Sunday 18 February 2018

Driven Gilroy aiming to create another blue wave

Former Dublin football boss Pat Gilroy prepares to transfer his expertise to the county’s hurlers. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile
Former Dublin football boss Pat Gilroy prepares to transfer his expertise to the county’s hurlers. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The code is different but the challenge is much the same for Pat Gilroy as he prepares to transfer the expertise which proved so influential with Dublin's footballers across to the county's hurlers.

His appointment as hurling manager has sent hopes soaring across city and county that a new era is about to dawn. It's based on his success with the footballers, whom he transformed from perennial challengers who always came up short in the closing stages, to All-Ireland winners in 2011.

It was the forerunner of a hugely successful era, which has yielded a further four All-Ireland titles in the last five seasons under Jim Gavin.

Gilroy is facing a massive challenge with the hurlers, whose stock plummeted this year after being relegated from Division 1A before suffering heavy championship defeats against Galway and Tipperary.

Fraught

They lost by a combined total of 36 points, after which Ger Cunningham resigned. It was a disappointing end to a turbulent three-year term, during which wholesale changes occurred.

They arose from a combination of circumstances, some driven by Cunningham's changing of the guard after the Anthony Daly era, others forced by the decision of several top players to remain outside the squad. It made for a fraught atmosphere, which eventually left Dublin easy prey for Galway and Tipperary.

Cunningham has vast dual managerial experience. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Cunningham has vast dual managerial experience. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

Gilroy's appointment will unify the county, although there will be some who believe that appointing a man with a predominantly football background is a risk.

That's to overlook Gilroy's managerial expertise - in business and sport - and his passion for Dublin GAA.

The first item of interest will focus on his support team, which is expected to be announced in the coming days.

Former Galway hurling manager Anthony Cunningham has been linked with the Gilroy ticket for several weeks, adding intrigue to an already interesting scenario.

Cunningham, who won All-Ireland minor, U-21 and senior hurling medals with Galway as a player in the 1980s, has vast dual managerial experience.

He led St Brigid's (Roscommon) and Garrycastle (Westmeath) to respective Connacht and Leinster senior football club titles before steering Galway's hurlers to their first Leinster success in 2012. He spent four years in charge of Galway before being forced out by a player revolt at the end of 2015.

Despite that, he is a hugely respected figure whose experience across both codes would fit well with the Dublin project.

Gilroy is expected to build an extensive backroom team and while he may not take direct control of the U-21s it's expected that they will be overseen by one of his management group.

Inevitably, the question arises as to whether a man with a mainly football background can succeed in hurling.

Sean Boylan, whose background was in hurling, became one of the most successful football managers in history during his lengthy spell with Meath.

Nickey Brennan (Kilkenny) and Liam Griffin (Wexford) managed their counties' hurling and football teams at various stages but circumstances were very different to what pertains for Gilroy now.

Kilkenny football was always at the bottom end of the market while Griffin's short spell with the Wexford footballers came at a time when they weren't going especially well either.

Expectations are altogether different in Dublin hurling where, despite this year's disappointments, the fundamentals are solid. The Allianz League success in 2011, followed by a first Leinster title win for 52 years in 2013, raised Dublin's hopes that they were on a path to All-Ireland glory, but it didn't materialise.

Instead, they regressed in recent years, with this season being the worst of all, especially in the championship.

It leaves them eighth favourites (20/1) for next year's All-Ireland title.

Gilroy's choice of backroom support will be as interesting as it's important since he is likely to delegate a lot of responsibility for the technical side of the game to others while concentrating on the overall management structure.

It's an area where he has vast experience - on and off the pitch.

It will be interesting to see how he interacts with players who refused to make themselves available for county duty for the last year or two.

As a man who puts loyalty to the cause high on the agenda, he will not have been impressed with those who declined to wear the Dublin jersey, irrespective of their reasons.

Nonetheless, he is sufficiently pragmatic to accept that Dublin cannot afford to be without some of their top players so no doors will be closed.

However, it won't simply be a case of players returning to the camp because they are happy with the new management.

They will need to prove that they are not only good enough but that they also possess the right mentality.

Gilroy was a surprise choice as Dublin football manager in late 2008 and while Dublin won the Leinster title for a fifth successive year in 2009, they lost to Kerry by 17 points in the All-Ireland quarter-final. They conceded 5-9 against Meath when losing the 2010 Leinster semi-final but that marked the end of their big giveaways.

Gilroy deployed a more defensive approach from there on, a policy which yielded All-Ireland glory a year later.

After watching Dublin's hurlers concede a total of 8-54 against Galway and Tipperary this year, it takes no great insight to know where his early priorities will lie when he starts work with the squad.

 

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