| 11.4°C Dublin

Crokes men key to dubs defence

THE Bank Holiday Monday Massacre -- otherwise known as the Flight of the Startled Earwigs -- has gone down as a watershed date in the history of Pat Gilroy's All-Ireland heroes.

August 3, 2009: Kerry 1-24 Dublin 1-7 ... this was the real starting point for the two-year revolution that would lead to the steps of the Hogan Stand last Sunday.

But two other landmark dates for Dublin GAA -- occurring at the same Croke Park venue but in far happier circumstances -- also played a pivotal role in the transformation of the Dubs from nearly men into champions.

The first was the AIB All-Ireland club football final on St Patrick's Day, 2008. The second was the '09 club decider, exactly 12 months later.

Back in '08, Mickey Whelan masterminded an All-Ireland triumph that few would have envisaged at the start of the previous summer, given that St Vincent's were then chasing their first Dublin SFC title since 1984.

That team included the veteran All-Ireland winner, Pat Gilroy. The year would end with Gilroy installed as Dublin's rookie senior manager, and crucially he handed the coaching brief to Whelan, whose previous stint as Dublin manager had ended abruptly against a backdrop of Parnell Park boos from so-called 'fans' in late 1997.

Now, almost 14 years later, Whelan has worked the oracle for the Dubs while delivering on his reputation as an innovative coach. His fingerprints are all over Dublin's remodelled game-plan, specifically the defensive system that has made this previously porous team so difficult to break down.

Where Whelan's beloved Vincent's had toppled one club heavyweight (Nemo Rangers), Paddy Carr's Kilmacud Crokes would do likewise (against Crossmaglen Rangers) in the '09 decider.

Now three of his starting defence -- Rory O'Carroll, Cian O'Sullivan and Kevin Nolan -- have topped that club achievement by winning a Celtic Cross with Dublin on the field of play.


Here's the amazing thing. If the fates had conspired more kindly, it's conceivable that FIVE Crokes defenders could have seen action last Sunday.

However, Paul Griffin's Battle of Wounded Knee -- the sequel -- scuppered the playing ambitions of Dublin's erstwhile skipper for a second consecutive season.

Likewise, a recurring tale of injury misfortune denied Ross O'Carroll the chance to establish his starting claims for any sustained spell over the last two seasons.

Rory's older brother was back in full Dublin training for the latter half of the summer; he could well be pushing for a starting place next year. Touch wood, so too will a fit-again Griffin. This summer he played an eye-in-the-sky role for Dublin's management team, but Paddy Carr reckons his influence ran deeper still.

"I would say what Paul adds to the general atmosphere in the dressing-room would be quite significant as well," he suggests.

There's no doubting the Crokes trio who started last Sunday have played a major role in Dublin's elevation. Nolan looks an All Star shoo-in after crowning an ultra-consistent summer with a Man of the Match performance.

The younger O'Carroll could well join him, even in the face of red-hot opposition in the full-back line.


And O'Sullivan? He, too, has been dogged by injury trouble for much of this season -- which makes his seamless return to the starting team, for Dublin's three games in the All-Ireland series, all the more remarkable.

Their club manager cannot speak highly enough of his Dublin defenders. "The guys have very, very fresh minds," says Carr. "They're not cluttered by anything other than the real expectation of enjoying what they do. They haven't been scarred. The glass is far fuller than it's empty for them.

"When you are involved with a club like Kilmacud, where it's normal to compete at the highest level, what they consider normal others would probably consider extraordinary.

"It's just the standard they have set for them at the club.

"There is a huge satisfaction in seeing the lads carry that into Croke Park in the blue jersey."

In his post-match briefing last Sunday, Pat Gilroy was asked to identify where Dublin had to improve in the wake of Kerry '09.

"The defence and our mindset," he replied, straight up.

Their new-found mental strength was writ large over their spectacular late comeback against the same Kerry last Sunday.

The defensive transformation can be seen in the stats: they conceded just 3-66 in six SFC outings, at an average of less than 1-10 per game.

Kerry's attack had been averaging 1-20 beforehand yet could manage only 1-11 when it mattered most.

"Sometimes it's missing on people, the fact that we tend to talk about defence in a negative way," says Carr.

"We obviously shine a light on attack and the flair players.

But defending is an art form."

Highlighting the discipline required in not conceding frees when there is "such a grey area" around the tackle, the Kilmacud boss concludes: "Pat Gilroy and the lads deserve a lot of credit for the way they have honed that type of defence.

"I think in time, maybe when we look back on the GAA this year, the banner will be 'Year of the Defence'.

"And if we move a little further on, (Donegal manager) Jim McGuinness and these guys may get a little more credit than they are getting now."