Dublin kingmakers have a difficult choice to make between Pat Gilroy and Mattie Kenny
JUST minutes after Cuala won their All-Ireland title in March, Paul Schutte stood in the auditorium under the Cusack Stand, shook his head and laughed when asked about Mattie Kenny.
“I’ve never met anyone like him,” he chuckled. “The finest details...”
“Just a little story: we were going up (to Armagh) against Slaughtneil (in the All-Ireland semi-final) for our warm-up and we got the bus up there so we could get an idea.
“He sent a text saying ‘we’ve got cars coming behind just in case the bus breaks down’.”
Cuala’s All-Ireland win, a first for a Dublin club, was achieved with the authority and certainty of a Ballyhale (Kilkenny) or a Portumna (Galway) rather than a first time provincial winner.
Kenny’s fingerprints were all over every aspect of it.
At the time, Cuala considered themselves lucky to still have him as their manager after twice putting himself up for the Galway senior job and twice failing narrowly.
He contested it firstly in September 2014, just a year on from leaving Anthony Cunningham’s backroom team and having recruited his own impressive management group which included Tom Helebert, who was also a selector for the first two of Cunningham’s years in charge, along with outgoing minor and former senior boss Mattie Murphy, and ex-Galway hurlers Justin Campbell and Jeff Lynskey.
Kenny is also understood to have made a compelling case for himself in 2015 after Cunningham was ousted in a player coup when Mícheál Donoghue was preferred, again believed to be by a gossamer thin margin.
“The position in Galway came up and I applied for that position and I was unsuccessful, so time moves on,” as he put it himself back in March.
“There’s a window for everybody and I’m coming to the end of that window now.”
Galway’s All-Ireland win last month means that that window is unlikely to swing open again any time soon.
And the strength of Kenny’s candidacy for the Dublin job is self-evident.
“From our point of view, we’re delighted he didn’t get it,” said Mark Schutte, one of the players Kenny would be expected to shepherd back into the hurling squad after a successful if inactive summer with Jim Gavin’s footballers should he be appointed tonight.
“It is tough to find managers and get top quality coaches.”
Dublin hurling has suffered that very same affliction.
And though Kenny’s credentials are gold-plated, Pat Gilroy’s wholly surprising presence in this race renders tonight’s result unpredictable.
On the one hand, it’s quite possible Dublin have never had such a qualified, suitable and available candidate to manage their hurlers as Mattie Kenny - one already armed with intricate local knowledge.
On the other, it could be difficult for the Dublin County Board not to appoint Pat Gilroy assuming his interest is genuine.
Their respective claims on the job form an intriguing dichotomy.
Just as his acumen in business was considered a selling point to his candidacy for the football job in 2008, Gilroy’s subsequent breakthrough success with the footballers is accepted now as evidence of his suitability for the hurling gig.
Gilroy is the man who changed the culture in Dublin football, who built ‘The Bunker’ in St Clare’s, DCU where Jim Gavin’s panel do their championship prepartions.
His ability to construct a management team with sufficient hurling expertise is not in question.
His presumed ability to coax the best hurlers in the county to line out for Dublin is equally attractive.
As Philly McMahon succinctly put it last week: “He was very structured, very culture-orientated, tried to develop the players as much as they can, give the players as much resources as they can to achieve the ultimate goal - winning the All-Ireland.”
All of which would, in theory anyway, seem directly adaptable to hurling.
Gilroy’s personality was such that he cultivated a strong bond with his players in those four years and his man-management skills - an area in which Ger Cunningham came up fatally short - were considered excellent and vital to his success, even among players who Gilroy dropped.
Plus, the prospect of Gilroy managing the Dublin hurlers carries with it a kind of novelty fascination.
He would be coming at the job from a completely fresh angle and any success by a team managed by a ‘football’ man would hardly be easily digested in hurling circles.
Then there’s the ‘Dublin Factor’.
A Dublin native has not managed the county’s senior hurlers since Tommy Naughton stood down in 2008 prior to Anthony Daly’s appointment.
Shay Boland came close the last time the job was available and part of his charm as a potential Dublin senior manager was his very nativity.
“Looking back when he was appointed as Dublin manager, I don’t think he had massive amounts of management experience,” was how Cian O’Sullivan put it recently. “But he certainly made a success of that.”
One of the candidates is a proven winner in hurling, just not quite at the very highest level.
The other is proven winner at the highest level, just not in hurling.
Over to the kingmakers.