Wednesday 21 February 2018

Comment: Gamble on Pat Gilroy could pay off for Dubs in more ways than one

Reports linking former football manager with hurling job represents new thinking in the GAA

Dublin players from left Eric Lowndes, Cian O’Callaghan – older brother of Con – and Ciaran Kilkenny celebrate after winning the 2011 Leinster MHC final against Kilkenny. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile
Dublin players from left Eric Lowndes, Cian O’Callaghan – older brother of Con – and Ciaran Kilkenny celebrate after winning the 2011 Leinster MHC final against Kilkenny. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Pat Gilroy ticked plenty of boxes before he was handed the Dublin footballer manager's job ahead of the 2009 season.

He met many of the standard requirements that counties look for when they go in search of a new manager. At that stage, he was part of the last Dublin squad to bring Sam Maguire back to the capital in 1995. He was up to date on the club scene in the capital too, having played at full-forward as he helped St Vincent's to a club All-Ireland in March 2008.

Yet his appointment was deemed well out of left field. He was far from the highest profile member of that All-Ireland-winning Dublin team and his experience of football management was limited. When it boiled down to it, his appointment represented a gamble. But it was one that would pay off spectacularly and lay the foundations for the current period of Dublin football domination.

But if his ascension to the role as manager of the footballers was unexpected, then a switch to take charge of the county's hurlers - as has been reported - would be even more spectacular.

On the face of it, it seems a far-fetched story but it has refused to go away. Last month, one bookmaker suspending betting on Gilroy succeeding Ger Cunningham as Dublin manager. And yesterday reports suggested his appointment was imminent.

That would represent a bold move for both Gilroy and Dublin.

Diarmuid Connolly. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

Gilroy's legacy in Dublin GAA circles is already assured. He turned Dublin into a team that valued substance over everything else. Recently former Dublin footballer Kevin Nolan spoke of a "shift in mentality and attitude in and around the squad" during Gilroy's reign. Dublin would win in 2011. They have never looked back.

Despite his standing in Dublin GAA, the first sign of trouble with the hurlers and the charges thrown at him would be as predictable as they would be regular. A football man in charge of a hurling team? How was it ever going to work? Especially seeing as there were 'safer' options on the table.

But reports suggest Dublin have decided it's worth the risk. And perhaps it represents a move away from the traditional GAA 'manager' model. Jim Gavin frequently refers to himself as a facilitator of the county's football team. In essence, he sees his role as creating the environment for the players to flourish, to put the right structures in place and appoint the right people to the right role.

Given Gilroy's success both in business and with the footballers, as well as the fact that he was close to being appointed as the GAA's director-general, it's far from a stretch to think he could organise the county's hurlers.

Then Dublin football manager Pat Gilroy (right) alongside hurling manager Anthony Daly in 2011. Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile
Then Dublin football manager Pat Gilroy (right) alongside hurling manager Anthony Daly in 2011. Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile

Gilroy would know enough to know he'd need to have the right help around him. Reports already have him paired with former Galway manager Anthony Cunningham as the team coach. And there's no doubt he'd provide the hurling squad with the best of everything if he were given the role.

Bonus

His appointment would have the added bonus of giving the management team a distinctly blue hue, having been managed by outsiders for the last nine years.

Dublin hurling has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and it's clear that it will only get more competitive down the line after the county's U-17s reached the All-Ireland final this summer, while the minors went down at the All-Ireland semi-final stage.

But compared to the other major hurling counties, the pool remains relatively shallow. There is not yet an established line of successful former Dublin players with the management experience lining up to take charge. That will take time but Gilroy's appointment would keep the role in-house.

But perhaps the biggest benefit Gilroy could bring to Dublin hurling is that he is a unifying figure. Under Cunningham, the team that Anthony Daly built, and led to ground-breaking league and Leinster titles, gradually broke up.

Some of it was natural, as the passing of time called a halt to some careers, but some of that rebuild was more fractious that it needed to be. Any new manager would be expected to lure the likes of former All-Star Danny Sutcliffe back into the fray.

The St Jude's man hasn't hurled for Dublin since 2015 and recently had a stint with the New York footballers.

Mark Schutte opted to play with Jim Gavin's footballers this year too. He picked up an All-Ireland medal but his game time was limited and he may be open to a return to hurling to get more minutes on the pitch. There are others in Cuala who might be open to a return under Gilroy too.

Elsewhere, the likes of Cormac Costello have seen some great days with the Gavin's side but at 23 remains very much on the fringes of things and may be open to a change. Conor McHugh was also a highly-rated hurler in his underage days.

Whoever comes in as the new hurling manager in Dublin will have noticed that Diarmuid Connolly cut an unsettled figure around the All-Ireland semi-final. A club-mate of Gilroy's, he is well regarded on the club hurling scene when he plays for St Vincent's.

In the past, Ciarán Kilkenny, one of the brightest hurling talents the county has produced in recent years, has spoken of his desire to hurl for Dublin. Eric Lowndes was also a noted underage hurler.

Given the success of the footballers, any defections to the hurlers are unlikely.

But then should Gilroy lead the hurlers, then all bets are off.

Irish Independent

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