Dublin’s failure had nothing to do with systems it was about players not doing their jobs
Published 02/07/2010 | 05:00
MAYBE it's humiliation at the hands of Meath, maybe it's the years of saying the same thing about Dublin, but our propensity to continually screw things up in the county has me fit to be tied.
The result against Meath, as I explained last week, was not particularly important. Sadly, the manner of Dublin's defeat was, hugely so.
It's not easy to say what I have to -- I love my county and am proud to have represented Dublin -- but it reflects what I'm hearing and what is being discussed across the capital this week. I am hurting and I'm not alone.
I get the impression, despite the fact we have a manager who has set his stall out bravely as a reformer, that he is surrounded by the wrong people or at least not that well served by them.
I support Pat Gilroy's quest for radical reform but I am seriously put out by Dublin's selection and performance last Sunday. And I can't escape the notion that we have so many crutches for our players now that they can't stand on their own two feet.
Last Sunday wasn't about a system failure; it was about individual players not doing, or not capable of doing, their job. End of story.
We have had nearly a decade of all the modern managerial add-ons: psychologists, strategies, physical gurus, trips abroad and the like. Yet here we are looking at a team getting more brittle by the game. What, in the name of jaysus, has happened to Dublin being hard to beat? Why is our confidence absolutely shot?
And while it's a leap in time, I'm still haunted by what I believe to be the turning point in the fate of some of our players -- when Tommy Lyons stopped the Dublin team going down the tunnel with Armagh in 2003. We were four points up. We lost a game we could and should have won that day and we hoisted a white flag that I feel is still flying today.
From a sports psychology point of view, it appears to me that some of the players on the panel are now beyond rehabilitation.
What are the people who populate our management teams doing? What kind of tactics did Mickey Whelan suggest last Sunday? Why did we bottle it?
What use is physical conditioning if you're the last man back and you are not goal side of the opposition's most lethal forward? What's the use in training camps if three men jump for the same ball and allow an opposition forward to attack an unmarked goal?
At club level you never hand the ball to an opponent for a quick free, but Dublin did on Sunday. Why?
Of course, players make mistakes, particularly young ones. But Dublin's problems are chronic and are reflected by the performances of the more experienced members of the panel.
Where was the plan? What are all the experts doing? I have to ask because I don't know, but what I'm seeing is a mess. Are we losing sight of the basics or, worse still, blinding ourselves to the absence of basic skills and instincts in our players?
To play county football for Dublin you should have to be a decent player to start with and your instincts should be good. You can't learn them in a gym or in therapy. They are honed from a young age in club football. Is the talent being coached out of the players?
It appears we're trying to hot-house a panel capable of coping with the pressure of championship battle.
We have employed the services of experts from universities -- I've no doubt that they can list the body mass index of every lad on the Dublin squad -- we have had ice baths, bonding sessions, pool sessions, recovery sessions, press conferences...all the trappings of a professional set-up. But how am I supposed to rate the contribution of the experts? Where is the net result?
I've no doubt Tyrone and Kerry have their share of the trappings, but I believe they never lose sight of their core values as footballers.
I can see progress in Meath -- they're not five goals better than Dublin -- but I can see progress. We knew their forwards could score, but they moved last Sunday like the Meath of old. You could sense their hunger for the kill.
Look at Louth's approach. Their achievements this year have already been immense, but there's something refreshingly honest and traditional in their performances. I was struck once again by Paddy Keenan's magnificent display in midfield, but also things like Derek Maguire's instinctively unselfish pass for Colm Judge's second-half goal.
So, with supposedly the best treatment in the county game, how do I tally the work of a Dublin management team when we concede five goals to Meath?
At what point was a player prepared to go nuclear to stop the rampage last Sunday? What would Tyrone have done in the circumstances? Their core values would have stood to them. Ours have been lost or didn't exist in the first place.
And lest anyone thinks that I'm laying the entire blame at the feet of management, I'm conscious of the footballers who have been lost to injury this season. However, the players, particularly the experienced group called upon last Sunday, have serious questions to answer in relation to the second half of the game.
Will they stand up and take responsibility, say enough is enough and walk away? Or are they going to put their Dublin jersey back on and reclaim their pride before passing it on to the next generation with their head held high?
The County Board officials, who are happy to walk across the pitch in Croke Park on championship Sundays, are entrusted with the well-being of county football. They cannot distance themselves from a set-up that they helped create if things go bad, when they're happy to sit in the dugout, carry water bottles and hand slips of paper to the fourth official.
I appreciate that it was appalling refereeing that kick-started the avalanche last Sunday. Watching a video of the game, I couldn't believe Padraig Hughes missed Graham Reilly's foul on the ball which led to the second goal; it was only a couple of yards from him. Nor could I believe he overlooked the foul on Conal Keaney, which had a similar effect.
I believe he hurt Dublin badly and if the County Board officials are to prove their worth as opposed to posing on match day, they will raise serious objections to Hughes ever officiating at a Dublin match again.
I agree with Eugene McGee's analysis of Hughes' performance -- just like the players, he should have to answer for it. Hughes' mistakes don't diminish Meath's brilliant finishing or Dublin's failure to defend, but they were significant nonetheless.
What they also don't mask is the bigger picture regarding Dublin's selection, game plan and reaction to adversity.
How will we know how Kevin McManamon, the find of the National League, gets on in uniquely pressurised situations like Dublin v Meath games if we don't start him? We know what Bryan Cullen, Alan Brogan and Mossie Quinn can and can't do.
What have we learnt from Sunday? That some of our tried and tested can still oversee catastrophic collapse? Remember Armagh, Kerry, Tyrone, Mayo, Kerry, Tyrone, Kerry?
If, as was stated, Dublin might struggle while rebuilding, why did last Sunday's selection suggest that we were afraid to lose this game? If we'd lost it with a majority of new kids, at least it would have simply a learning experience with the back door still there to expand the experience. Now the back door is more a chance for redemption. It's really back to square one.
For years I've believed we are absolutely bonkers not playing club championship football simultaneously with inter-county games. If someone like McManamon had lost form on the training ground or during challenge games, there's a much better chance him getting it back in a cut-throat championship match with St Jude's.
Club football in Dublin might be competitive -- two recent All-Irelands is proof of that -- but it is not serving the county set-up because the players are removed from it for too long. Players need to be kept out of a comfort zone and trips back to your club regularly are really useful in that regard.
Kerry played club championship before the provincial final, Cork hurlers were all in action with their clubs last weekend. We wrap our players up in cotton wool.
Between anger and despair it's hard to suggest where to go in the short term. A trip down the country might have been better at this point for the new players, but we got a reasonably handy draw at home. What will be of little value, though, is watching a dominant display by experienced players against Tipp.
So, I am hoping that the new hand is the one played in the qualifiers. Only fresh blood can bring life to Dublin's rehab. Start players like Michael Dara McAuley, McManamon, Eoghan O'Gara and whoever else Gilroy feels has a chance of delivering in the future.
We have a successful U-21 squad and reasons to be optimistic about the minor set-up over the next few years.
The scaffolding in Dublin's new rebuilding plan has collapsed after a promising spring.
Time to get the hammers out again.