Irish Daily Mail

CAN DUBLIN BOSS PUT DOUBTS TO REST?

Farrell must prove champions’ standards remain a cut above

- by MARK GALLAGHER

THE shadow of Jim Gavin seems to have grown that little bit longer over the course of this year. Dessie Farrell might have believed he had put some distance between himself and his illustriou­s predecesso­r with the magnificen­t way he steered the ship to a sixth All-Ireland title in a row last winter, but there may still be some work to do.

Whenever Dublin footballer­s and their perceived slippage has been discussed this summer, Gavin’s name has lingered in the background. When the continued uncertaint­y over Stephen Cluxton’s

retirement crops up, it will invariably be stated that such a situation wouldn’t have happened on Gavin’s watch.

Recent events — such as Eric Lowndes leaving the panel on the eve of a Leinster SFC semi-final or Philly McMahon giving an interview last week, saying he didn’t know if he’d be available for this weekend’s showdown with Mayo due to his role with Bohemians — are simply things that never would have happened under the previous regime. Even going back to that lockdown training session in Innisfails in March, such a gathering, if it ever even had cause to take place, just wouldn’t have been detected so easily under Gavin.

Some commentato­rs have suggested that the culture within the Dublin squad isn’t what it once was. However, that is to ignore what Farrell pulled off last winter. He followed in the footsteps of Gaelic football’s most successful manager and the transition was so seamless that it was like nothing had changed.

Granted, it wasn’t their most taxing All-Ireland-winning campaign; the likes of Kerry and Donegal falling to sucker punches in the knockout Championsh­ip eased the route to a sixth successive Sam Maguire.

But the efficient manner in which they held Mayo off in the final indicated that rather than getting weaker in Gavin’s absence, Dublin might even be becoming stronger.

Few believe that now. Evan Comerford has done a decent job of filling Cluxton’s massive shoes, but this Saturday will be the sternest examinatio­n of his credential­s. The spate of other high-profile absentees — from Paul Mannion to Paddy Andrews to Kevin McManamon and Cian O’Sullivan — has also blunted their armoury from the substitute­s’ bench which, for so long in the past decade, was a key weapon in their wars against Mayo.

Dublin’s bench has only scored a single point in their last two games — Farrell didn’t get any scoring return from his subs in the Leinster semifinal against Meath and the squad depth is certainly not what it once was. Dean Rock’s reaction when called ashore against Kildare was a sign of a player not entirely happy with his game.

But he is not the only star player who is struggling to reach previous heights. Brian Fenton, James McCarthy and Con O’Callaghan have also suffered a dip in form.

Having said all that, they have yet to be beaten in Championsh­ip. They still shared the National League title earlier this year with Kerry. Meath and Kildare asked a few questions and the Dubs still found all the answers, never lost the composure or calmness to kill the contest.

When he was announced as Dublin manager back in the winter of 2019, Farrell gave a revealing press conference where he gently reminded the players that what won Sam for them in previous campaigns might not be good enough in the future.

‘What’s happened now is in the past and we need to look forward,’ he said at the time. ‘And in looking forward, to establish with them that there will need to be improvemen­t in this squad and in our performanc­es. We can’t afford to be complacent. We can’t afford to stagnate.’

Farrell’s interest in succeeding Gavin had been well signposted. His credential­s were watertight, given that he had won three out of four All-Ireland finals at minor and Under 21 level, those titles won by some players who progressed into the senior team in a seamless and unfussy manner. But it still took a certain level of courage to slip into the seat vacated by Gavin.

But courage has shaped Farrell’s whole life in the sky-blue of Dublin. His autobiogra­phy, Tangled Up in Blue, released in 2005 when he was 34, still stands out for its remarkable candour as he charted his bumpy journey playing for his county while dealing with a marriage breakdown and issues with alcohol and depression. His

time as a psychiatri­c nurse in Grangegorm­an has developed his sense of empathy for people, which has been key both as a manager and previously as the head of the Gaelic Players Associatio­n (GPA).

Farrell was the public face of the GPA for almost 17 years. He was, along with Na Fianna clubmate Kieran McGeeney, one of the main voices at the ground-breaking press conference­s that announced a new players’ body in 1999 and during his time as the organisati­on’s chief executive, pushed through a number of player welfare reforms while also making the body accepted among GAA officialdo­m, often in the face of public criticism.

He has never been afraid to ruffle feathers and it is this quality, more than any other, that Dublin might now need.

Questions have hovered over Dublin all summer, from the moment that Farrell couldn’t offer any clarity on the Cluxton saga at a time when the goalkeeper was playing club football with Parnells. And they haven’t stopped since.

Maybe, those questions are rooted in a need for the rest of the GAA world to have Dublin come back into the pack. Or perhaps, they are a genuine sign that cracks are appearing in the machine.

The challenge for Dessie Farrell in Croke Park this weekend is to show that their standards remain as high as ever and the chasing pack remain in their slipstream. If his team do that, the long shadow of Jim Gavin may start to recede. Bit by bit.

“Courage has shaped his life in sky blue”

“Questions have hovered all summer”

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 ??  ?? Tough act to follow: Jim Gavin SPORTSFILE
Tough act to follow: Jim Gavin SPORTSFILE
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