Wednesday 28 June 2017

This squad is better than ours - Hickey

THE lobby of the Burlington is calmer than you would expect on the morning after the All-Ireland final.

The usual unbridled joy around the winners' hotel is absent. Instead a deep sense of quiet satisfaction has cloaked the Dublin camp. Sam Maguire sits undisturbed on a table in front of two of the squad's younger players, Sean Murray and James McCarthy. They aren't saying much, transfixed by the last 24 hours that will leave an indelible mark on their lives.

After a long night, Sam hasn't quite the same gleam as when Bryan Cullen first took ownership on Sunday afternoon, but he's still the brightest light in the room. Dublin selector David Hickey walks by and seems to give an almost deferential nod to the chalice. Two old acquaintances get comfortable around each other once again.

"We had a great team," said Hickey, a winner of three All-Ireland medals with Dublin in the '70s, "but I do believe that this team are going to become the reference point of Dublin football. We are now eclipsed as far as I am concerned. This group are better."

Pat Gilroy turned to Hickey after the 'startled earwigs' defeat to Kerry in 2009 after Paul Nugent moved aside.

Hickey's introduction surprised many but as a doctor who has performed more than 1,000 transplant operations in his career and as a man who has fought cancer, he's not one for hyperbole. When he talks, people listen.

"I came on board on the invite of Pat Gilroy because I knew this team had an All-Ireland in them," he said. "I am on record as saying that so I am not bullsh***ing you now.

"As a football team they are more talented footballers (than the '70s team). They are a bigger panel. And I don't want to say this as a denigration of my own guys -- they were the reference point for Dublin football up to yesterday -- but I have never seen a team fight to the last minute with the belief that they would get the break if they kept going at it.

"And the amazing thing was that we all expected Stephen Cluxton to hit that ball over. I don't think Jimmy Keaveney would have done it, or Barney Rock or Charlie Redmond and they are all great figures."

Dublin's journey to this point has been remarkable and Hickey references the significant stages in the development of this team. He singles out Cork, their conquerors in last year's All-Ireland semi-final and this year's league decider, for special mention.

"There's a fantastic picture in the paper this morning," he said. "There's a scoreboard in the background and it's 14 points each and the ball is sailing towards the goal.

"There was the same picture last year with Donncha O'Connor doing the same thing against us in a very similar photograph. Cork made us what we are. They showed

us. They had hard times, too, before they got their win."

Hickey's team won three in four years when they made their breakthrough and while he stopped short of tipping the current side for similar success, he sees a bright future ahead.

"If we can keep the group together and bring our minor team on and the U-21s, then I think we will be around a long time as a very competitive last-four team."

Hickey indicated that he was willing to return if Gilroy and Mickey Whelan were to continue. Whelan has seen both sides of the coin with Dublin, from picking up an All-Ireland as a player in 1963 to his forgettable exit as manager of the then reigning All-Ireland champions in 1996.

variation

"You have to be with Mickey to understand how inspirational he is," said Hickey.

"He's 70 years of age and he finished a PHD this year and most guys in their 20s or 30s wouldn't dream of doing it. Every training session had some little variation every night and always with the ball.

"I have never been involved with such an inspirational personality in my life and that includes Heffo, Tony Hanahoe -- the whole lot of them. He has had tough times and got a lot of abuse in 1996, which was unjustified. He always tells it like it is, but he's an inspiration to me and the boys he looks after.

"This is an incredible group of young men. And Pat and Mickey Whelan have moulded them into a formidable unit. Pat has managed to change the culture of the team.

"They play for one another, there is no showboating anymore and that really has been the thing. What more can I say? We're just so happy to have made it and we're so grateful to everyone who has helped us."

Hickey moves on to fulfil the other duties that are demanded from All-Ireland final winners. Sam Maguire hasn't moved and neither have Murray nor McCarthy.

The lobby is livelier now. The players have woken from their sleep to live the dream.

Irish Independent

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