Friday 24 January 2020

Roy Curtis: 'This was no star-struck David Moyes trembling in the shadow of Alex Ferguson from Dessie Farrell'

New Dublin football manager Dessie Farrell was in AIG HQ today to help launch their New Year offer of 20% Off Car Insurance at www.aig.ie. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
New Dublin football manager Dessie Farrell was in AIG HQ today to help launch their New Year offer of 20% Off Car Insurance at www.aig.ie. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Roy Curtis

DESSIE Farrell peered into the post Jim Gavin abyss, a vast, intimidating managerial void that might dwarf the Grand Canyon, and declined, even momentarily, to flinch.

If there were inevitable anxieties about stepping into the shoes of the five-in-a-row Clondalkin Caesar, a colossus who last bent the knee in championship football all of 1,958 days ago, they dissolved in the oceanic vastness of Farrell’s hunger to fashion his own fate, to not die wondering.

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And, so, he sits in AIG's North Wall boardroom, Anna Livia shimmering below, Dublin training top about his still athletic frame, and unlocks his philosophical vault.

"I've always taken the approach that there are two ways you can live your life.  One as a timid soul, year by year, month by month, week by week, possibly even hour by hour.

"Or the other is perhaps do the things that frighten you at times. This thing stimulates me, it challenges me.

"I love football and I love working with footballers.  Now is the time, if I didn’t do it now it would probably never come around again."

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Farrell's back catalogue  – notably his unflinching focus as GPA trailblazer - offers an eloquent reminder of his willingness to take the road less travelled, to stare down unease, to risk failure rather than nurse a regret that will never quieten.

So here he is, at the launch pad of a defining voyage in his life, oozing the effortless heavyweight presence of a Hill 16 legend – he was a standout Footballer of the Year nominee from the All-Ireland winning class of 1995 - turned underage coaching shaman.

A thoughtful, poised speaker, his first eloquent, assured media briefing confirmed that this was no star-struck, eternally deferring David Moyes trembling in the shadow of Alex Ferguson.

Farrell offers the gravitas and – as a three time All-Ireland winner at underage level, the leader who first coaxed the best from so many of Dublin’s current A-listers - the battlefield savvy of a four star general.

While unshakably generous in the bouquets he tosses at a group of players who have pushed out the boundaries of achievement, he will have no qualms about placing his own signature on the summer of 2020.

Asked what message he had prioritised in his pre-Christmas meeting with the history-making giants, his carefully calibrated response might impact like cannonballs on the psyche of Kerry, Tyrone, Mayo and the chasing pack who might have sensed a chink of sunlight would follow Gavin’s abdication.

"I think it was to convey a sense of appreciation to those players for what they've done for Dublin football, and a sense of gratitude for their commitment and dedication.

"Also, to convey to them that's what happened now is in the past and that we need to look forward. Looking forward to establish that there will need to be improvement in this squad and in our performances in 2020

New Dublin football manager Dessie Farrell speaks to the media at AIG HQ today
New Dublin football manager Dessie Farrell speaks to the media at AIG HQ today

"We can't afford to be complacent, we can't afford to stagnate."

He is bright enough and sufficiently reflective to recognise potential pitfalls.  His own playing days bring 1996’s annus horribilis – when Mickey Whelan succeeded the All-Ireland winning Pat O’Neill and was harshly scapegoated when the defence of Sam flatlined – looming into focus.

A glass half-full perspective has is that Farrell is taking over a team immune to the laws of diminishing returns, an untouchable band of brothers; but there is a glass half-empty side to the equation, the slightly absurd but still unequivocal reality that even falling a millimetre shy of a sixth All-Ireland will be viewed as a breakdown of the natural order, as failure.

Is the voyage that launches in Longford with Saturday's O'Byrne Cup tie, the easiest or most difficult in Irish sport?

A rush of adrenalin so tangible you might touch it energises the 48-year-old as he ponders the question.

"It depends on your own perspective, of course. No doubt, they've been hugely successful and that brings its own challenges.

"They are a wonderfully committed bunch of players and I think what we try to do is establish a culture of learning and curiosity and ensure that they continue to be students of the game and want to get better and want to improve.

"If we can instil that type of hunger in the group and motivate them in that way, who knows what's going to happen?"

And so, with a manager staring into that Gavin-shaped void and spying only the acreage of fresh possibility, Dublin football takes its first confident steps into a redesigned, intriguing new era.

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