‘We’ve just kept a bat­tle rhythm in trying to get the best out of play­ers’ – Dublin se­lec­tor De­clan D’Arcy

Se­lec­tor says cur­rent suc­cess is not down to size but the work done 10 years ago

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Ian O’Rior­dan

De­clan Darcy is asked to put his Leitrim hat back on for one minute and imag­ine what it must be like com­pet­ing with this Dublin foot­ball team. Nigh im­pos­si­ble, some might say, un­less some­thing dras­tic changes, such as that worn out sug­ges­tion of split­ting Dublin in two.

“Big pop­u­la­tion doesn’t en­ti­tle you to any­thing,” Darcy ob­jects. “At the end of the day, peo­ple may need to tip their hat a lit­tle bit more to what has gone on in Dublin.

“We are in a golden pe­riod at the minute, which is fan­tas­tic, but the rea­son Ciarán Kilkenny and these peo­ple are play­ing is be­cause what their coaches and school teach­ers did 10 years ago. They just didn’t turn good foot­ballers in the last year or two.

“I don’t think Dublin should be pun­ished for that. They should be con­grat­u­lated for that. And it is maybe for other coun­ties to look in and see how did they do that and then bring it into their own county. Bring that blue­print in.

“New Zealand has a small pop­u­la­tion and they’re still the best rugby team in the world and they are able to Eng­land, with a pop­u­la­tion of 60 mil­lion. We’ve just kept a bat­tle rhythm in trying to get the best out of the play­ers and see where that brings us. We’re very for­tu­nate to be where we are.”

Darcy is right about that: the last place he ex­pected to be nearly 20 years af­ter first play­ing along­side Jim Gavin is help­ing him pre­pare Dublin for their fourth All-Ire­land foot­ball fi­nal in five years, and win their first three-in-row since the 1920s.

Well es­tab­lished

When Darcy joined the Dublin panel in 1998, hav­ing played the pre­vi­ous 10 years for Leitrim, the birth­place of his par­ents, Gavin was well es­tab­lished, part of Dublin’s 1995 All-Ire­land win­ning team (that con­nec­tion was later strength­ened by the fact they were both dropped from the panel at the same time, at the end of 2002, by Tommy Lyons).

Lyons broke the fall by of­fer­ing them a role with the Dublin un­der-21s, who he also man­aged. Within a year Dublin had won their first All-Ire­land in the grade. When Gavin was later of­fered the un­der-21 job for him­self in 2008, his first con­di­tion was Darcy came on board as well, and to­gether they won an­other two All-Ire­lands in five sea­sons; no sur­prise then that Darcy was again his first choice as se­lec­tor when Gavin was of­fered the top job in 2013.

“God no, it cer­tainly wasn’t about that when we came in. I sup­pose when we were look­ing at it ini­tially, be­cause we had worked so long with the un­der-21s, we knew the qual­ity of the play­ers that were there, we knew them in­side out. So we knew they had po­ten­tial. We didn’t un­der­stand where that could lead us to. Cer­tainly not to where we are at the minute.”

That con­nec­tion, he says, is con­stantly evolv­ing, as it both needs and wants to be: Mayo will present an en­tirely dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion in Sun­day’s fi­nal than Ty­rone did in the semi-fi­nal, and that’s the sort of chal­lenge Darcy and Gavin en­joy. “Ev­ery year it changes dra­mat­i­cally. This year there were things thrown at us from a tac­ti­cal point of view, which is fan­tas­tic, I love that bit and I think the play­ers now en­joy that, are com­pletely understanding of the team ethos.

“They [Mayo] are likely to do some­thing dif­fer­ent against us. We’ll watch what they have done, pre­pare as best we can for what they might throw at us.

“That’s the qual­ity of the player. You can look at that team and ask ‘why are they in four All-Ire­lands in the last six years? Is it be­cause they are lucky? It’s not, it’s be­cause they have a huge stan­dard of foot­ballers. To get to an All-Ire­land fi­nal you still have to have abil­ity and they have that in abun­dance.

“I love that chal­lenge. I think Mickey Harte prob­a­bly evolved it first and Jim McGuin­ness then brought it on. Any man­ager, the same as Stephen Rochford the last day, I thought it was a fan­tas­tic move for him to put Ai­dan O’Shea at full back. It was dif­fer­ent. Play­ers like that as well, to be chal­lenged. And the game needs to see dif­fer­ent thing, sure ev­ery­body was talk­ing af­ter five min­utes ‘what’s Ai­dan O’Shea do­ing in on Don­aghy?’ It’s dif­fer­ent and peo­ple like that. For any team to evolve they have to think out­side the box some­times to get the tac­tics right and put the other team on the back foot.”

Con­stantly im­prov­ing

Dublin, he also admits, are a con­stantly im­prov­ing team, in the sense ev­ery­one is rais­ing their own stan­dards. “The en­vi­ron­ment within the group is that ev­ery­body wants to be­come bet­ter and that’s from the coaches right down to the play­ers. And it’s great. I’m en­er­gised when I go in train­ing and I see Stephen Clux­ton there be­fore I ar­rive kick­ing his frees or kick­outs . . . They set high stan­dards and they ex­pect high stan­dards. Ev­ery­body is driv­ing the ma­chine.”

There’s no look­ing back ei­ther. The Dublin team to play Mayo on Sun­day will be se­lected en­tirely on merit, not on rep­u­ta­tion, Niall Scully’s call-up for the Ty­rone game is the lat­est ex­am­ple of that – while play­ers like Bernard Bro­gan and Diar­muid Con­nolly are left on the bench.

“Niall was play­ing re­ally well be­fore the Ty­rone game and we couldn’t ig­nore that. We had re­ally good play­ers but he put his hands up, he wanted the jer­sey and his per­for­mances in train­ing re­flected that. So he got the jer­sey.

“We can’t go back on rep­u­ta­tion on what lads have done pre­vi­ously, be­cause that’s a trap door for us. We just keep our eyes firmly in front of us and see what the play­ers are do­ing and we pick ac­cord­ingly. And ob­vi­ously play­ing against op­po­si­tions, we pick play­ers that we think will do a job for the team against that op­po­si­tion.”

The rea­son Ciarán Kilkenny and these peo­ple are play­ing is be­cause what their coaches and school teach­ers did 10 years ago. They just didn’t turn good foot­ballers in the last year or two

PHO­TO­GRAPH: INPHO

De­clan Darcy in ac­tion for Dublin dur­ing the 2001 All-Ire­land quar­ter-fi­nal re­play.

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