Dublin can go very close to reclaiming their All-Ireland SFC crown as they gear up for “one last hurrah” in 2023, reckons Pillar Caffrey.
Caffrey was manager the last time Dublin competed in Division 2 of the Allianz Football League, securing instant promotion in 2008, and he expects Dessie Farrell to rebound in similar fashion.
His Na Fianna clubmate launches Dublin’s latest NFL campaign at home to Kildare this Saturday evening. But even before a league ball has been kicked, fans are dreaming of summer renaissance after the heart-wrenching semi-final defeats of 2021 to Mayo and last summer to eventual champions Kerry.
Former Footballer of the Year Jack McCaffrey and three-time All Star Paul Mannion have rejoined Dublin’s panel after lengthy periods in exile, while Pat Gilroy, their 2011 All-Ireland-winning manager, has hooked up with Farrell’s backroom team.
These off-season developments have fuelled optimism in the capital.
“A big part of the catalyst would be James McCarthy,” Caffrey said in assessing Sky Blue prospects in the newly formatted race for Sam Maguire.
“He’s a hugely popular figure in the dressing-room, amongst the players – and once he decided that he was staying on board, it just fell into place with Jack Mac and Paul Mannion.
“And the other big one that people are not talking about; Con O’Callaghan did not play against Kerry last year. Now, bar Ciarán Kilkenny, Con is probably the best forward (in Dublin) and on days he’s probably more important than Ciarán Kilkenny.
“I would think that Dublin are champing at the bit. And plus, Kerry having got back on the podium, it’s always the one that Dubs measure themselves, rivalry-wise, on.
“They haven’t met in that many All-Irelands; it’s been really Mayo who have been the big rival for Dublin for all these All-Irelands that they’ve won. So to see Kerry back on top, I just think there’ll be huge motivation within the group to throw everything at it this year.
“I can’t see them being far away, with great respect to everybody else,” Caffrey expanded. “I would say that everything is pointing towards Dublin being very, very serious for one last hurrah – for a lot of reasons – to try and win Sam this year.
“Everything is pointing towards no stone being left unturned – all the little pieces of the jigsaw that have slotted in so far. But look, Division 2, who knows what adventure it will throw up.”
On that front, however, Caffrey still expects Dublin to accelerate out of the blocks, starting against Kildare in Croke Park.
While accepting that Division 1 contests “give you a better read” on new players, the former boss added: “Dublin aren’t in the phase of rebuilding or anything like that. I think you could put 12 names down on paper at the moment and say, yeah, those 12 are going to start for Dublin in the championship.
“And they’ll probably start on Saturday evening against Kildare. I think Dessie will want to get through the league with as many wins under the belt, and obviously they’re favourites to get promotion out of that division – probably themselves, Derry and Cork, it will be a battle between those three.
“I think Dessie will have a serious amount of work done and they’ll be ready to hit the ground on Saturday night, and try and get this league put to bed as quickly as possible in terms of putting themselves in pole position to get back up to Division 1. Because you want to be playing the Kerrys and Mayos, the Tyrones and Galways, year in, year out.”