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Now Pat must coax Whelan

HE'S back. And now the process of plotting the long journey back to the steps of the Hogan Stand will begin in earnest.

Just over seven weeks after Dublin's crowning moment, Pat Gilroy has agreed to lead them again as they attempt to do what only Kerry have managed in the past two decades and retain the All-Ireland.

The only mild surprise is that his new term of office is so brief. Gilroy himself suggested in the days after Dublin's All-Ireland win that any new tenure would likely extend to multiple seasons but the deal brokered with the Dublin county board yesterday evening will cover just a single year.

The statement released by the board confirmed merely that he had agreed to manage the team in 2012, but given how high his stock remains after the success of this year, what is certain is that the length of his extension is at his own request.

The St Vincent's man was set to address the media today at the launch of Sportsfile's new book, A Rare Auld Season, and most likely explain his own reasons for the brevity of his new term of office. But clearly, he is not a man inclined to devote his time to something resembling a lap of honour and believes winning back-to-back All-Irelands is an achievable target.

Gilroy's first task will be to coax players out of the spotlight and glory and begin the focus on next year. Already, he has met the panel to ascertain their own intentions and ambitions for next season and given the events of the past 24 hours, he was obviously satisfied with the response.

Second on his list of 'to dos' will be convincing trusted lieutenant, Mickey Whelan, that his post-All-Ireland retirement was hasty and that his continued participation in the management team is key to the sustained future success of the group -- and beneficial to Whelan himself.


"I'm 72 now," reasoned Whelan in the days after September 18th. "And if there's a young man that wants to come on and is keen to do it, that's great. I need a bit of space. Maybe I'll take another team at St Vincent's some time."

One man who is sure to be part of the backroom team and has already stated as much, David Hickey, was positively effusive in his praise for Whelan's work with the team over the past two seasons.

"I have never been involved with such an inspirational personality in my life and that includes Heffo, Tony Hanahoe -- the whole lot of them," said Hickey of Whelan on the morning after the All-Ireland final.

"He has had tough times and got a lot of abuse in 1996, which was unjustified. He always tells it like it is, but he's an inspiration to me and the boys he looks after.

"You have to be with Mickey to understand how inspirational he is.

"He's 70 years of age and he finished a PhD this year and most guys in their 20s or 30s wouldn't dream of doing it. Every training session had some little variation every night and always with the ball.

"This is an incredible group of young men. And Pat and Mickey Whelan have moulded them into a formidable unit. Pat has managed to change the culture of the team."

Privately, Gilroy is said to be confident that Whelan will perform a U-turn and come back and if that proves to be the case, the good work of the past three years can serve as a foundation for next season.


How far back would Dublin have been set had Gilroy walked away?

While the impact is impossible to measure, given the overhaul of the past two years -- both tactical and with regard to personnel -- it's hard to see a new man coming in and merely taking up where Gilroy and Co left off within the template already set.

If 2009 was a blow-out, Gilroy at least saw the major failings of the group he had taken over and sought to systematically eradicate them.

Going close to an All-Ireland final with a largely new and young bunch of players the following year playing within a fairly rigid system allowed him the scope to elaborate and improve the gameplan.

And that evolution was crystalised in the three post-Leinster performances which saw Dublin end that 16-year All-Ireland drought.

In August, they were slick, expansive and direct in exorcising an old Ulster demon, a victory which effectively buried that great Tyrone team forever.

Three weeks later, they were forced to persevere, to grind and grapple with Donegal's unwillingness to play ball and to keep their heads patiently with 14 men and pick their moments.


And more than anything else, the final and the manner of the victory over Kerry best demonstrated the new hardened mentality which had disintegrated at the slightest touch in previous seasons.

"We had a great team," said Hickey, a winner of three All-Ireland medals with Dublin in the '70s, "but I do believe that this team are going to become the reference point of Dublin football.

"We are now eclipsed as far as I am concerned.

"This group are better."

With the key managerial component now back in tow and no significant retirements expected, their next trick is to attempt to do what Hickey himself managed in 1976 and '77 and grant Sam Maguire an extended stay in Dublin.