20 things Pat Gilroy changed in Dublin
Published 18/09/2011 | 05:00
1 No need for gun-slinging every day
Dublin had a whopping 30 goals in their first 12 games, but have only scored four in their last six and none in their last two. However, although the goals have dried up -- and players like Bernard Brogan are not as prolific as in other years -- it's not the end of the world. Under Gilroy, they work much harder, closing down space for opponents. And the team concedes only half as much -- take last year's five-goal collapse against Meath, for example. As one player said: "Our 2006 match against Mayo will always be remembered as a classic, but we're sick of losing classics."
Gilroy once joked that he loved listening to Lyric FM because there was no GAA news on the station. He learned from the previous regime, however, which had a strained relationship with the press. After taking the job, Gilroy met with journalists, listened to their requirements but promised nothing. Two days before each league and championship game he holds a press conference, thereby managing the flow of information out of the camp. Players are not encouraged to speak to the press outside of this format and expectation levels are kept to a minimum.
Tommy Lyons once described managing Dublin as the Manchester United of the GAA. Under Gilroy, there has almost been greater hype around the county's hurlers this season. On the Tuesday after they beat Donegal, the squad was measured for suits by a Louis Copeland tailor but they won't actually see those outfits until after today's final. There are no side-shows. Gilroy must have learned from his time on the 1992 squad when some got carried away with making ads, handing out car stickers and taking part in fashion shows. There is no such carry-on now -- RTE asked for the two Brogans to make a presentation at last weekend's People of the Year awards, but the request was turned down. The final run-in has been expertly managed. It's one of Gilroy's greatest achievements.
4 New players
New blood will infuse life and energy anywhere, but Gilroy has been seriously busy in his three-year term unearthing a batch of raw talent like underage basketball international Michael Darragh Macauley, who was perhaps the find of 2010. James McCarthy, once a target for AFL club North Melbourne, has nailed down a defensive role while Mick Fitzsimons, Kevin McManamon and Cian O'Sullivan are all up to championship pace. Gilroy has persisted with them and the freshness he has mixed in has helped the team adapt to a new playing style.
5 Training sessions
On January 4, the 6.0am training sessions started and lasted an entire month. 'Standards' was the familiar cry from the manager as he encouraged his side through Mickey Whelan's drills. One morning, they had all just left DCU when a text landed informing them of a challenge match that evening. 'Bring swimwear for afterwards,' it finished. Those sessions suited Gilroy, an early riser himself, because he likes to test the mettle of his players while also giving him the opportunity to hold two training sessions per day.
6 The bigger, the better
Alan Hubbard is a natural, speedy defender but while he has regularly tasted league action he hasn't become a summer regular. Instead, big powerful athletes like of Mick Fitzsimons, Cian O'Sullivan, Rory O'Carroll and James McCarthy, who all stand at 6'1'', have been blooded into defensive duties. Ger Brennan and Kevin Nolan are no slouches either. Both players are six foot. Gilroy's regime likes purpose, physique and power in defence. You don't have to be a natural defender to make his back six and he makes no apologies for that.
7 Junior ranks
Often, GAA managers refuse to even consider junior or intermediate teams to boost their reserves because they reckon players operating in those environs are not up to scratch. Gilroy is not one of those. Denis Bastick, who got his first chance under Paul Caffrey, Eoghan O'Gara and Mick Fitzsimons have all been promoted from that terrain. All three won All-Ireland junior medals in 2008. Darren Daly is there too.
8 No nonsense
There's no sign of a blue book; the subs and selectors don't hug each other on the sideline and the players don't walk up to the Hill linking arms. Gilroy's camp just gets on with it, something former player Robbie Kelleher pointed to last week. "I'm very impressed with the discipline and focus Pat has brought to his players," he said. "He has taken away a lot of the nonsense that was there -- this nonsense of paying tribute to the Hill and kissing the badge, that kind of carry-on."
9 Putting his own stamp on things
Gilroy is his own man. Even on Friday, with the biggest game of his life approaching, he was far away from the hype. He is managing director of Dalkia, the French energy management services company, and he addressed the Irish French Chamber of Commerce in Arklow. He has never been afraid to make hard calls. In 2009 he sent Diarmuid Connolly home from La Manga for missing an early morning training session. A year on, he decided that Ciaran Whelan was no longer suited to midfield. Free-taker Conal Keaney went to the hurlers because his game time was receding, while 2008 All Star Shane Ryan drifted quickly out of the picture. Many Dublin fans would have questioned these calls, but Gilroy stood true to his beliefs. As one player said: "It's his way or the highway."
Free-taking has been an issue for the Dubs since Charlie Redmond retired in 1997 -- they even resorted to Brian Stynes taking them from the hand in the 2000 Leinster final against Kildare. Mossy Quinn and Mark Vaughan looked to have solved it at different stages, but their form slipped. With Keaney gone to the hurlers, Vaughan out of the loop and Quinn on the bench, their free-taking worries weren't going to be eased. Gilroy called on Stephen Cluxton and the goalkeeper is the team's third highest scorer. His free and 45 were crucial against Donegal.
11 Short kick-outs
Under Gilroy, Stephen Cluxton has been handed the responsibility of launching attacks with the kick-outs. Dublin only win 25 per cent of kick-outs to midfield, so something had to be done. Gilroy has had to adapt. Paul Flynn, Kevin Nolan or Barry Cahill now spread out to the flanks to get ball and build from the back. Kerry homed in on this tactic in '09, closing down the space around the sidelines and forcing Dublin to kick it long where they lost the battle. They will do the same again today, so Gilroy and Cluxton must have something else up their sleeves.
Mentally, Dublin were beaten in the opening minutes of the 2009 encounter with Kerry. Gilroy has drafted in sports psychologist Caroline Currid to develop their mental strength -- she previously worked with the Tipperary hurlers and Tyrone footballers. For years, Dublin have been perceived as flaky but this year, against Wexford and Donegal, they showed more determination than ever. After winning the Leinster title, captain Bryan Cullen declared that "the season starts here", an acknowledgement that another provincial title was of little use to them. Trailing by three and smothered by Donegal, they could easily have reverted to type, but they dug deeper than in years. They are mentally stronger for the experience and it will help today.
13 No rising panic
They might have fallen into that hole against Wexford, but one of Gilroy's hallmarks is a refusal to panic. In the space of seven minutes that day, they turned a four-point deficit into a winning position. Likewise, when they could have bottled it against Donegal they showed serious resolve. Incidentally, Gilroy also refused to let Diarmuid Connolly's red card against Donegal turn into a circus. Instead, by all accounts, they spotted a procedural glitch in the red card administration and saw their player reprieved on a technicality. Had it been handled differently, the whole issue could have blown up in Dublin's face and they'd face Kerry without a guy who has scored 5-31 in all games this season.
14 Back-room team
The previous management featured about 20 hands-on specialists and they were quite visible as well -- we even saw them taking on Mayo coach John Morrison in 2006. Gilroy's ensemble, however, is more low key. The likes of Davy Hickey, Mickey Whelan and Paddy O'Donoghue, like to keep a low profile while the stats team, including Ray Boyne and Paul Griffin, operate from a corporate box at Croke Park for games and are seldom seen. Only Gilroy was available for interview at the recent media briefing.
15 Reducing scoreable frees
Ger Brennan and Kevin Nolan were often pinpointed for conceding silly frees in scoreable areas, but it's an area the manager has overseen noticeable improvement in. They've only conceded 10 scoreable frees over the past five games; a massive plus after falling to pieces in this department in their last two outings of 2010. Tactically, they're more astute and concede frees further from goal.
16 Rejuvenation of existing players
When Bryan Cullen was whipped off after 20 minutes of Dublin's 17-point 2009 hammering to Kerry, everyone feared his inter-county career was over. Today, though, he captains the team in an All-Ireland final against the same opposition. It has been a remarkable turnaround. Serious work has also gone into Bernard Brogan, who was dogged by Gilroy at a number of training sessions and made to stand in at wing-back to learn to tackle and harass opponents properly. Likewise, his brother Alan, who didn't even start against Kerry in '09 but is now just one good game away from Footballer of the Year.
The Dublin of old frequently scored for fun against teams but also conceded bucket-loads. Initially, Gilroy went along with the old system in his first season but that heavy defeat to Kerry prompted a total rethink and a system alien to Dublin football -- the introduction of the blanket defence; a method which still invites 12 players behind the ball once you cross their '50'. It took a while for it to bed in and they shipped a few heavy defeats in the process. Gradually, though, they've adapted and refined the template somewhat by breaking quickly out of attack in numbers.
18 Keeping the faith
There were times when Gilroy must have felt like washing his hands of Eoghan O'Gara. When fully fit, O'Gara can be a force of nature but there is no middle ground. He has also been loyal to Denis Bastick who is prone to flashes of temper, having been involved in the Battle of Omagh and a sideline fracas with Kieran Donaghy in the past. Under Gilroy's watch, though, he's become a key part of the team. Eamon Fennell is another to benefit from the manager's loyalty. He was frequently selected for Gilroy's teams when fit despite the long-standing saga between himself, his club and the county board over a proposed transfer.
19 Building strength in depth
With Fennell, O'Gara and Kevin McManamon, among others, ready to come on this afternoon, the Kerry backs will have to be prepared to run until the final whistle because this ultra-fit Dublin side will not stop coming at them. It's telling that Gilroy has used 27 players in this championship to date.
20 Holding his hands up
Not every manager holds a mirror to himself, but after losing to Cork in last year's All-Ireland semi-final Gilroy did that, and again when they lost the NFL final to the same team after holding an eight-point lead. The manager admitted he contributed to their own downfall. "We can't exclude ourselves from that, the management on the sideline, there were decisions that didn't help the team in the last 20 minutes. We were unfair putting in more immature guys, they were in great form, but in the context of where that game was at, we should have put in -- even if they were defenders -- more experienced guys. But it's lessons learned for all of us," he said.
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