ALL-IRELAND Senior Football Champions 2011. It certainly has a great ring to it and is testament to the hours that both management and players have put in to reaching the Promised Land.
Team captain Bryan Cullen said the group had been to hell and back over the last two years, which makes the transformation under the |stewardship of Pat Gilroy all the more incredible.
Stripped of their Leinster crown last summer after shipping five goals to a rampant Meath attack in their Leinster semi-final, arguably Gilroy’s managerial reign was hanging in the balance as he patrolled the sideline for their All-Ireland second round qualifier meeting against Tipperary.
While it didn’t appear significant at the time, a nervous eight-point |victory signalled the dawning of new era, one that would see only two competitive defeats (both to Cork) in the following 18 games, as Gilroy set about guiding this group to All-Ireland glory and uncovering a litany of leaders that would |ultimately drag the team over the line.
Solidified by a new formation and most importantly a new mentality, the team's focus as directed by Gilroy turned to an improved and insatiable work-rate, where substance outweighed style, and personal tallies in tackles and turnovers carried equal weighting to scores on the board.
Something probably best epitomised in Cian O’Sullivan’s 63rd minute dispossession which was the starting point for Kevin McManamon’s game-changing goal.
But as the dust settles on a |memorable year for Dublin football and having achieved what he set out to do when offered the job in 2009, the question now is what next for Pat Gilroy?
The last man to guide Dublin to an All-Ireland title, Pat O’Neill, walked away following that success in 1995 and Dubs supporters know only too well the pain that followed in the intervening 16 years, something that should ensure the County Board do their upmost to keep him at the helm.
As a player there is no doubt that the commitment to inter-county football is demanding, but the hours that management put in is considerably more, and given the time that was consumed in Gilroy’s pursuit of the ultimate achievement, there will be a nervous wait to see if the hunger and desire that drove him since taking on the job will still be in the blood in 2012.
Over the last 21 years despite the quality of teams that have collected All-Ireland titles only one, Kerry (’06, ’07), have managed to put back-to-back titles together. While the task is massive there is no doubt that it is within this group and should Gilroy remain at the helm the feat may be eminently more achievable and could mark out this team as one of Dublin’s greatest.