The Dublin footballers do not have to look far for someone to explain to them the challenges that face a team attempting to reclaim their All-Ireland crown.
As a player, Pat Gilroy experienced it at first hand in 1996 when Dublin fell short in retaining their title. As a manager, he is now suitably informed ahead of Sunday’s Leinster opener with Louth.
“Meath came out of the blue to beat us and the lesson is anyone can come and do you,” recalls Gilroy. “My memories of it were maybe celebrations drifted on a bit long, we went on holidays after Christmas that year and when we came back in January or February we were in the worst shape we had been in for five years. Maybe some of the more established guys were cutting corners, but there were young lads there like Ciarán Whelan, Ian Robertson, Paddy Christie and they were pushing hard.”
Gilroy’s approach to the 2012 season has been with eradicating those mistakes in mind.
“Encouraging the holiday to happen before Christmas was part of that. Putting the cup away as we did in February as well. We picked up a lot of injuries in 1996 early on and lads carried them through to the summer, so one of the policies we’ve really had this year is not to rush lads. Most of our guys were involved right through to early December with their clubs.
“So the policy we took was that we gave people, who had injuries, loads of time to recover. We could have pressed Alan into service, Bernard or Denis Bastick, earlier. But we felt no, let’s try get them fully recovered and it might stand to us in the summer. People will have cottoned on to what you are doing so you have to bring something different to the party. Not changing a whole pile, just a tweak here and there.”
Gilroy sought to freshen up the panel with Emmett Ó Conghaile, Jack McCaffrey and Kevin O’Brien graduating from Jim Gavin’s triumphant U21 team while simultaneously, a few were let go. Some panellists have put their hand up for selection and Gilroy expects changes from last term.
“The three of them that have come in so far have all shown they are capable of competing at that level, which is a real positive. We made a decision based on capability at a particular point in time. Some of those lads I’d expect to come back into the Dublin fold in future once they improve in certain areas.
“It is probably the hardest thing you have got to do in management, leaving a fella off, particularly with the attitude of our panel. We haven’t picked our team yet but there are a lot of guys who have pushed themselves into a position where we would be genuinely considering starting [them]. I would expect there to be a considerable number of new faces.”
Attempting to channel another successful campaign will require an investment of time and commitment from players and management, as well as the investment of finances from outside sources. It’s a tricky business funding an elite inter-county setup but Gilroy is adamant that Dublin are not wasteful in their spending.
“I don’t think there’s anything extravagant being done. There might be the odd training trip abroad, but a lot of times sponsors or someone else is paying for them. It’s good housekeeping stuff, like feeding lads properly after training and proper medical care, which is a huge cost. But if you don’t do it right you won’t have your players on the field.
“There was fantastic goodwill last year and Vodafone and the county board were very good. Money comes from GAA centrally as well, but people were very good to us. There was a lot of goodwill. We had a few injuries last year and we wanted to get them the best of care so definitely when you’re at the top end of it the cost is going to be much higher.”
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