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Farrell always looking for next banana skin fall

Bitter pain of defeats while Dublin’s minor and U21s manager helped shape Dessie mindset


BITTER EXPERIENCE: Dublin manager Dessie Farrell comforts Cormac Costello after the All-Ireland MFC final defeat to Tipperary in September 2011

BITTER EXPERIENCE: Dublin manager Dessie Farrell comforts Cormac Costello after the All-Ireland MFC final defeat to Tipperary in September 2011

BITTER EXPERIENCE: Dublin manager Dessie Farrell comforts Cormac Costello after the All-Ireland MFC final defeat to Tipperary in September 2011


It may have sounded like a throwaway comment in a harmless press conference after a nothing victory.

But on some level, even a subconscious one, it was probably rooted in Dessie Farrell's experiences.

Asked on Sunday evening to quantify the value of a 22-point win over Laois to him and his team, the sort of strangely underwhelming overpowering of a Leinster rival Dublin have now perfected and trademarked, Farrell noted: "All we can do is take each game on its merits. We have to prepare for each game accordingly.

"You never know when there's going to be a banana skin presented to you."

It was spoken like a man whose formative managerial experiences contained a couple of painful slips.

It's nine years since Farrell managed a Dublin minor team of myriad celebrated talents in an All-Ireland final, wherein they were beaten by Tipperary.

A Tipp team that, as it happens, was managed by David Power, who takes the county's seniors into a Munster final against Cork on Sunday.

Seismic loss

And it's seven years since Farrell's first season as the county's Under-21 manager ended in a seismic shock loss to Longford in Parnell Park.

In the Dublin team that evening were Ciarán Kilkenny, Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion, Davy Byrne, Eric Lowndes and Emmet Ó Conghaile.

Niall Scully and Conor McHugh came off the bench.

It's unlikely that any other county Under-21 team have or will go on to collectively win so many All-Ireland senior medals.

But Dublin were limited to a score of just 1-5 and when a late free from Kilkenny to force extra-time sailed wide of the scoreboard end goal posts in Donnycarney, Farrell's Dublin were again cast in the role of slain Goliath.

Those defeats hurt Farrell deeply. The minor loss, in particular, haunted him. But they also shaped him as a manager.

In 2012, Farrell came back with a new minor team, one of notably less extravagant talent, and claimed a first All-Ireland at the grade for Dublin in 28 years and still the county's only since 1984.

In 2015, the season after the Longford disaster, he constructed a sturdier Under-21 team, not as collectively gifted as the defeated '14 batch, and won the first of two All-Irelands in his six-year stint at that grade.

Now, at senior level, room to learn on the job is extremely limited.

And in taking over as manager of Dublin's five-in-a-row team, Farrell also inherited expectations of continued success.

He knows too that he'll only get limited, qualified credit if they win, but a substantial share of the blame if they don't.

Although, as he also noted on Saturday night: "There is always a level of expectation when you're involved with Dublin football, even going back to my own playing days.

"There was a period in that era that wasn't hectic but there was still that level expected of Dublin teams. It goes with the territory. You just embrace it and get on with it."

There may be no margin for error this winter but it helps that Farrell has players who - like him - have experienced defeats they might consider now to have been avoidable.

Many suffered the 2011 minor loss and/or the 2014 Under-21 with Farrell but others, the older panellists, have been similarly educated.

Only recently, Pat Gilroy admitted he hadn't given Mayo enough thought or time in the build-up to his last match as manager in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2012.

"Donegal were so strong and they were doing so much damage to teams, I had an eye on them and how I wanted us to play (in the final) and I didn't spend enough time on Mayo," he revealed.

There's a neat line of symmetry here.

Given the limited preparation time between next Saturday's Leinster final and the All-Ireland semi-final on December 5, it would only be natural if Donegal caught Farrell's eye during their destruction of Armagh in the Ulster semi-final on Saturday.

But as a Dublin player of 1990s vintage, Meath will quickly sharpen his focus.

In 2012, the year of Farrell's redemptive All-Ireland minor win, Meath were managed by current senior manager Andy McEntee, against whom he'll face off in next Saturday's Leinster final.

Farrell hadn't seen Meath's madcap victory over Kildare when he spoke on Saturday night but he was at least aware of their having scored 12 goals in two championship games.

He noted also their highly-competitive recent performance in Parnell Park on October 17, the night the League resumed after lockdown.

And given the pain he endured in those defeats in his first seasons as his county's minor and Under-21 manager, Farrell's gaze is unlikely to be anywhere other than that spot on Dublin's horizon now occupied by Meath.