Wednesday 23 January 2019

Pat Gilroy sets sights on a historic Dublin double

Initial target is top four for Dublin hurlers but All-Ireland glory is the ultimate aim

New Dublin boss Pat Gilroy, right, with selector Anthony Cunningham, left, and goalkeeping coach Brendan McLoughlin during last night’s Bord na Mona Walsh Cup match against Meath. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
New Dublin boss Pat Gilroy, right, with selector Anthony Cunningham, left, and goalkeeping coach Brendan McLoughlin during last night’s Bord na Mona Walsh Cup match against Meath. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

When Seán Boylan was appointed Meath football manager in 1982, he was acutely aware of the sceptical reaction that would emanate from certain quarters in the county.

"I know there were those who would have said: 'Sure, he's a hurler - what would he know about football?' recalled Boylan.

Twenty-three years later, he left the Meath dressing-room, having led them to four All-Irelands, eight Leinster crowns and three Allianz League titles.

Not only had he successfully made the switch from small ball to big ball, he had done it so spectacularly that his permanent position in managerial Halls of Fame was guaranteed.

Pat Gilroy has already acquired a reputation as a top football manager but is now stepping into a new world which offers him the opportunity to achieve something unique in GAA history.

If he were to lead Dublin to their first All-Ireland senior hurling title since 1938, he would become the only manager to complete the Sam Maguire-Liam MacCarthy Cup double.

Read more: Burns too hot in Tyrone stroll

Boylan was player-manager with Meath hurlers in 1981-82 (he never actually selected himself) but the targets were modest, unlike in football where, after a few frustrating years, the glory taps opened for the Royals.

Liam Griffin and Tony Dempsey managed Wexford's hurlers and footballers at various stages. Griffin's spell with the footballers ended acrimoniously after he objected to what he regarded as unnecessary interference by the county board.

His term with the hurlers was far more successful, peaking with the famous All-Ireland win in 1996.


Former GAA president Nickey Brennan had spells as manager of Kilkenny's hurlers and footballers and while expectations for the two codes were very different in the county, he found that many of the basic requirements of running the teams were the same.

He expects Gilroy to do an excellent job with Dublin, especially since he has brought in former Galway hurling manager Anthony Cunningham as coach.

Cunningham has, of course, managerial experience in football too, having been successful with St Brigid's (Roscommon) and Garrycastle (Westmeath).

"From a Dublin perspective, I think Pat Gilroy's appointment is a great move," said Brennan. "He knows the art of management inside out and, on the hurling side of things, Anthony Cunningham has huge experience from his time with Galway."

He believes that while football and hurling require different skill-sets from a coaching and tactical perspective, good overall management techniques apply to all sports.

"The biggest attribute for a manager is to be good at dealing with people, not just in a group situation but also on an individual basis.

"These are demanding times for everybody so a manager needs an awful lot more than just an understanding of the game.

"There's no reason why a good manager can't do well in football and hurling because the principles of dealing properly with people are the same across the board," said Brennan.

There was some surprise in Kilkenny when Brian Cody brought Michael Dempsey aboard as trainer/selector at the end of 2004.

Dempsey had worked with Kilkenny's U-21s for two seasons but was known primarily as a Laois footballer who later managed his native county before moving on to lead Carlow champions O Hanrahan's to a Leinster club football title.

He has been an important component in Cody's management structure for the past 13 seasons and remains so for the new challenge which lies ahead this year.

"Coaching is not an exact science. It's the coaching eye, and a lot of that is an art. The science is there to help you. But I think there is an art involved in getting teams right. And I think that's something you develop from experience," Dempsey said a few years ago.

The skills he describes apply equally to hurling and football, further supporting the view that a cleverly-constructed management team can work successfully in either code.

Given his success with the Dublin footballers and his proven off-field leadership expertise, Gilroy was always going to be Dublin's choice to replace Ger Cunningham once he felt enthused to return to team management.

He knows the extent of the challenge which awaits, but then the pressure was even greater when he took the football job in late 2008.

It increased after Dublin's 17-point defeat by Kerry in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final, a setback which drew heavy criticism from many Dublin supporters.

"I don't worry about what people say. You listen to the people around you and those you can trust and you don't pay any attention to the rest. The important thing is to stay focused on what you're trying to do," he said at the time.

It's a philosophy he will, no doubt, take into his new role. This time, the eyes of the entire GAA world will be on him as he attempts to do for Dublin hurling what he did for football.

Irish Independent

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