Saturday 24 February 2018

Evolving Dublin only going to get better – David Hickey

Sky Blues legend insists Gavin's champions can be team to beat for years to come as long as they retain Kilkenny-like hunger

The Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire trophy at Croke Park on Sunday - David Hickey says they can continue to improve
The Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire trophy at Croke Park on Sunday - David Hickey says they can continue to improve
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

If Dublin develop composure in front of goal in the coming years they will remain the team to beat for the best part of a decade, one of the stars of the previous golden generation of Dublin footballers has claimed.

David Hickey was a selector with Pat Gilroy when Dublin won the 2011 All-Ireland title and remained on as team doctor with Jim Gavin this year. He has seen at first hand the potential they have as a group.

Two years ago the eminent transplant surgeon raised a few eyebrows by suggesting that the Dubs of 2011 were already superior to the team of the 1970s and now he believes this victory serves to "reinforce" that view.

Approach

When they slow down their approach work in front of goal they can really thrive, he insisted.

Another five clear-cut goal chances on Sunday brought their total created to 42 for the season, an average of seven per game. But from those chances just 13 goals were taken, a conversion rate of under one in three.

"This is a team in evolution too, this is not the finished product by any means. We still can't put one-on-ones away with the 'keeper," he noted.

"The pace, we don't slow down. That's something we have to work on next year. Michael Darragh (Macauley) and Eoghan (O'Gara) had one-on-ones with the 'keeper on Sunday that could have ended the game, and we still didn't take them.

"Against Cork we had 10 goal chances and didn't take any of them so they are going to be around for a long time competing, not necessarily winning. They are going to be the team to beat."

Hickey believes Dublin can consistently reach the last four of the championship every year for the next decade but questions whether they will have the drive and hunger to win multiple All-Ireland titles.

"When the hunger goes out of the thing ... I can't understand people wanting to win 10 All-Irelands," he says, somewhat tongue in cheek.

"The Kilkenny guys keep coming back every year because they obviously have a huge level of skill and expertise, but competitive Gaelic football, the skill level is pretty standard. It is the drive and the anger and the hunger to do it.

"I'm not saying we are going to win for 10 years but I think Dublin are in a position now to compete in the last four for the next 10 years. We rode on our reputation in '75 and got a real sucker-punch against Kerry. But we rearranged the team a little bit. It was a different, different game.

"We had the same six forwards for six All-Irelands in a row. Now we don't have the same six forwards for one game in a row. And you have to use 20 people today.

"We are just lucky that we actually have 10 guys we could bring onto that team and wouldn't weaken it."

Hickey said Dublin had showed values this year that people don't associate with Dublin teams and singled out the All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Cork as their biggest win.

"Cork, I thought, was a significant win. That Cork team are always a big scalp to get and we were very happy with our performance that day.

"Kerry obviously was special in many ways and Sunday was a war of attrition and we survived by the skin of our teeth and it's great credit to the courage, commitment, guts and determination and all the values that people don't often associate with Dublin teams."

Gavin singled out the drawn game against Donegal in Ballybofey at the beginning of April as the day when he felt things were coming together for his team.

"For me Ballybofey was a changing point where we went into that game and there was nothing on the line for us," siad the manager.

"We played a Donegal team who were in great condition for that game and we went up to Ballybofey, a fantastic county ground, and they had passionate supporters there. It was a cracking game, both teams went really hard at it and it looked like the game had gone away from us in the last couple of minutes.

"We made a lot of changes at half-time that day but the Dublin team refused to wilt and we came away with a draw. The players were really satisfied with that result.

"We knew that the esprit de corps in the group was moving in the right direction."

Gavin conceded that any defence of their title will be impacted by unavoidable "distractions", and he has recognised the need to evolve.

"I think there's a lot of distractions after winning. You're exposing all your tactical game plans in your winning season and if you're not prepared to evolve and to move on, then teams around you will evolve and move on without you.

"As I said on Sunday, I know teams are preparing for next year and that's just the hard facts of it. So our players will go back to their clubs and we won't regroup again until a couple of months' time.

"It's just that other counties are always trying to seek that... between the top teams, there's only millimetres between us. There's not that much in it as we saw on Sunday and if you don't evolve and try to improve your game plan you'll be found out the following year.

"That's the challenge now for this group of players and management team, to try and bring it to a new level."

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