearly. That stuck with me."

The rest, as they say...

Tonight, a sub-committee will be formally appointed and issued the same undertaking as O'Neill & Co but the task of identifying a qualified, Dublin-based candidate isn't as complicated this time around.

Assuming Dessie Farrell is not put off by the short notice or bound by previous commitments, he would renew a close relationship forged from his successful days as Dublin minor and Under-21 manager with many of the players who will backbone the team over the next five years.

If continuity is a factor, it would be difficult to ignore Jason Sherlock's work as a forwards coach under Jim Gavin over the past five unbeaten seasons.

Meanwhile, Gilroy's name was thrust into the public conversation earlier this week when his odds dropped, though his interest and availability in taking up where he left off in 2012 are unknown.

There are other viable candidates too and unlike 2008, when the king-makers had to dig deep into left field to unearth a suitable candidate, their only issue this time may deciding which one.

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