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Saturday 25 January 2020

Time for Farrell to reap what he has sown as new era dawns

YOUNG STAR: Jack McCaffrey with manager Dessie Farrell after the All-Ireland MFC semi-final win over Galway in 2011. Photo: SPORTSFILE
YOUNG STAR: Jack McCaffrey with manager Dessie Farrell after the All-Ireland MFC semi-final win over Galway in 2011. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Publicly at least, Jim Gavin was either coy or undecided about the precise effects of the development squad system in Dublin on the depth and standard of the players that replenished his squad over the years.

Before the 2018 All-Ireland final, he was asked whether part of the reason his two break-out players of that summer; Brian Howard and Eoin Murchan, had been so quick adapt was due to their schooling as Dublin minors and Under 21s.

"I think the standard has been consistent, that's great credit to the clubs," Gavin reckoned, "it's the club coaches or school level that are developing these players.

"When they get to the minor and under-20 grade, senior, you are just putting a bit of polish on them. They have developed a lot already."

The numbers, however, are illustrative of the preparatory influence Dessie Farrell had on Dublin football over these past five history-making years.

If Gavin was the meticulous architect of the success, Farrell's work meant that at the very least, some refined materials were used in construction.

In the seven All-Ireland finals Dublin played to win the mythical five-in-a-row (included replays in 2016 and this year), Gavin used 31 players either as starters or from the bench.

Visible

Of these, 13 were coached to some extent by Farrell with either the Dublin minors, Under 21s, development squads or the Na Fianna senior footballers.

Naturally, Farrell's finger prints have been more visible as the years rolled on and the silverware piled up.

In 2015, the start of Dublin's history-making run, just three of the Dublin starters had played under him; Jack McCaffrey, Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny and only one of the used substitutes; John Small.

This year, in the All-Ireland final replay, 11 of the Dublin starting XV and one of the used subs had been coached by Farrell in some capacity .

John Small, Jack McCaffrey, Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny and Paul Mannion were all born in 1993 and had Farrell up through the age grades from Under 13, although Fenton's ascension was an indirect one and inexplicable though it seems, he never played minor for Dublin.

Last year, he recalled "having a frank discussion with Dessie Farrell, one of my heroes, and he told me 'listen, this isn't going to happen for you," although Farrell recalled him for the Under 21s in 2014.

Davy Byrne, Niall Scully and Cormac Costello meanwhile, were all part of the 2012 All-Ireland minor winning team that stands as Dublin's only success at that grade in 35 years.

And though that was their first exposure to Farrell as a coach, they were united again in '14 for a further All-Ireland win at Under 21 level.

Another batch - Con O'Callaghan, Brian Howard and Eoin Murchan -were on the following year's U-21 team, the side that lost by a point to Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final, and again in 2016 - Farrell's last act as a Dublin manager in winning the final All-Ireland before that competition was regraded. One more, Jonny Cooper, played under Farrell this year for Na Fianna.

It is, however, that 1993 group who were with him at the most formative stages of their development.

Last year, after five of them started in the All-Ireland final, McCaffrey reflected happily on their collective journey.

"That's something that I take immense pride in, because we were coached by Dessie Farrell. My father (Noel) was involved as well," he explained.

"When you take a little step back it's kind of great to be able to see his fingerprints on a lot of what has gone on."

Kilkenny agreed he he was "fortunate that Dessie took over our U-13 team."

"And to have him as a role model and a coach from under-13 all the way up to minor was incredible. Dessie was a massive role model for us."

Those players wil backbone Farrell's Dublin senior team as he plots a way to keep the greatest winning run in Gaelic football history going into a new decade and a new era.

But by taking over from Gavin, Farrell can now reap what he has already sown.

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