New season, new manager, same goal for the Dublin footballers as Cork and the rest play catch-up

New season, new manager, same goal for the Dublin footballers as Cork and the rest play catch-up

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly drives past Kerry’s Seán O’Shea, Tadhg Morley and Killian Spillane. The handling of the Connolly ‘story’ was a masterclass in controlling the narrative. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

ONE of the many, many attributes of outgoing Dublin football manager, Jim Gavin, was his ability to always control the narrative, most notably in his handling of the Diarmuid Connolly 'story.'

You will recall the gifted Connolly, who played on the edge, started out the 2018 league, but vanished after the Mayo game, ending up playing for Donegal in Boston that summer.

Rumours abounded at the time about his absence from the All-Ireland champions set-up, but Gavin would only say at the time it was Connolly's choice.

No doubt, there was a lot of digging by the capital's media to try and unearth the 'real' reason for the volatile Connolly walking away from the camp, but they found nothing.

It was a master class by Gavin in how to, firstly, deal with the probing and the obvious questions and secondly to control the story until such time as it went away, as is inevitably did.

It's still amazing to think that there were no leaks from a clearly tight camp in which there's almost an omerta code of silence, hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil.

And that didn't just apply to Connolly's situation either because there were sure to be other disgruntled players cheesed off at not getting a look-in due to the incredibly high competition for starting jerseys, but nothing seeped out.

It's a measure of the players' regard for their manager that they managed to maintain such a level of secrecy while operating in a bubble that is the Dublin football camp.

And then as the earth kept spinning on its axis without Connolly's involvement, low and behold almost 18 months later, Gavin just happen to mention in passing that he was back.

That was for the Super 8 game against Tyrone in Omagh last August, a tie which happened to be a dead rubber because both had already qualified for the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Connolly appeared for his first championship game since the 2017 All-Ireland final, scoring a point, and we all wondered what the fuss had been about.

Even Gavin's decision to opt out of the hot-seat was also a reflection of his total control.

Out of the blue (pardon the awful pun) he announced, via the Dublin GAA website, that his time was up, apparently stunning all involved who, it seemed, had no inclination of what was coming.

And even the appointment of his successor, Dessie Farrell, mirrored Gavin's approach because there was a time vacuum in which speculation about the new-man swung one way and then the next.

All the smart money was on Farrell initially, but then Pat Gilroy's name spread like wildfire, his odds slashed from 16/1 to 6/4, leaving everyone wondering where the Dubs were going with this.

Declan Darcy was a third figure to enter the arena just to add further confusion until Dublin eventually announced Farrell as Gavin's successor and there was little surprise in that.

Farrell's first competitive game in charge will be an O'Byrne Cup semi-final on January 11.

The Dubs only enter the pre-season competition at the knock-out phase, spared group games against opponents their second or even third team would beat.

The competition continued at the weekend with Offaly, Cork's first division 3 opponents at Páirc Uí Chaoimh at the end of January, chalking up their second win, having opened with a victory over Meath.

They came out of Drogheda with a 1-16 to 1-10 triumph, supplying nine scorers, including goal-scorer Anton Sullivan.

Louth are also in division 3 and visit Leeside for the penultimate game in mid-March before Cork wrap up their schedule by travelling to play Longford.

They qualified for the O'Bryne Cup semi-final for the fourth successive year by defeating Carlow by 1-13 to 0-10 to add to their success against Kildare.

Fixtures: McGrath Cup: December 29: Kerry v Cork, Austin Stack Park, Tralee, 2pm.

January 2: Cork v Tipperary, Páirc Uí Rinn, 7.30.

January 11: Final.

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