IN this warp speed world where a week has become an entire lifetime in politics, five-and-a-half weeks was ample time for the filtration of several online rumours and half-truths about Dessie Farrell’s next step in football.
There was speculation that he wouldn’t seek another term; that Declan Darcy was being lined up (he was, it seems, by Leinster rugby); and that various other high-profile Dubs were in the frame for backroom roles in a new management team.
The speculation came, as it invariably does in an information vacuum, and then it all went quiet.
Cue yesterday evening’s announcement that the county board was pleased to announce a fresh two-year term for Farrell.
No other snippets. No word of any backroom additions or subtractions – Dublin GAA has never been particularly liberal in its dispensation of such trifling details. Instead, a one-sentence tweet confirming the news was rounded off with an UpTheDubs hashtag.
And, when you think of it, therein lies the challenge for Dessie in a nutshell. It’s highly debatable that he can ever raise up the Dubs to the history-making levels achieved under Jim Gavin (and for the first year of Farrell’s reign) for all kinds of reasons that have little enough to do with the current manager.
But the challenge is to build on the flickers of promise witnessed between May and July, to keep them ultra-competitive during a time of transition and – here’s the vital but tantalisingly difficult bit – to then go and engineer another All-Ireland title arguably against the head.
On reflection, once you judge Dublin on the benchmark of where they are now rather than where they were in the good old days of six-in-a-row, 2022 was a pretty decent championship rebound from a team that had just suffered demoralising league relegation in the spring.
Their Leinster form graph – against the admittedly threadbare competition we have come to expect – was infinitely better than last year’s. The delivery was more direct and enterprising, the execution thrillingly ruthless.
The one king-sized caveat is that we should never judge Dublin’s All-Ireland credentials on how they perform during summer’s answer to the O’Byrne Cup. Kildare were being touted as the first provincial rival in a decade to seriously discommode them. Remind us how that one worked out.
Far more promising, after Dublin had eventually ambled past Cork minus Con O’Callaghan, was how close they ran Kerry still minus Con.
When you think of it, they only lost to the eventual champions by dint of a last-second kick launched from somewhere in Outer Mongolia … all the while hamstrung by the absence of the one forward whose very presence in the inside line has a transformational impact on the team’s ability to penetrate.
On that basis, it’s only reasonable to surmise that Dublin are still close – very close – to the standard required to go and recapture Sam Maguire.
But here’s the rub: just because they went so close this summer, there are no guarantees the next. By some distance - especially once O’Callaghan succumbed to ill-timed injury - their two most influential championship performers were Ciarán Kilkenny and James McCarthy. Plus ca change.
But by the time Championship 2023 rolls around, McCarthy will be 33, as will Jonny Cooper, and Mick Fitzsimons will be 35. That’s 50pc of the defence that started against Kerry. Lee Gannon injected some welcome youthful dash to said rearguard; but he and Lorcan O’Dell (in attack) were the only newcomers to break into Farrell’s first 15.
To recycle the truism that Dublin’s strength-in-depth isn’t what it used to be is akin to saying that Erik ten Hag is encountering some early teething problems at Old Trafford.
In the short term, a spring sojourn in Division 2 will not necessarily weaken Farrell’s hand. It may even ease the burden on some of the younger brigade offered further league auditions to showcase their starting credentials.
For some of those newbies, Division 1 proved a particularly unforgiving environment as Dublin laboured to five defeats from seven last spring. This time around they’ll face a mini-Leinster championship (against Kildare, Louth and a Meath team now intriguingly led by Colm O’Rourke) plus a Munster-minus-Kerry equivalent (against Clare, Cork and Limerick). All eminently winnable, albeit Derry’s defensive wall may prove more of a head-wrecking obstacle.
Yet, even if the spotlight is less intense, Dublin will still be under scrutiny. A failure to secure promotion, in the above company, would spark an instant stewards’ enquiry – for the simple reason that any prolonged stint in Division 2 would be borderline disastrous for a team already denied heavyweight competition in their own province and now left waiting until the new Sam Maguire group stages.
Whatever happens in the league, however, won’t decide the success or otherwise of Farrell’s second managerial chapter.
Other media commentators have already remarked on how, during his first three years, they lost the knack for winning white-knuckle contests; how nine league and championship matches on his watch have been decided by a goal or less and Dublin have only triumphed in one of them, a pre-Covid league game against Donegal in 2020.
Of the other eight, they’ve drawn three while losing another three by three points and a further two by a single point. Those defeats include two winnable All-Ireland semi-finals (against Mayo in extra-time and Kerry) plus a league shootout in Monaghan that sealed their relegation fate.
In other words, Dublin’s penchant for the cold-blooded kill in a one-point game has morphed into a worrying predilection for tortured defeat at the death. That’s one bad habit in need of urgent addressing.
DONEGAL chiefs are remaining tight-lipped about the possible identity of their next senior football manager as well as the personnel involved in the selection committee to appoint Declan Bonner's successor.