Saturday 10 December 2016

Alan Brogan: Taking responsibility has helped to build resilience

Alan Brogan

Published 04/09/2016 | 12:00

'Players understand that to play for Dublin is a privilege. Pat Gilroy and Jim Gavin often talk about their love for the city and its people'. Photo: Sportsfile
'Players understand that to play for Dublin is a privilege. Pat Gilroy and Jim Gavin often talk about their love for the city and its people'. Photo: Sportsfile

Resilience is a sporting virtue that cannot be taught. It is something that has to be developed over a great number of games, sessions and meetings. It takes a serious amount of belief in yourself and belief in what you are doing to really become a resilient team.

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A resilient team will not win every game they play, but they will always have a chance because they never give up. Players don't panic, they don't veer from the game-plan, heads don't drop in the face of adversity and they certainly don't go on solo runs to the detriment of their team.

Everybody will think I am talking about Dublin after they overcame a five-point deficit against Kerry in last Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final. Looking like they were in complete disarray and losing four kick-outs in quick succession before half-time, Dublin somehow managed to regain their composure and were able to do all the things I describe above.

So this all applies to Dublin, but it's safe to say that Mayo are in the same bracket. Here are men who have been to the well more times than most could bear to think about. Alan Dillon and Andy Moran have lost four All-Ireland finals yet here they are back again to contest a fifth with Moran leading the team with the enthusiasm of a guy in his debut year.

His courage and ability to bounce back is a credit to him and if Mayo finally manage to win the All-Ireland nobody could begrudge Moran. Other guys with plenty of disappointment are in a similar vein. Guys like Cillian O'Connor have the steely look of men who have had enough of people running them down as also-rans.

Although it was controversial at the time, it took courage to oust a management team at inter-county level. We are not privy to all the facts but these guys obviously felt that their best interests were not being served with last year's management in place, and pressed the nuclear button.

That has to have a massive effect. It could either split a team down the middle or bind it even closer than before. When Galway beat Mayo in the Connacht Championship this year it looked like the whole thing would come crashing down around this team; I have to admit, I doubted we would see Mayo back in the All-Ireland final this year.

I doubted they would beat Tyrone too, but they have continued to prove me and others wrong. They have lost so many big games: like the 2015 semi-final to Dublin when they were four up with 15 left; like the big defeats to Kerry in the mid-2000s; like the 2012 final to Donegal when they surely thought their time had come; but they keep bouncing back. They have footballers, they have warriors and they certainly have that much-needed resilience that has got them back into an All-Ireland final.

The problem for Mayo is that they are up against a Dublin team that never seems to know when it's beaten. It wasn't always like this. With many of the Dublin teams I played on, if we went behind in big games, we never regained the composure to mount a serious effort at a comeback, let alone think we were actually going to win, most notably against Kerry in 2009 when we were beaten after 15 minutes.

Yet there were guys playing that day who are an integral part of the current team. So what has built this resilience that leads a team to refuse to countenance the idea of losing?

With the exception of Donegal in 2014, when we never got back in the game, Dublin have not been comprehensively beaten since 2009. In the semi-final in 2012, Mayo were in cruise control, yet only for a late save by David Clarke to deny my brother Bernard, we would have pulled off a remarkable comeback.

Pat Gilroy began this job of fostering an open and honest culture where players took responsibility for their actions both on and off the field. Those who couldn't were discarded and the group moved on. Jim Gavin inherited a mature, focused squad, and while introducing some younger guys like Ciaran Kilkenny, Jack McCaffrey, moved this to a different level.

People think Gavin puts a mask on when he's talking to the media, but his persona behind closed doors is not far away from what the public see. He is a very thoughtful manager who gives responsibility to his players; the whole dynamic is driven by the players and facilitated by the management.

Players understand that to play for Dublin is a privilege. Gilroy and Gavin often talk about their love for the city and its people. In fact, Gilroy once took us for a walk one Saturday afternoon out to Poolbeg lighthouse, from where you can see from the tip of Howth on the northside to the tip of Dalkey on the southside. It was a symbolic gesture from Pat which I'm sure went over some guys' heads, but I liked it.

It showed me the scale and, in a way, the beauty of what we were representing. Small things like this add up to become a big thing. Gavin often talks about 'the process' in public - indeed some media commentators are sick of hearing it. But this is the bedrock on which Dublin's performances are built. Whether five up or five down, nothing changes. You keep doing the basics, doing the simple things well. All these simple things add up to become one great thing. The score doesn't matter until the 70 minutes plus injury-time are up.

Dublin players have the freedom to express themselves, but in a structured game-plan; the basics of the game-plan must be boxed off; after this it is open season to try what you want.

Of course you need great players to really pull of great escapes like last Sunday and last year's semi-final replay. Gavin places his trust and respect in his players and they really respond, but it is their ability to focus on the present that sets them apart. All the great teams have this ability to triumph in adversity: look at Manchester United under Alex Ferguson and the late goals they scored, or the present All Blacks team. They won't win every match, but they will always have a chance.

Two teams with proven resilience will contest this year's All-Ireland final; the form book says Dublin, but I've written off Mayo once already this year. With what I've seen from them in the last six weeks, I won't be doing it again. And you can be sure Gavin and his troops won't either.

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