Danny Hughes: Bringing Pat Gilroy on board was Dessie Farrell's trump card

Dessie Farrell's decision to appoint Pat Gilroy to his backroom team helped Dublin regain their All-Ireland title Picture by Sportsfile
Dessie Farrell's decision to appoint Pat Gilroy to his backroom team helped Dublin regain their All-Ireland title Picture by Sportsfile Dessie Farrell's decision to appoint Pat Gilroy to his backroom team helped Dublin regain their All-Ireland title Picture by Sportsfile

Sunday last was as much of a triumph for Dessie Farrell as it was for those players collecting their ninth Celtic Cross.

Farrell may have landed the first of his two titles as a manager in 2020 – but the caveat was that that was won during the Covid pandemic. No crowds and minimal pressure, considering we were just glad to have a Championship at all, and Jim Gavin had left a strong ingrained culture among the playing group.

Think of the next two years and the numerous questions asked of him and his squad.

The context should also be considered.

There was a collective sigh of relief among many GAA supporters outside of the Dublin fraternity who wanted to see their domination of the Championship end.

I have heard it many times – ‘good enough for them’.

The Championship needed new winners and Tyrone and Kerry stepped up. Mayo took their shot but fell short – again.

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Farrell was questioned as a manager. Forget about minors or U21s, this was the big boys' game.

I am sure his playing career made him thick-skinned, especially as he had suffered All-Ireland defeats at the hands of all the great Ulster counties who travelled to Croke Park in the nineties (except Tyrone).

Living and working in the city couldn’t have been easy as a Dublin inter-county player starved of success.

I would argue that this experience probably contributed hugely to the managerial careers of Pat Gilroy, Jim Gavin and now Farrell.

Like those who preceded him, Farrell has no ego nor illusions of grandeur.

Not only did he encourage, integrate and promote the return of Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion and Stephen Cluxton, but perhaps his greatest achievement was convincing Pat Gilroy to return in his capacity in the best interests of Dublin football.

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Gilroy, in typical human and humble fashion, agreed.

I think of many of the managers I have played under in my career and ask the same question. If the outcome justified the means, including Dessie Farrell’s decision to seek the return of a well-respected, popular and successful former manager to secure a trophy – would they do it?

At the behest of his own reputation, you have to both admire and respect the decision Farrell made and perhaps he gave us all the best lesson in management.

You surround yourself with the best people – no matter what, in the best interests of the desired goal.

On the game itself Kerry got a huge amount right. For large parts of the game, they led, until the final five minutes of the second half when David Clifford’s performance became the subject of a huge amount of scrutiny in the post-match analysis.

Clifford scored three points and assisted in another goal and two points.

For any other player, that was enough to win them a man-of-the-match nomination.

However, we don’t measure Clifford against any mortal inter-county player. We measure Clifford against himself, against his performance in last year's final and against the many performances he has churned out over the last few years.

In those clutch moments of the past, Clifford has dragged Kerry to a win – that right-footed chance he had, that kick from the left-hand side on his left side with a few minutes left to equalise.

For me, regardless, he is a clear Player of the Year winner for 2023 – however one has to acknowledge James McCarthy and Stephen Cluxton’s performances in these last few months.

For different reasons and given their age, they too deserve it for different reasons.

Unfortunately, though, when it comes to individual awards, different people look for different things in a winner. And sentiment also plays a part.

Gavin White is another Kerry player who will have to deal with a moment in time, in a game of huge significance.

Like Declan O’Sullivan in 2011, he will have to live with losing possession at a critical time when, considering there was no heavy pressure in a tackle at that phase of play, the ball was given away and Dublin got that huge goal.

Kerry were really in control, leading by three points at that moment.

That Dublin goal still carried with it some further fortune, when Paul Murphy made a diving block that took it beyond Shane Ryan. Their luck was out.

Ironically, though, the character showed by Kerry cannot be questioned – despite this huge setback.

They went on to take a three-point lead after the Dublin goal, in no small way helped by some brilliant Paudie Clifford play.

Overall, enough analysis has been done across the media at this juncture to understand why Dublin ended up winning this game.

Unlike Dublin on the Kerry defenders, not enough pressure was put on the Dublin defenders at the halfway line and why Brian Howard wasn’t identified and pressed heavily after winning primary possession time and time again in the first half, will be a source of much investigation for Jack O’Connor and his team.

Cluxton’s own performance was directly related to Howard’s ability to get free and into space. Without one, there isn’t another.

In many ways, Brian Howard had a huge performance in the least glamorous of aspects of the game.

Tactics have become so fluid and technical, it has become very difficult to decipher who is supposed to be marking who, so getting to the bottom of any answers in the post-match analysis will be difficult for the Kerry management.

However, like any true champion, they will learn more from the defeats than the victories.

I have no doubt that Kerry will be back winning an All-Ireland title in the short term and for now, Dublin will enjoy their sweetest of recent titles.

In most sports, domination is never a good thing.

And while I cannot see Dublin going on the same run they did, starting in 2015, there will be players like Brian Fenton seeking to break all current medal record-holders created last weekend.

Watch this space.

I would say that for Croke Park themselves, a dominating Dublin is good for the coffers, but domination of the competition will erect uncomfortable questions around funding again.

That problem hasn’t gone away, nor should it be swept under the carpet until the next time they decide to lift the floorboards.

For now, it is too early to talk of back-to-back All-Irelands or three-in-a-row but certainly Dublin will be a constant.

The All-Ireland final swung like a pendulum, in much the same way as this season’s Championship.

A game of inches, mistakes and opportunities missed by the teams from Mayo, Galway, Armagh, Derry, Tyrone, Monaghan and now Kerry.

Dessie Farrell should rightly take the plaudits and in his own way bask as an equal among the dynasties of both Gavin and Gilroy.

He will probably never even think like this – a man without ego who will do what it takes to win, in the best interests of the players and the county.

A sign of a great manager in any man's language.