Friday 15 November 2019

Gilroy just what the Doctor ordered for Dubs

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The last two men to lead Dublin to All-Ireland senior football titles were standing out on the street getting ready to part company when the conversation took a sharp diversion.

Kevin Heffernan and Dr Pat O'Neill had just left what they assumed was their final meeting to nominate the next Dublin manager in succession to Paul Caffrey in October 2008.

It was down to Jim Gavin and Mick Deegan, two members of O'Neill's 1995 All-Ireland winning squad, and they had decided to sleep on it before convening again with the other members of the selection committee.

Heffernan asked O'Neill if there was anyone else from the 1990s team that could possibly fill the criteria required.

"Pat Gilroy," O'Neill replied.

Three years on from that meeting, with a first All-Ireland final appearance for Dublin in 16 years, O'Neill is happy to set the record straight that Pat Gilroy was not a Kevin Heffernan appointment, which is the common perception.

Heffernan and Gilroy share close ties, but O'Neill is adamant that the initial suggestion to explore the possibility of Gilroy becoming the next Dublin manager actually came from him.

"My recollection of it was that he (Heffernan) and I were talking about it out on the street afterwards and he asked me was there anybody else from the '90s group that I thought might be considered," said O'Neill.

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"I suggested that (Gilroy) and he thought he was a little bit young and busy with what he was doing. His immediate comment to me was 'not yet'. That changed by morning. He was invited to another meeting and before the meeting was over he was ... (our nomination).

"The suggestion came from me. He (Heffernan) probably took it on. I only suggested it. He obviously went home and thought about it that night."

O'Neill was Gilroy's manager in the mid-1990s and though he wasn't one of the team's central characters, he always liked what he saw and heard from him.

In a dressing-room full of stubborn and strong characters, Gilroy brought a "balance" that stuck with O'Neill in the intervening years.

"He always impressed me over the years. He wasn't one of the leading lights of the football world, but he was a very useful member of it as a player. He was very perceptive and balanced and calm at team meetings, when the s**t was hitting the fan. I was impressed by his thought process," he said.


"Jim Gavin was a bit unlucky with it. I thought putting the two of them in would have been the right thing. But once the individual was nominated, how the next phase of the group was put together, we were not involved at all. Well I wasn't involved, Kevin Heffernan might have been."

O'Neill sees similarities between what Gilroy has had to do and what he and his back-room team changed to take Dublin to the title in 1995.

"We, too, had an issue with individualism with the team in our early involvement. We certainly went about getting a collaborative approach to it from a team point of view and it took fair disciplining to do it. The message was taken on board. There might have had to have been a few sacrifices.

"We even had to change the rules in training to stop some of the individualism. We stopped solo running completely. We allowed a solo and a bounce, one or the other, or both. We were being crucified by solo runs."

He is adamant the Dublin team he left behind had not emptied the tank and should have won the 1996 All-Ireland title too.

"On the day we certainly fell over the line, but I think that final would have been easily won had Charlie Redmond stayed on the field, because that is the way the game was going at that stage," said O'Neill.

"We were five points up when he was sent off and we only got another point after that. I think we would have won that match by five or six points, maybe even more, if he had stayed on the field. The game was going our way."

It was redemption for 1994 when, by his own admission, the management erred in placing Paul Curran at corner-back on Mickey Linden from the start.

"We were unlucky to lose the '94 final. We, as a management group, would have contributed to that. Our decision to play Paul Curran as a corner-back misfired on us. It seemed a good idea at the time," he said.

What still rankles most after a distinguished career as manager and player however is the 1978 All-Ireland final against Kerry and the controversy surrounding Mikey Sheehy's goal from a disputed free that changed it.

"I would have serious reservations about that. Some have let it go. I certainly haven't let it go," said O'Neill.

"Several aspects of that incident concern me still.

"The only good aspect to that incident was the way Mikey Sheehy executed the opportunity, but everything else was wrong about it.

"It still lingers with me. It remains a major topic. It wasn't a free first of all. And secondly the free wasn't taken from where it was awarded.

"It changed it. We were well beaten in the heel of the hunt. But people threw in the towel after half-time.

"I know walking around in the back line that there were a lot of them not interested.

"That's not a good place for a player in an All-Ireland final to be. There are plenty of people would do anything to be there. It emptied out after that."

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