Saturday 24 June 2017

A channel is opened to the 1970s

October 2009:

Pat Gilroy probably didn't envisage his words would portray such a vivid image.

But when he likened so many of his players on that fateful Bank Holiday August afternoon in 2009 to "startled earwigs" the image of confusion was perfectly encapsulated.

Lift a block that has been lying untouched on the ground for a long time and watch the mayhem beneath you.

That was Gilroy's take on the carnage that unfolded as Dublin hit a new low with a 17-point All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Kerry.

Mentally these players looked permanently broken that day and for a long time afterwards it was hard to see a path forward, coming after the obliteration by Tyrone at the same stage 12 months earlier.

Ciaran Whelan and Shane Ryan retired from inter-county football and Jason Sherlock was effectively written out of the equation as Gilroy sought to purge the old ways and build a new squad with new personnel and a new way of thinking.

Two years of dramatic transformation in how they went about their business and who conducted that business on their behalf culminated in a squad refusing to believe that they had to bow at the altar of the game's most celebrated county.

We chart their rise from the ashes of that defeat in August 2009 to last Sunday's dramatic success.

When Dublin's 1974 All-Ireland-winning team were honoured on the 25th anniversary of that success before the 1999 All-Ireland final, David Hickey stepped forward and whipped off his jacket to reveal the slogan 'End the Cuban Blockade' on his back.

A transplant surgeon in Beaumont hospital, Hickey is renowned for wearing his heart on his sleeve and the blockade on key medical supplies to the communist stronghold was something he was deeply passionate on.

Two years later, in the last of his four years as Dublin manager, Tommy Carr sought to channel some of that passion and humanity by asking Hickey to address his players. He went far beyond the parameters of the football field with what he said and they related to him instantly.

More than eight years on, Gilroy sought to generate the same sense of perspective by appointing him as a replacement to his departed selector Paul Nugent.

If some Dublin players needed 'earthing', a man who routinely saves lives would surely achieve that.

November 2009:

Exorcism in Corduff

One of the first games Dublin played post-Kerry '09 was in the quiet backwater of Corduff in rural Monaghan.

It was officially a match between two 'development' sides but Dublin turned the night into an exorcism, with many of the protagonists from that August Bank Holiday rout on board for a no-holds-barred meeting where Gilroy laid out a blueprint for a very different future as he saw it.

It was an unlikely venue to deliver the message that things were going to change as he sought to put the memory of Kerry behind them.

"We addressed 2009 in November that year in a very strong way. We dealt with it and it stayed there," Gilroy recalled on Sunday.

A series of one-to-one meetings with every player in the lead up to Corduff also laid it on the line as to what was expected from then on.

January 2010:

Red eye regime

The country was in the grip of the first big freeze of recent years when the Dublin players rolled out of their beds and into minus-five-degree conditions for their first 6.30am training session on the first Tuesday of 2010.

It was the start of a new punitive regime for the Dublin squad that would see them double up the dose and return to the training field later that evening for a session on Ballymun's all-weather facility.

It was derided initially as an act of desperation and one player even committed to criticising it on his Facebook page, for which he was subsequently reprimanded. But as much as it was abhorred by some players, the benefits were soon obvious, helping to steel minds and bodies for what was ahead.

February 2010:

Victory in Kerry

A first away league win over Kerry for 28 years. Gilroy dismissed the venue and time span since the last in 1982 as irrelevant, but deep down there must have been quiet satisfaction that a new-look team had gone to the home of the All-Ireland champions and held their nerve to win with a style borrowed right out of the Armagh/Tyrone handbook.

From that game on, every Dublin player was, first and foremost, a defender.

February 2010:

Bernard on the bench

Bernard Brogan threatened great things in 2009 but was one of those to suffer most in the Kerry blizzard. His exuberant celebrations of scores against Westmeath had not gone down well with the management and a feeling existed that he needed to play more for the team.

So for the first three matches of 2010 he was reduced to cameo roles off the bench. There were no injuries, no easing him back into action, it was simply a message from Gilroy that no one player would be bigger than the team. There were huge risks attached.

In each game he came off the bench, Bernard made an impact and the calls for his inclusion grew louder. But the risks were offset by wins over Kerry, Derry and Mayo, ugly as they were.

The point had been made. Bernard finished the season as Footballer of the Year.

June 2010:

Hit for five by Meath

A real fork on their path to progress. Dublin have not been the same team since in league or championship, winning 17 of their next 19 competitive games.

Conceding five goals to Meath helped to reinforce Gilroy's defensive blueprint, which had been deserted that afternoon in Croke Park with dire consequences.

There was unease with the system between the Wexford and Meath games, but after Meath the advantage was back with the manager again. Now it was his way or not at all. He was sticking with the plan without deviation from now on. Losing a Leinster title for the healing qualities of the qualifiers was a small sacrifice.

July 2010:

Cluxton's first

forward foray

There was bewilderment when Stephen Cluxton was first summoned forward to kick a '45' in the Tipperary qualifier match before a deserted Croke Park on a wet Saturday evening.

It was perceived as another sign of uncertainty that no outfield player could be trusted with a kick of that nature, a bizarre move smacking of panic.

He wasn't the first goalkeeper of that summer to venture forward for kicking duties but he had most impact, ending the season with 0-5 before adding another 0-12 in 2011, culminating with the kick for liberation at around 5.0 last Sunday evening. It was an inspired move.

February/March 2011:

Home rule in Croke Park

The Spring Series was a promotional tool that worked well for Dublin GAA and the Allianz Leagues, but four wins for the footballers from four games there against Cork, Kerry, Mayo and Down, playing a much more expansive game than the previous season in three of them, was the real core benefit of playing home games at Croke Park.

Some see it as an unfair advantage, but it was more experience in the ground where Dublin's championship ambitions would have to be realised.

August 2011:

Tyrone and Donegal -- different ways to win a match

On different days last month, Dublin showed qualities to win matches in different ways.

The performance against Tyrone was a benchmark for what this team is capable of when they cut loose. Donegal was a day for patience and resolve, more closely aligned with what they had to do to win last Sunday. In essence Donegal was the perfect 'dry run' for last Sunday.

September 2011:

Best off the bench

Cork and Dublin have the best squads in Gaelic football and that they have shared the most recent All-Ireland titles between them is no coincidence. Just as Cork were able to thrust Graham Canty and Nicholas Murphy into the action 12 months earlier, Dublin could draw on Kevin McManamon for quite a sensational impact in their most recent games.

With Eoghan O'Gara, Philly McMahon and Eamon Fennell, the resources at their disposal have been superior to all rivals.

Irish Independent

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