Monday 20 January 2020

Frank Roche: 'Scrutiny of Dessie Farrell will begin with his maiden voyage as Dublin manager on Saturday'

Dessie Farrell takes charge of the Dublin senior football team for the first time on Saturday. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dessie Farrell takes charge of the Dublin senior football team for the first time on Saturday. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Frank Roche

As Dessie Farrell ponders his maiden voyage of discovery in the Dublin hotseat, he may well hark back to his own playing baptism in blue and wonder if the two events are galaxies apart.

"I don’t recall any particular fuss leading up to the game, despite the fact that it was going to be my senior championship debut," he wrote, recounting Dublin's 1992 Leinster SFC opener against Offaly in Tullamore.

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"There was nothing like today’s media focus," he pointed out.

"Now, it is customary for every new Dublin player to be thrust into the spotlight, analysed and rated, before he’s even kicked a ball in anger at the top level."

This account, courtesy of Dessie: Tangled Up in Blue, was published in 2005.

For the record, the build-up wasn't entirely uneventful - en route to his debut, a car sped through a junction and ploughed into the Dublin team bus. Can you imagine the live-streaming bedlam if such a crash happened today?

BATTLER: Dessie Farrell in action for Dublin against Fay Devlin of Tyrone during the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park in 1995. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

It's hard to comprehend just how much the media landscape has altered in the 15 years since Farrell's autobiography hit the bookshelves.

There was no such thing as Twitter in 2005. There was no GAA manager warning his dressing-room about the reputation-destroying dangers of WhatsApp.

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And that's only the players.

Now consider how the spotlight on a rookie Dublin player, back in Farrell's era, is but a low-wattage fraction of the blinding glare of attention that greets a new Dublin manager today.

Add the fact that you’re replacing the most successful Dublin manager ever, a history-maker boasting a near-unblemished championship CV.

Top it all off with the hurried time-scale: you only got the green light in mid-December, leaving scant opportunity to prepare (let alone fine-tune) for the fast-approaching Allianz League.

Kerry's Tommy Walsh and Dublin's Brian Fenton are likely to renew rivalries at Croke Park with an Allianz League opener on January 25

As for the semi-final of the Bord na Móna O’Byrne Cup, coming just a fortnight before the league's high-profile launch against Kerry, it’s safe to surmise that this will not be the ‘real Dublin’ that takes the field in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Saturday (throw-in 2pm).

The five-in-a-row heroes have yet to jet back from Bali. The side chosen for combat in the midlands will be similar, in developmental composition whatever about personnel, to the most recent Dublin entries in the O’Byrne Cup.

But whereas Jim Gavin didn’t even take charge for the past three renditions, Farrell will be at the coalface.

Will the media be rushing to instant judgement? No; at least not the majority in what you might describe as traditional forms of communication.

Even the most sensationalist among us appreciate that what happens in January – let alone February and March – will tell us very little of what to expect from Dessie's Dublin as they embark on the search for six this summer.

But all media - online, print and broadcast - will be in a rush to deliver instant commentary on the launch of this new Dublin era in Pearse Park, where Leinster Council safety officers have been busy evaluating the press box for fear of life-threatening congestion (we kid you, just about).

Dessie Farrell will be aiming to drive Dublin on to a sixth successive All-Ireland SFC title in 2020. Photo: Sportsfile

Come match day, the media will examine Farrell’s body language on the line, sure to discover a more animated presence than his predecessor – if only because no one will ever match Gavin's zen-like inscrutability.

They will parse every post-match answer – and there are bound to be many questions, given that the new boss has yet to speak in public, has yet to unveil his back-room team, has yet to offer even the merest morsel of information about his likely league squad.

This information vacuum has been filled by fretful prognostications on the health of Stephen Cluxton's arm - all because he was photographed sporting a sling - but no hard news.

Likewise, everyone is guessing about the make-up of Farrell's management team.

The strongest speculation swirling in the Donnycarney ether, right now, centres on the likely involvement of Mick Galvin (a long-time comrade of Farrell, on the pitch with Na Fianna and Dublin and more recently on the line with the county U21s) and Shane O'Hanlon (a selector under Gavin lauded for his key logistical input).

But, as we write, there has been no official announcement.

No more than the man he is succeeding, Farrell is sure to keep cards pinned close to his chest. From his years of high-profile involvement with Dublin, as player, captain and underage manager, and as voice of the Gaelic Players Association, he has vast experience of dealing with the media.

Former Dublin boss Tommy Lyons

And yet none of the above comes close to the 24-7 scrutiny that goes with managing the entity once memorably described by Tommy Lyons (above) as "the biggest gig in town".

As ever, results will dictate how this relationship unfolds.

The media will give Farrell time - but not endless amounts of it.

As for the uncontrollable beast of social media, you can be guaranteed that several tunnel-visioned trolls will be demanding the manager’s head if Dublin’s fringe performers happen to suffer stage-fright on Saturday.

For when the great Twittersphere collides with the shadow-boxing world of the O’Byrne Cup, all bets are off.

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