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Gilroy: All or nothing

IS an All-Ireland won at Kerry's expense really worth two? Kevin Heffernan certainly thought so and who'd be brave enough to argue the toss with Dublin GAA's Godfather?

Pat Gilroy -- a club-mate and known confidant of 'Heffo' -- is wholly less consumed with the rivalry aspect of Sunday's final though.

"As a player, I never played against Kerry in a championship match," he told the Herald. "It was all Ulster teams we had to beat. So my own personal experience from a playing perspective would be more against those sort of opposition.


"So I don't have that sense of Kerry being worth two. Any All-Ireland is a big thing for Dublin. We have to be truthful to ourselves. We haven't had many since the '70s so they're big occasions no matter what."

That a St Vincent's man has finally steered Dublin into another final after a 16-year hiatus is a fact that will draw plenty of wry smiles from those linked with the famous Northside Gaelic games institution.

The majority of the county's All-Ireland titles since the big decision to field only Dublin-born players have been hatched at the Marino club and ever since they laid claim to all 14 outfield players that started the 1953 league final, their links with the county's senior football set up have never been less than strong in some guise or other.

Mostly, Heffernan was the prominent factor. And even in his managerial retirement, it is often speculated that his voice still commands great influence in the corridors of power in Parnell Park.

If Gilroy delivers an All-Ireland on Sunday, maybe they should just hand over the running of the Dublin team to Vincent's altogether!

But back to Kerry, Heffernan's starting point for his own All-Ireland obsession. Gilroy might not be inclined to ham up the significance of Sunday's opponents but they planted an important, if utterly destructive, signpost in his managerial career.

The details of the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final are well traced at this stage, but suffice to say the upheaval which Gilroy unleashed in its aftermath would have been wholly less severe were it not for the 17-point trouncing.

"Some fellas made their own decision after that game," he reflects.

"I suppose the year we went into it in 2009, we wanted to a be a good team at attacking and a good team at defending.

"The attacking bit of it had started to go well for us in the Leinster championship that year. But even in the Leinster final against Kildare, we conceded far too much for a team that was going to be convincing at the end of the day.


"Yeah, certainly, the amount of effort we put into defending was probably increased as a result of the 2009 game.

"But I think we have gotten better balance into it this year."

On reflection, was 2009 a 'lost' year?

"Life is all about learning for me and we learned an awful lot that year. We learned an awful lot last year too. So I would absolutely not see it as a lost year at all."

Gilroy is at the eye of the All-Ireland storm and he's the calmest man in the town.

Impressively, he has managed to guide his players away from the usual trap-doors of expectation and hype and to that end, his own experience has been invaluable.

He has been through the rigours of an All-Ireland final build-up before and as such, is au fait with the demands.

"Between the club and the county, this would be my fifth All-Ireland," he explained.

"Three of them, I could say, the preparation was perfect and we won two of them. One of them (the 1992 final), from the players' perspective wasn't good. We got caught up in the fun and all that sort of stuff and it just didn't help our performance on the day.

"The other three I was involved in, they were very much the way you should prepare for a final. So I suppose I saw both sides of it."

This year, Dublin have been a different animal to the unsure models which previously failed to cut the All-Ireland mustard, more assured and with a greater sense of what's required, a fact acknowledged by Gilroy in the build-up to the All-Ireland quarter-final against Tyrone.

Whereas last season, he preached about "closing the gap on the top teams", Gilroy stated prior to the seven-point victory over their Ulster nemesis that anything less than an All-Ireland title would constitute "a disaster" for the current vintage.

Against that backdrop -- and the atrocities having been suffered by Dublin in four previous All-Ireland semi-finals within the past decade -- the Donegal debacle of three weeks ago might well have transpired to be the disaster to end all disasters.

"Another semi-final defeat would have been a terrible one for us as a group to lose," Gilroy acknowledged.

"But the one thing I would say is that there are an awful lot of that squad that is very young. There are a lot of 22 or 23-year-olds that have only been in two All-Ireland semi-finals. If they had lost, I don't think it would have made a massive difference to them, long term.

"But by winning one, it has taken the monkey off the back of a lot of the older lads."


It's all a stark contrast to this April when Gilroy was forced to launch a staunch defence of his side after the league final collapse to Cork. Fielding a question about his team's mental fortitude, Gilroy cut loose through frustration more than anything else and accepted that those doubts would persist until such time as Dublin win an All-Ireland.

To that end, he doesn't feel beating a gritty Donegal side eroded such doubts.

"I think some of the questions were answered," he insisted, "but as I said after the league final, until we have actually won an All-Ireland we will always have to listen to people questioning our character," Gilroy added.

"I would hold that that is still the case."