Sunday 21 January 2018

Can Dublin’s ‘second team’ give them the edge over Tyrone?

On the pitch, Jim Gavin’s men have high hopes for this season. Off it, they are setting new standards in numbers and details of backroom staff

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Armagh landed their one and only All-Ireland senior football title in 2002, it was generally accepted that Joe Kernan had put in place the most sophisticated and professional backroom team the GAA had seen to help them make the progress they made.

The core of his operation was small – just his assistant Paul Grimley and physical trainer John McCloskey were permanently 'hands on' – but beyond that were layers of support that looked after every detail.

Nothing was left to chance in the pursuit of success, and in that sense Kernan had perhaps taken the biggest leap beyond conventional structures that any previous manager had made.

The guiding principles of what Armagh did reflected the set-up of the English rugby team under Clive Woodward at that time. In subsequent interviews that was regularly referenced by Armagh players.

Kernan was at the helm of a support team – including himself – that numbered 14. From logistics to psychology, medical and rehab, the team had more personnel than anything seen before.

The structure put in place by Kernan has remained a template for much of the past decade, especially among the top teams.

Dublin, under Jim Gavin, look to have taken it to another level again, however, with a composition that runs close to 20 – surely the biggest backroom team yet.

Like Kernan before him, the attention to detail reflects a strong willingness to delegate.


When the retired former world boxing champion Bernard Dunne emerged from the dressing-room of St Peregrine's GAA club in west Dublin, complete with Dublin cap and tracksuit on the first day of 2013, it transpired that he had been hired as a lifestyle coach.

His brief, Gavin would subsequently explain, was to help the players "realise their potential".

There is some irony in Gavin's isolated acceptance of the new sideline protocols, which restricts the number of backroom staff to five.

In terms of official selectors, Dublin are as large as anybody else.

Mick Deegan – the polished 1995 All-Ireland winning defender who subsequently managed the 2008 All-Ireland winning JFC team – is at Gavin's side on match day as 'maor foirne'.

But he is one of four who officially determine the team's selection.

Declan Darcy was with Gavin at U-21 level for the previous four years and the pair also worked together under Tommy Lyons for the 2003 All-Ireland U-21 success, so the former Leitrim captain, who transferred to his native Dublin in 1998, was always a natural fit for any Gavin team.

Michael Kennedy, with a background in sports science, is a fourth selector and provides a link with DCU which was fostered strongly through Professor Niall Moyna and Mickey Whelan during Pat Gilroy's four years in charge.

The team is completed by the addition of Shane O'Hanlon, a former St Vincent's footballer who was with Gavin in 2012. He carries the title of operations manager.

Beyond that, Dublin have retained the role of a dedicated goalkeeping coach with Davy Byrne – Stephen Cluxton's predecessor between the posts in 2000 – providing the guidance. A successful club coach in Meath, Byrne also worked with Gavin's U-21 team in 2012.

Martin Kennedy had operated with the Dublin hurlers for the past couple of years as their physical trainer but he too had a background with Gavin's U-21s, so he was persuaded to cross codes once again and has the portfolio of athletic development coach.

Mick Bohan had been linked with one of the selection roles but he looks after the development squad for players outside the main squad and is also the skills coach within the set-up.

David Hickey was a selector under Gilroy for three years, 2010-12, and has remained on as team doctor, while Daniel Davy is the squad's specialised nutrition adviser.

Perhaps the most populated area for personnel is analysis and statistics, where Dublin have become cutting edge in their gathering and use of information.

Ray Boyne had been an integral part of Paul Caffrey and Gilroy's backroom team and he remains head of performance analysis.

Seaghan Kearney is to the forefront in collating statistics, while Frank Roebuck, a Round Towers clubmate of Gavin, is also involved in analysis. The chief camera operator is Chris Farrell, who was also there in Gilroy's time.

Gavin has a dedicated media manager too, former Erin's Isle footballer Seamus McCormack, who is a long-time friend of Gavin with an Air Corps background.

With physios, rehab staff and kitmen Mark Brady and David Boylan, 'team Gavin' is complete, bucking the trend of shrinking backroom teams as a result of county board cost-cutting.

The perception of Gavin's opposite number on Sunday, Mickey Harte, has always been that of virtual 'sole trader' on the sideline.

Fr Gerard McAleer was involved in the early days as Harte's assistant but since the mid-2000s Tony Donnelly has been more to the forefront as assistant manager.

Until this season, with the arrival of former team centre-back Gavin Devlin as a selector and coach, the management has not extended beyond two, though Harte has always acknowledged the input of Fergal McCann, the team's physical trainer who took over from Paddy Tally after 2004.

But beneath the front line is quite a necklace of support and medical staff that dispels any perception of a streamlined operation.

Harte has had Jim Curran in his backroom team as an administrator for much of his time in charge, while Mick McGahey also fulfils a similar role.

In total, Harte oversees an operation that involves up to 15 personnel, with six, including his son Michael, listed as the medical/physio personnel.

But for detail and portfolio, Dublin under Gavin look to have set new standards.

Irish Independent

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