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Wednesday 22 January 2020

Players' man Dessie the perfect fit for Dubs job

New Dublin boss Dessie Farrell was a fan favourite during his playing days. Photo: Sportsfile
New Dublin boss Dessie Farrell was a fan favourite during his playing days. Photo: Sportsfile

I'm sure there was a bout of angst among most of the Dublin players on Thursday, and over the previous 11 days as the process to find a successor to Jim Gavin accelerated towards its conclusion, predictable though it ultimately was.

All of that will have eased when Dessie Farrell's name was revealed, to no-one's great surprise.

There are few enough people who could stand in front of that panel now and instantly command their respect.

But Dessie is definitely one of them.

There's obviously a credibility issue walking into a dressing-room where some players have seven All-Ireland medals, but that won't be a factor now for Dessie.

Most of the lads will have played under him at minor and Under-21 level. The rest will know him from his work with the GPA.

All will have an awareness for his passion for football, for players and most importantly now, for Dublin football.

He won't be an exact replica of Jim but they are, in some ways, similar characters.

Dessie comes across as softly-spoken and droll but I think he'll bring more of his personality to the role than Jim ever did.

Jim was always big on nurturing the person behind the player and naturally enough, given his time with the GPA, Dessie has a similar outlook on how to get the best out of players.

I know from playing with Dessie and from involvement with the GPA that he is big on making sure players have the rest of their lives in the best possible working order.

His empathy for players is unconditional.

He understands the needs of young men nowadays and how a settled private and professional or educational life can allow them to find new levels on the football pitch.

Naturally, his next move in assembling a backroom team is crucial.

For most of his managerial stints, Mick Galvin has been one of Dessie's most trusted lieutenants and like Dessie, Mick is very much a player's man.

He possesses a sharp football brain and he's the sort of person who makes himself available for players to talk to at any time, whatever their need.

But what Dessie requires most of all is a couple of top-level coaches, innovative thinkers who can keep training fresh and productive for a squad of players who have been on tour for a long time now.

What he won't do, however, is come in with a slash hook and start waving it indiscriminately.

Dessie was an important player in 1996 when Mickey Whelan came in as manager of a Dublin team that similarly, were All-Ireland champions.

Mickey struggled to get his ideas across, partly because so much of what he tried to do was so different to Pat O'Neill.

But also, in some cases, because of the stubbornness of some of those players to change.

The current bunch are a very mature group, humble enough to know that they still have plenty to learn despite all their success.

So his job is totally different to that of Pat Gilroy or Tommy Lyons.

It's not as if the squad needs a clear-out or any deliberate infusion of young blood in order to be competitive.

There is no great need to tear up their tactical game plan or to establish a different culture in the group.

Clearly, there's little wrong with how Dublin play or think.

There are no prima donnas that need to be put back in their boxes and there's no slackers poisoning the mood of the place.

Emerge

Everyone, young and old, will get their opportunity but it's only natural that different players will emerge under a new regime.

Take Conor McHugh, for example.

Hugely talented, McHugh hasn't quite cut it at senior inter-county level amid some of the stiffest competition for inside forward places in any squad ever.

But with Na Fianna this year and especially, the Dublin Under-21s in 2014, McHugh played his best football while Dessie was his manager.

And there's probably another couple of Conor McHughs in there now, suspecting all along that Jim didn't really fancy them, who now have a manager with no preconceptions , with whom to make a fresh case for themselves.

One of the things that most appeals to people about Dessie is his loyalty.

In 2001, he made a stand for Tommy Carr despite the fact that Dublin hadn't won a Leinster title in the four years of Carr's reign.

Dessie was captain, though, and he felt that the bond created in the camp that year when they had that two-game battle with Kerry in Thurles was something they could grow into an All-Ireland winning team.

Whether his loyalty to Carr was misguided or not isn't the point.

Dessie went to great lengths to address delegates at a county board meeting and stand up for what he believed in, even if his efforts ultimately failed.

Streak

With the GPA, he was never afraid to go to war either, regardless of how unpopular it might have made him in certain corners of the GAA.

That passion is infectious. When you have a leader willing to go the extra step for you at their own expense like that, it's easy to row in behind him and give a little more of yourself back in return.

It's not an ideal time to take the job - mid-December on a five-year unbeaten streak.

But that's not how Dessie will think.

Initially, his goals will be relatively small.

A good National League. A healthy squad. The quick and smooth transmission of his ideas to the players.

After that, just like Jim, the real brass tacks of the job is essentially how the team performs in a couple of big games in July/August.

There's no guarantee that Dublin will win the next All-Ireland, or indeed any of the next three.

However, in appointing a driven, experienced, passionate manager like Dessie Farrell, they have given themselves the best possible chance.

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