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