On Friday, January 10, Dessie Farrell gave the most revealing quote of his embryonic reign as Dublin manager.
“I’ve always taken the approach that there’s two ways to live your life,” Farrell reflected. “One, as a timid soul, sort of year by year, month by month, week by week, possibly even hour by hour, as a timid soul. Or the other is to perhaps do the things that frighten you at times.”
The new boss didn’t have to spell out which option he favoured. The task of replacing Jim Gavin may have frightened many potential contenders, those inclined to view it as a poisoned chalice, but as the new incumbent explained: “This thing stimulates me, it challenged me.
“I love football, working with footballers. Ultimately, now is the time that if I didn’t do it now it would probably never come around again.”
Little did he know, back then, that “hour by hour” would be spent in isolation from the group. Little did he know that while “now is the time” for Farrell, he would be left with so little actual time to prepare his multi-decorated charges.
These are strange days for everyone, and that includes the manager of the most abundantly gifted, relentlessly high-achieving, self-driven group of Gaelic footballers in Ireland.
You can say, quite reasonably, that it’s the same for everyone. You might even surmise that levelling the playing pitch may be no bad thing for a competition that, over the past decade, has become Dublin versus all the rest.
But there is still no denying that, whenever the GAA emerges from this surreal and scary spring hibernation, and presuming there is time for a 2020 championship, Dessie Farrell will qualify as the least prepared Dublin manager to ever send his team into summer combat.
And for that he will be entirely blameless.
Farrell was already playing catch-up when officially ratified on December 12. He convened a meeting with the 2019 squad a week later but, with Christmas looming and then a team holiday to Bali, it would be several more weeks before Dublin’s five-in-a-row heroes would return to collective training.
The day after his inaugural press conference, referenced above, he brought a Dublin fringe team to Longford for an O’Byrne Cup semi-final on January 11.
When his extended league panel came together early the next week, they had less than a fortnight to prepare for their Division 1 opener against Kerry.
From that mid-January starting point, until the GAA announced its nationwide shutdown on Thursday, March 12, Farrell had barely eight and a half weeks at the training ground coalface.
Just as well that he knew so many of this group from previous minor and U20/21 dressing-rooms. But there is no substitute for working in close proximity in the here-and-now. And that’s something that cannot happen in this brave new world of social distancing.
Earlier this month, before Covid-19 brought Ireland to a virtual standstill, Barney Rock commented: “The judgment for Dessie will be probably in 12 months or two years, but you have to give him a chance; it is a different structure for him and they have a lot of players in at the minute.
“Everyone thought Jim (Gavin) was staying and for him he did the right thing, but he probably could have done it a little earlier from a Dublin point of view,” added the Dublin legend and dad of Dean. “It is tough on Dessie, but he has been there.”
The implication is that, to some extent, the new boss was already playing catch-up before this public health crisis turned nuclear.
Dublin’s form graph in their five NFL outings to date has oscillated wildly within games. But for their enduring capacity to eke out results in adversity, for their renowned game-management down the home straight, they could have several points less than the six garnered from a possible ten.
In many respects, those patchy performances were entirely predictable. Farrell has road-tested a plethora of potential squad members alongside a hard-core of approximately ten players who might be deemed ‘regulars’.
Several of those promoted from the fringes were parachuted virtually straight onto a starting team, with notably mixed results.
But this was all part of a plan pointed solely towards high summer. Winning the league was not important; it didn’t matter last spring either, when Dublin’s NFL form under Gavin was equally erratic.
As we write, none of us can be sure when the race for Sam Maguire will start and even what form it might take.
Can the current structure survive this onslaught on an already crowded calendar? Will there be time for the full package - provincial fare, qualifiers, Super 8s, Tier 2 - or will an emergency Plan B need to be adopted?
Might it even entail a return to that old summer shibboleth, straight knockout?
Whatever emerges, Dublin will start the race in pole position to complete an unprecedented six-in-a-row.
In such uncertain times, however, there can be no such thing as a sporting certainty. Even for odds-on favourites.