Players must not become slaves to Gilroy's system
DAMNED if you do and damned if you don't. The never-ending story of Dublin's championship summers. Cruise through Leinster and it's irrelevant -- struggle in Leinster and we're clueless.
Maybe it's the old Dub in me, but everywhere I looked this week there seemed to be someone lecturing us about how awful Dublin were.
Maybe the large contingent of Meath pundits were trying to deflect from their own county's failure to put Laois away. Or maybe Kerrymen like former GAA president Sean Kelly or Pat Spillane were trying to deflect from the fact that their own county is supported by "the worst shower of f***ing animals", to coin a phrase.
Obviously, none of them listened to, or at least believed, Pat Gilroy last week when he explained that Dublin's summer could be a case of two steps back, one step forward. Football folk in Dublin are not secretly harbouring expectations of an All-Ireland, end of story.
What we are looking for is a complete rebuild, a new panel capable of competing when it matters, and the elimination of mistakes that cost us so dearly over the past decade.
We could say from the league that there was at least evidence of 'green shoots'. Dublin looked reasonably organised, particularly in defence. I'm not a fan of defensive systems but I understand why they're being employed. Results ultimately determine progress, but I am not going to measure Dublin completely this year on whether they win or lose. Therefore, I can't ignore what happened last Sunday, even though Dublin managed a 14-point swing.
I have to give credit to Jason Ryan and Wexford, who I didn't expect to perform so well. They countered Dublin's approach very well, using the overlap in their defence to kick-start their attacks.
Given Dublin's comeback, we know that their problem isn't bottle. The result was quite remarkable. Had Meath staged such a resurrection, I've little doubt we would have been reminded of their famous 'never-say-die' attitude.
But looking at Dublin for 50 minutes last week, it was a case of the emperor's new clothes -- system, what system?
I do not subscribe to the notion that Gilroy should bring back the older players. They served Dublin well but we need change; a change of personnel and a change of culture. A quick run through the August outcomes from 2004 to 2009 is enough to convince anyone of that.
Neither do I subscribe to the notion that Gilroy should have started radically rebuilding the team in his first year. He simply wouldn't have gotten away with it.
But while I support what Dublin are trying to do, the manner in which change is introduced will come under the spotlight, particularly if old problems continue to dog the team.
When this management team was appointed, questions were posed about Mickey Whelan's influence on the panel. There is no doubt that Gilroy is a leader -- he has made decisions most bosses would shirk -- but on the basis of the confusion and the starting selection last Sunday (why was Denis Bastick taking '45s'?), I would be concerned about how the final preparations were carried out.
Looking from the outside, it appeared there had been too much talking, and maybe too much managerial babble. Ultimately, your leaders are on the field and the management needs to inspire leadership and trust the pivotal players to make decisions for the benefit of the team.
So, bearing in mind three quarters of last Sunday's game was fairly traumatic for most Dublin fans, let's look again at the thinking behind what Dublin are attempting.
Tyrone and Kerry employ blanket defences. Do they look overly negative? No, because they attack at pace with support in numbers, they have quality forwards who can score and they will read a game and throw caution to the wind if circumstances demand it.
How often do we see Ryan McMenamin tearing forward to engineer a score when his side are on the back foot; Marc Ó Sé wasn't caught in two minds when his side needed an equaliser against Cork, he had the balls to go and get it.
But here's the thing, and it's a big thing. In Ó Sé's case, we have to remember the job he had done in the preceding 70 minutes on Paul Kerrigan. He didn't sacrifice his primary responsibility, Kerrigan was held scoreless. And that is the nub of a lot of Dublin's problems over the years. We were great when we had momentum, everyone piling forward at pace. Yet the primary tasks -- defending well, passing accurately, reading the play, forwards unselfishly supporting each other, converting frees, making appropriate decisions -- were often failed by successive Dublin line-ups.
So, if Gilroy is trying to improve Dublin's ability to carry out primary tasks by employing a system, then that makes absolute sense.
However, what he can't do is throw the baby out with the bathwater. You can't suppress the instincts of a footballer -- do that and you kill leadership and it won't matter what system you employ -- without leaders, it's doomed to fail.
Okay, so Dublin looked a million miles away from the big guns last Sunday. A lot of the problems were depressingly familiar -- missed frees, poor tackling, panic. Yet, trailing by seven with 20 minutes remaining, Dublin went on to score 2-13 and while we couldn't credit the system, it wasn't all down to the old hands as some commentators tried to suggest.
During that 'successful' period, Eoghan O'Gara, Michael Dara McCauley, Ross O'Carroll, Mick Fitzsimons, Philly McMahon, Eamonn Fennell, Kevin Nolan and Niall Corkery all played significant roles. While not all entirely new to the set-up, it reflects the changes taking place.
And in such a state of flux, anything can happen. What is important now is how much Dublin learn from the experience.
Personally, I believe that Dublin shouldn't be slavish about the system, nor should we need to be systematic about work rate. If a man in a Dublin jersey is not prepared to empty the tank every time he plays, then he doesn't play.
Football is simple. If we have the ball, we attack, and when we don't, we defend (in numbers if necessary). When we need scores, we commit players to attack.
That is not to say that a player shouldn't be prepared to sacrifice his individuality for the sake of the team. Colm 'Gooch' Cooper is probably the best example of a player prepared to sacrifice a handy score for the killer goal -- his pass to Kieran Donaghy last Sunday was a perfect example.
Dublin's system can't be all about stopping the opposition. It has to be about realising there is a bigger cause and that the individual responsibility of every player is to that bigger cause.
If we see signs this summer that we are amassing men who understand that, then we're making progress.
While showing great bottle last week, we know we have a long way to go.