Gilroy plotting shortest course
DUBLIN may be leading the campaign to grant beaten provincial football finalists re-entry to the All-Ireland race, but it's a route they want to avoid as they attempt to end their 15-year barren spell without landing the big prize.
Nor are they buying into the theory, which appears to be gathering momentum among Dublin supporters, that defeat in the Leinster championship followed by a shot at the All-Ireland qualifiers might prove a more productive option.
Kerry, Tyrone and Galway all won All-Ireland titles in the last decade after losing provincial games, prompting claims that the 'back door' may be a better option in some circumstances.
Despite winning the last five Leinster titles, Dublin have failed to reach an All-Ireland final and have actually lost at the quarter-final stage three times, including the last two years, when they were thrashed by Kerry and Tyrone.
However, they have no intention of changing their approach to this year's Leinster championship as they attempt to win the six-in-a-row for the first time since 1979.
"The shortest route is the best route -- there's no doubt about that. It would be silly to believe there's something to be gained by losing a provincial game. It's all about winning every game you play -- that's the target for Dublin and everybody else too," said manager Pat Gilroy.
Nonetheless, he has promised to freshen things up this year and, while that might involve taking a step back before making a significant forward move, he believes it's necessary.
"Clearly, what we did last year wasn't good enough. It won us a Leinster title but that's as far as it went.
"When things go as badly wrong as they did for us in the All-Ireland quarter-final, you have to assess where you're at and where you're going. That's what we've done -- and are still doing -- so we'll have to wait and see where it takes us. It's a big test and will require patience from everybody," he said.
Gilroy supports the proposal to re-admit provincial winners who lose an All-Ireland quarter-final -- and not just because Dublin have suffered under the existing system in three of the last five seasons.
"Provincial winners can lose once and be gone out of the championship while everybody else gets a second chance. That's tough as a team has to wait nearly a year to redeem itself. That's a long time as we know only too well," he said.
Under a proposal which will go before Congress this year, the four provincial winners would play off with the two winners advancing to the All-Ireland semi-finals and the two losers playing two surviving qualifiers for the other two semi-final slots. Up to now four qualifiers reached the quarter-finals.
Dublin captain Paul Griffin shares his manager's view that the direct route through the championship always is always the primary target, even if has proved notoriously difficult for the Blues.
"Kerry and Tyrone have won All-Ireland titles through the qualifiers in recent years but neither of them went out to lose provincial games. They got things back on track in the qualifiers but I'm sure their first target was the provincial title.
"It's nice to get a second chance if you don't win the provincial title but you can't think about losing any time you go out. We're proud of what we have achieved in Leinster. We haven't gone on and built on that at All-Ireland level but we still regard success in Leinster as being very important," said Griffin.
He accepts that a certain amount of re-building is required in Dublin after losing so heavily to Kerry and Tyrone in the last two All-Ireland quarter-finals and believes it can be achieved while still remaining competitive in every game.
"It's disappointing that we haven't kicked on outside Leinster. We have to look at ourselves and, not only ask why, but also come up with an answer. That's the big challenge this year," he said.
Dublin begin their league campaign away to Kerry on February 7 in a game which gives them an early opportunity to put down a marker against opposition that humiliated them last August.
"Whether it's Kerry or anybody else, we'll be going out to do well in every game. As for the Kerry game, it's a start but All-Ireland titles aren't won in early February," said Gilroy, who is beginning his second season as manager.
Gilroy and Griffin were speaking at the launch of Dublin's sponsorship deal with Vodafone, who have come aboard at a cost of almost €5m for the next six years. They replace Arnotts, who sponsored Dublin for 18 years.
Describing the deal as a link-up between "two of the most significant brands in Ireland", county chairman Gerry Harrington said that it was precisely the type of partnership Dublin were looking for at this particular time.