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Twists and turns add to Dublin's odyssey

Farrell has not been a lucky general and the departure of Jack is just the latest hurdle to jump

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Jack McCaffrey’s exit from the Dublin panel has dented their hopes of adding to the history books by making it six All-Irelands in a row

Jack McCaffrey’s exit from the Dublin panel has dented their hopes of adding to the history books by making it six All-Irelands in a row

Jack McCaffrey’s exit from the Dublin panel has dented their hopes of adding to the history books by making it six All-Irelands in a row

"I've always taken the approach that there's two ways to live your life," reflected Dessie Farrell, just a few weeks into his appointment as Dublin manager.

"One, as a timid soul, sort of year by year, month by month, week by week, possibly even hour by hour, as a timid soul.

"Or the other is to perhaps do the things that frighten you at times."

Farrell was referencing his decision to take the Dublin hot seat for what was simultaneously the best and worst job in football.

The best because he was inheriting a history-making group of footballers, who despite the garlands that have been thrown at their feet in recent years, have showed now sign of slowing down. Last year's drawn All-Ireland final bore witness to that.

The worst because he was attempting to fill the giant boots of Jim Gavin and was taking charge of a county that has come to expect the kind of success that Farrell's playing career will have informed him is so desperately hard won.

Prowess

So a penny for Farrell's thoughts as Jack McCaffrey stepped away this week, another hurdle for him to overcome. McCaffrey is known for his attacking prowess, as witnessed by his haul of 1-3 in last year's drawn All-Ireland final which saw him score points with his right foot, left foot and fist but it also leaves a vacancy in Farrell's defensive options, which Dublin haven't been able to replenish with quite the same consistency as their attacking unit.

There has been a shifting of responsibility year on year but of the eight recognised defenders that featured in last year's drawn final, six of them saw action in the 2015 decider which kick-started their five in-a-row run.

In attack, only Ciarán Kilkenny and Dean Rock started both of those finals (2015 and 2019 draw) with totems like Paul Flynn, Alan and Bernard Brogan retiring Paul Mannion, Con O'Callaghan and Brian Howard moved seamlessly into senior roles in their stead.

So the loss of one of Dublin's most influential players in McCaffrey is a setback Farrell could hardly have foresaw and follows the tricky path his first few months in charge have followed.

He wasn't officially appointed until December 12 and that late ascension, combined with a team holiday meant he didn't pull his frontliners together until mid-January. By the time the curtains were pulled down on the season in March due to the Covid-19 outbreak, Farrell had been working with his squad for less than nine weeks - not much time to put your stamp on a team. So it would be easy to suggest that, Farrell has been anything but a lucky general.

However there'll be little sympathy for Dublin. And any lack of exposure to his players is tempered by the fact that he knows so many of the key figures intimately.

In Farrell's first year with the Dublin minors in 2011, they were chinned by Tipperary in the All-Ireland final.

A couple of hours later, Stephen Cluxton would produce a seminal moment for the county but there was something even bigger brewing in that minor match. Farrell's side housed some of the players that would deliver the five in-a-row including McCaffrey, Kilkenny, Mannion, Eric Lowndes, Cormac Costello and John Small. When they made amends and went all the way the following year, David Byrne and Niall Scully were more established.

Farrell's first year with the U21s in 2013 was over almost as soon as it got going when Longford turned them over in Parnell Park. However, he'd deliver All-Irelands in 2014 and '17 where he'd work with the likes of Brian Fenton, Eoin Murchan and O'Callaghan as well as a host of others who have seen action so far this year and will likely take on more responsibility in the coming seasons. Getting to know his players won't be an issue in the way it might be for other first season managers.

There are other entries in the credit column too. Dublin will look to have their club action tidied up by the weekend of September 19/20, a week after county panels are permitted to return, meaning he'll have access to the majority of his players from the first available dates.

They are aided too by the decision to stick with the provincial system in the revised SFC. Dublin won their Leinster fixtures by an average of 17.6 points per game across their five in-a-row run, meaning they have time to find their feet. The provincial final is scheduled for November 21 and will coincide with the centenary of Bloody Sunday.

They can reasonably expect to reach an All-Ireland semi-final before their mettle will be truly tested by whomever emerges from Ulster. They also know that their run to a sixth consecutive All-Ireland success won't go past five games, compared to the nine they had to navigate last year.

But if Farrell's first few months are anything to go by, there will be more twists and turns before their year is done.