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We can keep Sam Maguire in Dublin, says Pat Gilroy

By Cian Murphy

Pat Gilroy's relentless pursuit of perfection will form the backbone of Dublin's defence of Sam Maguire in 2012.

And he says that Dublin's mistakes and failure to sustain their stunning quarter-final form against Tyrone last summer can work to their advantage this season.

The Dublin manager has revealed how he waited until after Christmas to go through the tape of their epic All-Ireland triumph over Kerry last September -- and did so to highlight weaknesses rather than bask in the glory of the victory.

In particular, he has identified "bad habits" which surfaced in the All-Ireland semi-final and final successes that hadn't blighted their hugely impressive 0-22 to 0-15 quarter-final success over Mickey Harte's men in the rain at Croke Park last August.

But he believes this quest for excellence can leave the Dubs better equipped for the demands of trying to become only the second team since 1990 to retain the All-Ireland.

"I think if we had played three matches like the Tyrone game, you might be struggling to figure where we go for improvement. It would be a different challenge and I think it would be hard. But we didn't perform at that level consistently last year, so it leaves us plenty of scope for improvement," he argues.

"In terms of sheer hard work and determination, the Donegal win, from an achievement point of view, was massive because our backs were to the wall, and obviously the Kerry match was a great comeback. But in terms of a 70-minute performance, Tyrone was the best display in my time involved.

"There was a lot of what we have worked on over the last few years which came right that day and it was probably the only occasion in the whole of last year where we could honestly say that we saw that for close to 70 minutes.

"There was stuff we did well in the last two games, but we did fall back on some old, bad habits. In the semi-final and final, we went through periods where we seemed to just give the ball back to the opposition for nothing and that's an area we could really improve on.

"The result was fantastic, but it wasn't the best we could possibly be in the final. There are good, solid foundations there and I think we can build on those foundations," he adds.

It's now 17 years since Gilroy was a playing member of the last Dublin squad to try to defend the Sam Maguire. But again, he insists the 2011 vintage is in a better place to succeed where his team failed and says the current squad's age profile is in stark contrast to the 1995 side, who were at the end of a long and arduous climb to the top.

"The team I played on was sort of coming to the end of the road as opposed to the start. In saying that, the following year we did apply ourselves quite well and got beaten by the eventual winners Meath in a tight Leinster final -- but I just don't think there was the same desire there and the age was a big factor," he maintains.

"There are so many fellas here who are sub 23 and they are mad for football and training. I think there's been a sea change in the whole attitude towards physical fitness compared to 17 years ago. These guys permanently want to be fit, they are not looking for breaks, they just want to train and if they are not training with us, they will train on their own and I think that is a big difference.

"We made a lot of mistakes against Kerry, like when they outscored us 8-1, but there was a lot to be learned because it was an intriguing match.

"Getting to the final after all those years had been progress, so this was always going to be the start -- and it should be the start because it is such a young team. The average age was 23 last year and that's a great age to have a team at," he believes.

Another vital component to last year's success that Gilroy is again championing is the team's strength in depth.

The ferocious intensity of the Dublin game plan is difficult to sustain and the contributions of Kevin McManamon and Eamon Fennell off the bench were particularly vital in overthrowing Kerry.

Indeed, Gilroy revealed that in the 10 days before the final almost half the starting team was in doubt through injury -- but insists that he had total faith in their back-up options.

"You have to have the position where a fella in the jersey feels under pressure that there is a guy equally as good as him.

"Coming into the All-Ireland we had injuries to Denis Bastick (ankle), Barry Cahill (broken toe), James McCarthy (shoulder), Paul Flynn, Ger Brennan and Cian O'Sullivan (hamstrings).

"It would have been more stressful but for seeing the other guys in training and knowing we could actually cope and wouldn't have been far off the same level of performance with them. That's a big challenge for us, that we make sure we keep that same level of competition within the squad," says the Blues boss.

"The biggest thing I've learnt is the importance of the second 15. While I would have believed in it before, I really learned how important it is, because 10 days before the final we were facing being down six of the fellas who played the previous two games. The panel is so critical to success, if you don't have that back-up, I don't think you can win it."

This Sunday will see yet another experimental looking Dublin side take on Kildare in the semi-final of the O'Byrne Cup in Newbridge as the job of readying the champions continues.

Gilroy says the Dubs are far from the finished article. But far from being a hindrance, he insists that can be a help.

Belfast Telegraph


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