NFL Final: Dublin boss targets league as All Ireland stepping stone
Three years ago Derry were crowned National Football League champions following a superb victory over strongly-fancied Kerry in the final.
But their triumph was considerably diluted when they failed to make any subsequent impact in either the Ulster or All Ireland championships.
Donegal had a similar experience in 2007 when they won the league under their then manager Brian McIver only to implode ignominiously in the Championship.
Conversely, Tyrone, who failed to gain promotion from Division Two this year and are being already written off in some quarters as genuine All Ireland title contenders are actually being quoted just now as 13/2 fourth favourites for the ‘big one’ behind Dublin, Cork and Kerry!
Thus it is hardly surprising that even before a ball is kicked in tomorrow’s Croke Park league final against Cork (4pm), Dublin manager Pat Gilroy, a man who firmly believes in calling a spade a spade, has made it very clear that victory will be viewed very much as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
“I would not see a league title success as being progress unless we go on to reach the All Ireland final,” maintains Gilroy, “In point of fact, if we do not do better than we did in the All Ireland championship last year then I would see this as being a season of regression instead of progress.”
Gilroy’s blunt assessment lends further weight to the theory that managers would willingly swap a plethora of league honours for even just one slice of championship glory.
In Gilroy’s case, the hunger for championship laurels is even more pronounced. His team are in the league decider for the first time in eighteen years and it is sixteen years since the Dubs last reigned as All Ireland champions.
“Obviously we would like to win tomorrow but we will be keeping this match in perspective. What we really want is All Ireland success,” insists Gilroy.
Yet even though his side have charted an unbeaten course through their seven league games to date — they claimed Cork’s scalp along the way winning by 3-13 to 0-16 — they are still assailed by doubts, a residue of their consistent failure to deliver in the two most important competitions in the fixtures calendar for so many years.
Gilroy may get a further insight into the team’s character and ability against the reigning league and All Ireland tomorrow in what will be their last major competitive assignment before they launch their Leinster Championship campaign.
In particular, he will focus strongly on the performance of midfield duo Michael Darragh Macauley and Denis Bastick who will oppose Alan O’Connor and Nicholas Murphy — the latter is in for the injured Aidan Walsh — while at the same time assessing the credentials of full-back Paul Brogan and the enigmatic Diarmuid Connolly in attack.
Cork manager Conor Counihan has given starting roles in attack to Paddy Kelly and Donnacha O’Connor who were not in original line-up that faced Armagh earlier this month while Ciaran Sheehan has recovered from injury and is included at left-full-forward. Eoin Cadogan misses the game because of suspension.
Yet even though they are without a few of their big guns, Cork will come to Headquarters intent on retaining their league crown. And like their opponents this will form merely the aperitif to what they hope will prove an even more nourishing main course come September.
Dublin: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimmons, P Brogan, P McMahon; B Cahill, G Brennan, K Nolan; D Bastick, M D Macauley; P Flynn, K McManamon, B Cullen; T Quinn, D Connolly, B Brogan.
Cork: K O'Halloran; R Carey, M Shields, J O'Sullivan; N O'Leary, J Miskella, P Kissane; A O'Connor, N Murphy; P O'Neill, P Kelly, F Goold; D Goulding, D O'Connor, C Sheehan.