'You believe you're going to be able to win an All-Ireland some day'
Ahead of a rematch with Cork, Dublin boss Pat Gilroy tells Cian Murphy about his plans, progress and pain
AFTER the humiliation of their All-Ireland quarter-final defeats of 2008 and '09, the Hill 16 faithful believed that Dublin football turned a corner last summer. But in the cold, analytical mind of their manager Pat Gilroy, the road for Dublin is as rocky as it ever was.
Dublin fans look back on a 2010 that saw them achieve their goal of closing the gap on football's top three teams by beating Kerry away in the league and ousting Tyrone in the league and championship.
But Gilroy sees things differently. And as he prepares to meet champions Cork under lights at Croke Park tomorrow night, he's as anxious as ever for people to stay grounded.
"You can delude yourself into thinking things are far better than they are. At the end of the day we won nothing, whereas we had won a Leinster Championship the previous year," he says bluntly.
"This is about winning. We were close to getting to a National League final, got hammered in Leinster and then came close to getting to an All-Ireland final. But if you look at it coldly, we regressed in terms of results last year because we lost the Leinster Championship.
"The changes to the way we played happened in a bigger way last year and also there were considerable changes in personnel. So you'd be going into this year thinking we are not starting afresh. But as regards being further down the road in terms of results -- we are not."
Gilroy is no stranger to playing down the hype that can so easily engulf Dublin.
Last year he sent shockwaves through Dublin GAA when he proclaimed that the team needed dramatic surgery and that an All-Ireland was out of their reach. Winning five Leinster Championships in a row from 2005 to '09 was a false dawn.
Losing to Tyrone by 12 points in 2008 and then a brutal 17-point collapse to Kerry in '09 painted a clearer picture of where Dublin's championship ambitions were at -- and it made for ugly viewing.
Physically and mentally stronger players would be needed to rebuild Dublin, Gilroy argued. If hope has blossomed in Dublin again, it's because the manager seemed to have addressed those problems. Horrific Leinster championship displays against Wexford and Meath were a mid-term slump in a season that otherwise saw a new-look and new-style Dublin succeed where they'd failed before.
But Gilroy continues to sound a warning. As someone who played on the Dublin teams of the early 90s who struggled to fulfil their potential before collapsing over the All-Ireland winning line in 1995, he believes there's still work to be done.
"Last year we set out to close the gap to the top three teams, and beat two of them and lost to the other by a point in the championship, but they beat us well in the league.
"That gap had become very big in the previous two years so that was progress, but I wouldn't put it down as success. It was just progress -- success would be winning something."
After the traumatic Kerry result, Gilroy said he underestimated the depth of the psychological problems in the team and how they'd been scarred by previous failings. He agrees that the manner in which they were beaten by Cork in a classic semi-final last summer was important.
"Last year we threw the kitchen sink at Cork and it just wasn't enough -- they were the better team. People say to me 'the better team didn't win' but the better team wins every game in my view, and ultimately they were the better team -- the 75 minutes of staying power they had was just that bit better than ours.
"But we had given it everything and when you've done that you can cope with defeat a whole lot better than when you just haven't shown up and I think that was an important thing for us to do last year.
"There was a lot of stuff the team hadn't done before, like winning in Kerry or beating Tyrone, and that helps in terms of building people's confidence, but it's an area of the game where you have to be constantly vigilant and make sure you keep that frame of mind positive. I wouldn't say anything is ever done there, but there were certainly positives to say the psychological side was better last year.
"We lost four games of competitive football out of 17. It wasn't bad -- but not enough to win things, so we now have to up that level this year."
The new work ethic and defensive set-up and the emergence of players like Michael Darragh Macauley and Eoghan O'Gara added a new dimension to a Dublin team that had become predictable.
Bernard Brogan was rejuvenated and the early signs are that Diarmuid Connolly could emulate him this year.
The Dubs boss makes no secret of the fact that Cork are the benchmark -- as much for their ability to come back from heartache as for their physical and footballing prowess.
Gilroy knows that if all his key players are available after injuries and the Kilmacud Crokes run, then the Dubs have potential.
"For us to have been thinking about winning All-Irelands at the start of last year would have been a stupid notion really, because of where we were at. As the year wore on and you started to get momentum, of course that's what you were going for, that's what all teams are aiming to do.
"It's quite hard to set out what our progress targets will be because we've been so disjointed and we've had 20 fellas who haven't been with us at all who were involved last year.
"We lost the All-Ireland semi-final by a point last year so you want to progress more than that, which is getting to an All-Ireland final or winning a league or winning back our Leinster Championship, because we need to make progress by hopefully winning something this year.
"It's about getting the absolute best out of ourselves and if the best can take us to one of those, that's progress.
"Of course you believe you are going to be able to win an All-Ireland some day and hopefully it is this year.
"We'd have liked to have won it last year and in '09, but some of it is still in the lap of the gods when it comes to the last couple of games.
"In 14 games last year we performed to our best, and if we get 17 or 18 good performances this year hopefully that will give us something in terms of victories."
Now in his third year in charge, deep down Gilroy must know the clock is probably ticking on him too. Cork were the one team to escape the Dubs last year and tomorrow night will be a good chance to see where that gap is at.