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Danny Hughes: Dublin duo a credit to themselves and their sport

Dean Rock and Keith Higgins renew rivalry in this weekend's Allianz Football League programme. The Irish News' columnist Danny Hughes was as impressed by Rock off the pitch as he has been on the pitch when the forward visited Danny's club Saval last week

LAST Friday, two multiple All-Ireland winners, Dean Rock and Ciaran Kilkenny, gave up their day to spend some time at my club, Saval, talking to the underage teams and holding a question and answer session with our members.

The Dublin pair were joined on stage by Mark Poland, the opinionated Stephen Poacher and myself, and we managed to reduce standards significantly, especially in the ‘medals accumulated’ stakes.

Over the course of the evening, many of the key issues affecting the GAA were touched upon, while our guests were quizzed about Dublin’s preparations for the year ahead.

The one characteristic both Dean and Ciaran displayed more than any other was humility.

These are two young men who have multiple Allstars and All-Ireland medals between them who never lose sight of the fact they are ‘living the dream’.

They are aware they are performing in an era where the players coming through are talented and focused and, like all great players, are aware that it can end all too quickky if the highest standards aren’t maintained.

Everyone in our club became very aware of the pride both players carry in being stalwarts of the all-conquering Dublin team and in maintaining the level of behaviour expected from them, on and off the field of play.

Dean Rock is currently employed by a charity, helping to mentor children involved in the Special Olympics, while Ciaran Kilkenny is a Coaching Development Officer with Dublin GAA.

And both give back to society in many other ways, outside of their day jobs.

There is no sign of sponsored cars or the other trappings that so often go with success.

Indeed, this stick regularly used to beat the Dubs couldn’t be further from the truth with regards this pair, much as they would love it be true.

Rock and Kilkenny are individuals perfectly at ease with who they are. It is no act.

Kilkenny is hoping return to action soon, having spent five weeks travelling between Australia and New Zealand in the off-season.

When he does, Dublin will be a different animal from the one that has toiled in the Allianz League to date.

And when you add him to the established talents of the likes of Paul Mannion and Brian Fenton, and young guns such as Eoin Murchan, you’d be mad to think Dublin won’t be in the All-Ireland final again come September.

With Mayo rolling into the capital this weekend, the feeling is that the season will really get going for Dublin, who are looking forward to this game more than any other. Why?

Rock and Kilkenny were pretty unanimous in their opinion that Mayo are purists who play the game in the right spirit – indeed in much the same manner as Dublin naturally approach a game.

I don’t think it is a case that because they have won the recent battles, Dubin see Mayo as an easy touch.

Rather, both players have huge respect for Mayo and their players, regardless of the fact that most contests have gone Dublin’s way in recent times.

James Horan’s men continue to stay committed to their core values from an offensive perspective and I can’t see this changing at the weekend.

If you cannot set up with an attacking mindset when you sit top of the League, heading to Croke Park for a match against a Dublin team who need the points, you deserve to be beaten.

It is a match which deserves a good attendance and should throw up a fine spectacle.

I suspect that may not be the case when Tyrone and Monaghan meet at Healy Park on Saturday night.

As a self-proclaimed purist, this game has the look of a turn-off for spectators, with practicality likely to trump entertainment.

It is clear that neither Mickey Harte nor Malachy O’Rourke feel they have a responsibility to entertain supporters, and both have said as much in the past.

Winning games will always be more important than style.

Problems arise when you are doing neither.

I firmly believe Tyrone have the ability to become a better team if their style is changed.

Many Down supporters have stopped me in the last week to give out about the lack of flair shown by the Mournemen against Westmeath, despite the fact Paddy Tally’s team won a game where they had to play for 40 minutes with 14 men.

My response has been the same – some teams must walk before they run.

Down have been very poor defensively for some time now so it is a matter of building any future success from the back.

By contrast, Tyrone have undergone this type of forensic defensive examination for many years now, so from a coaching perspective, they should be closer to the finished article at this stage.

That’s where my frustration lies.

When you compare Mayo’s key men – Cillian O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea, Andy Moran, Kevin McLaughlin and Lee Keegan – to Tyrone’s – Mattie Donnelly, Colm Cavanagh, Niall Sludden, Tiernan McCann, Peter Harte, Padraig Hampsey and Niall Morgan, there is very little between the sides.

Most of the teams in Ulster would be envious of the talent at Tyrone’s disposal.

Donegal are a close second, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of their League campaign plays out.

I assume Donegal will be seeking to win Division Two and give themselves a real lift going into the Ulster Championship.

There is no need to panic in Armagh just yet, with a win against Tipperary likely to drive them up the table, with only a few points keeping the top and bottom teams apart.

Next weekend’s game against Donegal is likely to be more pivotal to the Orchardmen’s League prospects

This is a very big year for Kieran McGeeney’s men.

I know for a fact that ‘Geezer’ has left no stone unturned in preparing the players for

inter-county football and schooling them in what it takes to make their career a success.

From my own experiences, and those of McGeeney, Dean Rock and Ciaran Kilkenny, the one thing we agree on is that the foundations for success are laid down well away from matchdays.

They are built on the training field, when the other players have left for the night.

In the gym when everyone else is sitting at home, in the morning and late at night.

It takes relentless sacrifice in the pursuit of excellence.

And it takes humility. Rock and Kilkenny have that quaity in abundance and a love for what they do.

They also love a yarn about a good night out, so it is not all work and no play. You don’t have to be a monk to be successful.

However, you do have to be relentless.

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