Mattie Kenny’s reputation as a man who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “no” reached new heights in recent months.
Following his appointment as Dublin manager, his long-time selector and coach Greg Kennedy had been expected to link up with Kenny.
The pair had been at the heart of Cuala’s back-to-back All-Ireland senior club titles but Kennedy was hesitant. After five years commuting to Dalkey and Bray to training from Athlone and with a young family and extra work commitments to consider, the former Galway defender couldn’t commit.
Unperturbed, Kenny began his charm offensive on his friend who would be regarded as bringing a more relaxed foil to Kenny’s intensity. Phone-calls and texts were followed by a special delivery to Kennedy’s door — Dublin gear with embroidered initials GK.
Kennedy continued to hold out through the Walsh Cup as the rest of Kenny’s management team was ratified including Paul O’Brien, Eoin Roche, Mickey McCullough, and strength and conditioning coaches Conor Clifford and Cliodhna O’Connor. But there, on the line for Dublin’s Division 1B opener against Carlow in Parnell Park on January 26, was Kennedy.
Kenny had got his man.
The Tynagh Abbery-Duniry man usually does. After two All-Ireland senior football medals with Dublin, Mark Schutte is a county hurler again as is Darragh O’Connell while their Cuala team-mate Seán Treacy has also been brought in. But for medical exams, Colm Cronin would also be involved.
But Kenny’s magic touch is the subtlety of his actions. Before last Saturday’s win over Tipperary put him and the group in the spotlight, Kenny was able to complete a fact-finding mission on his team while attracting little attention.
“Mattie doesn’t like press, period,” says his friend and Cuala stalwart and former Dublin player Vinnie Holden. “He doesn’t like talking too much himself and doesn’t like anybody talking about him and I’d be 100% behind him so I won’t be doing much of that.
They only build him up to knock him down and he’s tasted the bitterness of that pill on a number of occasions. Part of the reason that Cuala won their championships was because they were so low profile. They were so admirable in doing that.
“How Mattie kept control of the dressing room during his tenure was a compliment to him. It was the ability to say nothing that kept him on top of the show. You see managers now talking about what they’re going to do before games when it’s only when everything is over that you can really talk about things.
“I respect him too much to say anything more other than he says what he does and does what he says,” concludes Holden. “When he came to Cuala he was a perfect match because here was a young team with potential and coming in was a ‘bitter’ manager. It was a match made in heaven.”
The bitterness Holden might be referring to is 2014 when Kenny missed out on the Galway managerial position as Anthony Cunningham was reappointed. A selector of Cunningham’s in 2012 and ‘13, Kenny was overlooked when the top job became vacant.
But for that, Kenny’s term with Cuala would have lasted one and not the glittering five, the defence of the Tommy Moore Cup seeing him being favoured over Cunningham as Pat Gilroy’s successor last November. Driven as he is a sticker for attention to detail, Kenny’s focus on skill has been the hallmark of his coaching.
It’s a deficiency in Dublin that his right-hand man Kennedy recognised when speaking a couple of years ago:
“If they had the full complement of players available to them, the (Danny) Sutcliffes and the guys not there at the moment, they could do it. (Anthony) Daly got them to a very high standard as regards skill levels and losing the players that they have, they have also lost ground to the rest of the counties.
"The skill level of the Cuala team we have was high but we had the high standard of players to carry it out as well.
“As a unit, Dublin are still lacking.”
Not for too much longer, perhaps.