Sport Hurling

Friday 16 November 2018

Quiet hero of the Hill now planning from a different corner

Former All-Ireland winning football manager Pat Gilroy will start his Dublin hurling adventure next Janaury when his new charges line out against Offaly in Division 1B of the NHL. Photo: Sportsfile
Former All-Ireland winning football manager Pat Gilroy will start his Dublin hurling adventure next Janaury when his new charges line out against Offaly in Division 1B of the NHL. Photo: Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

You could search high and low in Dublin hurling for a conscientious objector to Pat Gilroy's appointment this week and struggle to identify even one tremulous spark of acrimony.

Putting the county team in the care of a football man could have been provocative, a slap in the face for the small-ball community. Yet the choice of Gilroy seemed to short-circuit conventional division and prejudice by dint of his standing in the broader GAA community.

An appetite had been building in the Capital for a native Dubliner to take the job and, from that narrow corridor, nobody stood remotely as tall as the stalwart son of St Vincent's.

Maybe the biggest surprise was that Gilroy, a successful businessman, made himself available for the position. What on earth had he to gain? An All-Ireland-winning football manager whose place in the affections of the city found permanency that September day in 2011 when Sam Maguire was won for the first time in 16 summers, now choosing such a comparatively low-lit pilgrimage.

Gilroy and the hurlers will be a Division 1B story next spring and it would take quite a leap of faith to imagine them insinuating themselves with any persuasion into the 2018 championship discussion.

The current juxtaposition between the county's footballers (already odds-on to make it four in a row next year) with the hurlers (ranked a distant ninth in the All-Ireland betting) speaks of a gulf unlikely to be bridged any time soon if, indeed, ever.

Abstract

Gilroy has been given three years, presumably, to focus on abstract issues like culture, value-systems and group personality before anybody begins to deliver blunt judgements on his success or otherwise. Hindsight tells us now that the Ger Cunningham years were, largely, ones of ennui and drift, so this story has to be as much about energy as hurling.

The hard-nosed team that won a National League (2011) and Leinster title (2013) has, by dint of time and disaffection, been watered down to a largely callow group, ill-equipped - as yet - for going to war with the big dogs of the game.

Gilroy's job is now being interpreted in some quarters as one of simple repatriation, in other words one of reclaiming the wild geese lost to the wind in such numbers during Cunningham's tenure. But that interpretation could be presumptuous.

Niall Corcoran, the All-Ireland-winning Galway minor who hurled senior for Dublin from '08 to last summer, suspects that Dublin's new manager might not be so instantly accommodating to the idea of rapprochement.

"I was talking about this to some of the lads this week," reflected the Kilmacud Crokes defender. "When certain lads walked, it wasn't Ger Cunningham they'd been playing for, it was Dublin. And Pat being a really passionate Dublin man... how is he going to view guys walking away when they didn't get their way?

"You know if Pat is as ruthless as people say he is, you nearly don't see him asking those types of guys back if he feels it's more hassle than it's worth."

That word, "ruthless", crops up in most conversations about Pat Gilroy.

The consensus is of a candid straight-shooter, loyal, engaging, likeable, yet utterly interested in the glue of superficial friendship. That Dublin football team he took charge of in late 2008 tried to simulate being hard-nosed with all their rehearsed nonsense in front of the Hill, the 'Blue Book', the sense of men on the edge of battle all but posing for a calendar only to then acquiesce when serious teams came asking awkward questions.

Gilroy took the job without any managerial experience, yet recognised instantly the need to distinguish between ceremony and action.

Almost instantly he tackled Dublin's weakness for hype. They'd become flat-track bullies in Leinster who'd then arrive onto the All-Ireland stage soaked with self-delusion. One of his first acts during a training camp at La Manga in January of '09 was to sit the group through a video of their physical compliance against Tyrone the previous August.

That virus wouldn't be easily subdued, though.

If Tyrone finished 12 points up on them that day, Kerry would be 17 clear by the end of the '09 quarter-final. What Gilroy saw before him was a group bereft of conspicuous steel. Meath, after all, put five goals past them to end Dublin's five-year provincial dominance in 2010 and, when Cork rallied from an eight-point deficit to beat them in the 2011 National League final, Gilroy fronted up with remarkable candour to the stubborn suspicions growing.

"If I really believe that (the team is mentally weak), then I should walk out the door here and never be in front of this team," he told journalists after.

"They will get stick for this. It was an eight-point lead and they lost. People will say what you've just said and we'll deal with that and we have to deal with it because that's our job. We are the Dublin team and we have to listen to that.

"And, when we have the All-Ireland some day, that's when we'll stop hearing that.

"They have serious character and anyone who questions it, well, they might get a surprise. Some day. But, in fairness, that question is well asked and it is going to be asked every day for the next two months and it is up to us to answer it during the summer."

And, of course, answer it Dublin duly did.

So how did Gilroy do it? Above all, maybe, by replacing swagger with work. By holding true to the values so relentlessly espoused at St Vincent's where his father, Jackie, was a former chairman and one of the few truly close confidants of Kevin Heffernan. That is, he took a powerhose to all remnants of conspicuous ego.

Eamonn Fennell, a member of the 2011 All-Ireland-winning team, recalled this week .

Permeated

"People talk about the culture that's in place with the Dublin footballers now. A lot of that permeated down from Pat in regard to the mindset change he brought. There were no egos in that Dublin team of 2010, '11 and '12.

"And anyone who had one was shipped out. Pat doesn't like that around his set-up and, definitely, if there are people who have that (ego), it will be addressed straight away."

A key to Gilroy's work with the hurlers will be the breadth of his delegation. It's been widely rumoured that Anthony Cunningham will be on his management team and, just as the initial coaching of Dublin footballers during his time as boss was undertaken by Mickey Whelan, it seems probable that he will now delegate the hurling sessions too.

Gilroy did hurl with St Vincent's, but it isn't his game and he won't pretend otherwise.

His role, thus, promises to be one of setting behavioural standards, creating a culture, establishing an environment in which seriously ambitious young men prosper.

It's highly unlikely that he holds out much hope of poaching any of Gavin's superstars, not least clubmate Diarmuid Connolly who he once sent home from a La Manga training camp for missing an early morning session.

The truth is that a 1B promotion battle, in which Dublin will - at best - be third favourites, scarcely holds the lustre of what the footballers can aspire to. Quiet and respectful by nature, Gilroy won't shirk arguments mind. In his autobiography, Anthony Daly recalled "a few heated phone calls" between them over player availability when "he was just minding his corner in the same way I was minding mine."

Gilroy finds himself in the hurling corner now, certain to feel the gentle pinch of hierarchy in any tug-of-war exchange with Gavin. Those who know him don't doubt that he will give as good as he takes.

Corcoran, for one, believes the appointment might be timely.

"It looks to me that they're going for maybe a rugby style set-up where he's the manager and then you have two or three hurling coaches who will run the sessions," he reflected. "So, obviously, a lot will depend on who makes up his backroom team.

"But all any player wants is a high performance environment. In Ger Cunningham's time, to be fair, that would have been present. But maybe what Pat will bring is that ruthlessness that might have been lacking a small bit. Sometimes players just want to be told what to do.

"When players are committing to the amount of time they have to now, you do have to have somebody there who knows how to manage them. Who knows when to put the press on and knows when to ease off. No doubt there's going to be a huge culture shock for some of these guys when Pat comes in. Guys will maybe take time to get used to the type of commitment that's expected.

"But I think that culture shock is needed to be quite honest. Even from before Anthony left, it's been crying out for it. And don't be surprised if you see one or two more guys walk next year. That wouldn't surprise me.

"But I think it's needed. In order to be successful, that's what you have to do. That's the way it's gone. I'm sure Pat wouldn't have anyone hanging around who is only in 70-80pc."

So is the talent in place for Gilroy to start a revolution rolling?

Corcoran's view, maybe borne out by Cuala's status as All-Ireland champions, is that the Dublin club scene today is far more competitive than that Daly walked into in 2008.

"It might take three years for this to come to fruition, but I certainly think the talent is there," he says. "Maybe it's an advantage that so many people outside Dublin don't realise it!"

Irish Independent

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