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Double-winning bosses warn of tough job facing Dubs to seal successive Sams

SO, Pat Gilroy is back but the goalposts have shifted. The perennial aim of recent Dublin managers - breaking the All-Ireland hoodoo - has been overtaken by a transformed set of circumstances and the old 'Jacks are back' chorus has been replaced by a new Hill 16 refrain. Back-to-back.

Easier sung than done, of course. We spoke to two managers of recent All-Ireland winning vintage and both underlined the difficulties of the task that now awaits Team Gilroy.

Pat O'Shea is the only manager in the past 20 years to retain Sam Maguire -- but even here, he's not your typical example because he inherited an All-Ireland winning team from Jack O'Connor in 2006 and then kept Kerry at the September summit. A year later, their three-in-a-row quest was scuppered by Tyrone in the final and O'Shea duly departed without completing his own personal back-to-back.

John O'Mahony did manage his adopted Galway to a brace of All-Irelands -- but two-in-a-row proved beyond the Mayo man in 1999 (pre-qualifier era) and 2002.

O'Shea outlines three key boxes that must be ticked if you're to retain Sam - stay injury-free, freshen up the panel, and avoid mental fatigue.

On the latter point, he explains: "It will definitely be a word coming up in the next year for Dublin - are they showing signs of fatigue physically? It's never that. It's mental; because of the success, because of the celebrations, it all affects you.

"You have to have that burning desire to push yourself the extra mile. The majority of games, particularly the close games, come down to the team that really wants it more. I think Dublin showed that this year, very much so.

"Teams trying to go back-to-back find it difficult to recreate that," O'Shea expands, with the added difficulty that managements frequently fail to realise their team is stale "until they are beaten and out of the championship. It's hard because everything looks like it's going according to plan. But it's the small ingredients, that inner motivation."

Likewise, what a manager is saying in the dressing-room may be perfectly correct, but the familiarity of the message reduces its impact.

But how can you avoid Same Voice Syndrome without changing the manager? "The really smart managers always look for an extra edge, engage the players even more," says O'Shea. "A case in point is Alex Ferguson, who has rebuilt and rebuilt and got people to buy into the message, even though it's the same for 25 years."

O'Shea cites Cork this summer as holders who, injury problems apart, "looked like they didn't have that real desire. They folded very, very quickly (against Mayo) which was unusual, because they have shown a lot of resilience in previous years."

In Dublin's favour, O'Shea reckons they have a deep pool of high quality footballers, extending beyond the current panel.

"I think it's going to be difficult," he cautions, "but there has been a levelling of standards in the championship over the last number of years and it has brought probably six or seven, maybe eight teams that are now realistic counties that could win the championship.

"It adds to the challenge, because Dublin are now on the perch so there's huge motivation for someone to take their scalp," he concludes.

Back in 1998, when John O'Mahony ended Galway's 32-year search for Sam, the west was giddy with talk of a new maroon era.

"Our average age was reasonably young; people were saying 'You will win the next four or five'," he recalls.

"But it's always difficult, because you are changing from a situation where you have coped with previous failure and all the difficulties that brought.


"All of a sudden you are coping with a totally different mental attitude -- how do you cope with success?"

Galway players were faced with their altered status as "pin-up boys" while, 13 years on, the current Dubs have become "household names", caught in a massive media glare while frequently in demand for endorsements and appearances.

"When you win an All-Ireland your life changes - not just your involvement with the team. It's how you cope with that," says O'Mahony.

Managers must also cope with a new set of challenges. As the gaffer-turned-politician sees it, you must avoid the risk of picking exactly the same team just because it worked before. You need to freshen things up, vary training, even tactics. When Galway's second All-Ireland under O'Mahony eventually came, three years later, "we used different tactics than the first time because we had become too predictable".

As for the biggest obstacles facing Dublin's defence of Sam, he cites Cork as the team to watch because "the hurt of not performing gives a renewed impetus".