Wednesday 15 August 2018

Intriguing Gilroy appointment likely to get floundering Dublin hurlers back in business

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Dublin hurling manager Pat Gilroy. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin hurling manager Pat Gilroy. Photo: Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

Say what you like about Pat Gilroy's appointment as Dublin hurling manager but you can't deny that it's intriguing. On the one hand the new boss has almost no track record in hurling, but on the other he is one of the rare breed of managers to steer a county to a senior All-Ireland title in the last decade. To make things more interesting still, he arrives on the scene when Dublin seem to have completely lost their way at senior level.

It's difficult to imagine how Ger Cunningham's final year as Dublin manager could have gone any worse. Relegation from Division 1A was followed by a 14-point loss to Galway in the Leinster championship before the Dubs made their exit after a 6-29 to 1-16 defeat by Tipperary in the qualifiers.

It was the kind of scoreline which makes you wonder if a team belongs in the championship at all, and right now Dublin probably rank ninth in the country, having slipped behind the likes of Wexford and Limerick while not quite falling back to join Offaly, Laois and Westmeath.

Cunningham's reign was bedevilled by disputes with leading players which weakened the team horribly. In the end there were probably more good Dublin hurlers not playing for the county than playing for it. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this issue, the fact remains that a manager who can't persuade his best players of his bona fides is in an impossible position. The beleaguered Corkman ended up as a kind of Jim Gavin in reverse.

Dublin's decline has been so precipitous it seems scarcely believable that just four years ago they seemed set on an inexorable upward path. Anthony Daly's team defeated All-Ireland champions Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final and then gave an absolutely exhilarating performance when destroying Galway to win a first provincial title in 52 years.

Then, had Ryan O'Dwyer not been sent off at a crucial stage of their All-Ireland semi-final against Cork they might have gone all the way to the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2013.

The good news wasn't confined to senior level. There had been provincial under 21 crowns in 2010 and 2011, and minor titles in 2011 and 2012. Years of painstaking work had apparently led to the point where Dublin's underage hurlers could dominate in the same way as their young footballers. Instead, Kilkenny have regrouped to win four of the last five Leinster minor titles, and the Dublin under 21 two in a row was followed by a Wexford three in a row. They did win minor and under 21 titles last year but came up short in the All-Ireland series at a time when Munster seems to have moved a long way ahead of Leinster.

That the bright future so confidently predicted at the start of the decade has not come to pass will surely concern Gilroy. But his main concern will be the recovery of something approaching credibility at senior level.

One reason he got the nod for the Dublin job over Mattie Kenny, who brought Cuala to last year's All-Ireland club title and is a more experienced hurling coach, may be that his standing within the county will make it easier for him to attract disillusioned players back to the fold. His status as the first home-grown Dublin manager since Tommy Naughton resigned in 2008 may also help with the diplomacy required.

There is much talk about Anthony Cunningham joining Gilroy's management set-up. Yet the prospect of two such strong personalities working together might create its own problems. Cunningham is used to running his own show and looks a bit over-qualified to be an assistant. It's not always a great sign when people are more excited about a manager's backroom team than about the manager himself.

Nevertheless, Gilroy should not be under-estimated. He was regarded as an unusual choice when taking over the Dublin footballers in 2009. Much stress was laid on his achievements in business as managing director of the energy firm Dalkia, now known as Veolia, as though to silence worries about his lack of experience in football management.

The appointment proved to be an enormous success, Gilroy overcoming humiliation at the hands of Kerry in 2009 and Meath in 2010 to lead Dublin to the All-Ireland final victory in 2011 which may have changed the course of Gaelic football history. The same heights might not be possible for the hurlers but you would fancy that Pat Gilroy will leave them in better shape than he found them.

Off and on the field he's all about getting the job done.

The Last Word: USA’s failure captures the attention of world

The USA's failure to qualify for the World Cup finals almost defies belief. The Americans needed just a point from their final match against a Trinidad and Tobago team which had lost eight of its previous nine qualifiers. Instead, they managed to lose 2-1 in front of 5,350 fans at the Ato Boldon Stadium in the small town of Couva to miss out for the first time since 1986. It was, in the words of Sports Illustrated, "a choke job of historic proportions", and "the most embarrassing result in US soccer history".

Yet the American collapse did have the effect of sending Panama through to the finals for the first time. The Panamanians were lucky from the point of view that their first goal in a 2-1 win over Costa Rica did not seem to have crossed the line. Yet there was a touch of karma to that as four years ago they were set to qualify before conceding two goals in injury-time in their last game against Mexico. Irish people will identify with this team from a country of four million people overturning the odds to make it through. Come on the Canalmen.

* * * * *

Amid all the furore over national anthem protests you could miss the fact that they've also actually been playing some football in the NFL. In Dallas last Sunday there was an electrifying reminder of just what makes the game so special. When the home Cowboys took a 31-28 lead against the Green Bay Packers with 1.13 left on the clock you thought visiting quarterback Aaron Rodgers surely couldn't repeat the miracle comeback which knocked Dallas out of last year's play-offs.

Yet he did, passing, scrambling and probing, going 75 yards in nine plays and finding wide receiver Davante Adams with the winning touchdown pass with 11 seconds on the clock. If Tom Brady is the game's ultimate winner, Rodgers is its ultimate miracle worker. The duo may well meet up in the Super Bowl. Best bets to spoil that dream match-up? The Packers' AFC rivals the Kansas City Chiefs, the only side to start the season 5-0.

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When a 20-year-old Bryan Cooper rode three winners at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, the world seemed to be at the feet of the Tralee prodigy. Yet the road to the top is not as straightforward in horse racing as in other sports and Cooper has been cursed with injuries.

His biggest blow, however, came in July when Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud, where he'd been number one jockey, decided to let him go. Now Cooper has bounced back, securing a job with Alan Potts, one of Britain's biggest owners. He will have first pick of the Potts horses which are trained in England, with Robbie Power enjoying the same privilege with those stabled in Ireland.

Among the horses Cooper will ride are Fox Norton and Finians Oscar, current ante-post favourites for the JLT Novices Chase and the Ryanair Chase at next year's Cheltenham respectively. The latter would provide a nice bit of revenge, wouldn't it?

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