Dessie Farrell cut quite a stoic figure on Friday morning as he addressed the media for the first time as Dublin senior manager.
The Na Fianna man has been tasked with Gaelic football’s most high profile managerial job in an era where expectations could not be higher.
Taking over from Jim Gavin after he steered the Dubs to a fifth consecutive All-Ireland title is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Farrell is well aware that expectations have never been higher in the capital but for the 1995 All-Ireland winner there was a sense of now or never when it came to accepting the role.
“It definitely was something to consider,” Farrell said.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, I’ve always taken the approach that, there’s two ways to live your life maybe. One, as a timid soul, sort of year by year, month by month, week by week, possibly even hour by hour, as a timid soul. Or the other is to perhaps do the things that frighten you at times.
“This thing stimulates me, it challenged me. I love football, working with footballers. Ultimately, now is the time that if I didn’t do it now it would probably never come around again.”
Of course, Farrell was a pivotal member of the Dublin panel in 1996 when Mickey Whelan took over the then All-Ireland champions. Whilst he would achieve great success with Dublin both before and after his time as manager, Whelan’s tenure in the nineties is looked upon largely as a failure.
Farrell is well-aware of the history and is under no illusions as to the strength possessed by the current Dublin dressing room. For him, it’s simple, they’re all in this together.
“Yeah, I’ve no doubt it’s a strong dressing room. This group as well as being high functioning, they’re highly evolved and I’d imagine not inclined to suffer fools gladly. I’m under no illusions there, but my approach is very simple in relation to that – we’re all in this together.
“I’ve been appointed by the county board now, so for better or worse, I am who they’ve got, and between us, we’ve got to make this work.”
The incoming manager today confirmed that stalwart figures such as Stephen Cluxton, Diarmuid Connolly and Michael Darragh Macauley are set to continue their involvement in 2020.
However, he’s aware that he needs to put his own stamp on things. Farrell feels the squad needs an “injection of new faces and new blood”, however, he’s not yet sure to what extent.
He’ll take charge of his first game tomorrow when a largely makeshift, yet no doubt strong, Dublin team face Longford in the O’Byrne Cup. With several big names set to return to the fold next week, Farrell says the initial period will involve a lot of observation on his end, as well as listening rather than talking.
“No, I don’t I’m not viewing it as prescriptively as that. Obviously we’ve had a couple of trial games and the O’Byrne Cup tomorrow, and if there’s another game, and we’ll continue to monitor players. But I think the squad does need an injection of new faces and new blood. To what extent? I’m not sure.
“In the initial period of time anyway, that won’t be to the detriment of anyone else. I’m happy to carry an extended squad until we get to figure it out a little bit more. In the initial period for me, it’s more about sitting back and observing the dynamics.
“I’m in the privileged position to step into the inner sanctum now and to get under the bonnet a little bit and figure out all the moving parts to that, the dynamic of play. I’ll be listening a lot more than talking. On that basis then, we can make some judgments and assessments of where we’re at in terms of football or performances or even personnel down the road.”
Whilst the team he’s taking over has experienced virtually nothing in terms of failure. Farrell himself has experienced plenty under the Dublin GAA banner. First, as a long-serving member of the panel during Dublin’s barren years in the noughties.
Then as a manager in 2011 when his Dublin minor side suffered a shock All-Ireland final defeat to Tipperary. Farrell has learnt a lot from previous failings and believes that the lack thereof could prove to be a challenge to this Dublin side going forward.
“That’s the nature of sport. There’s always going to be challenging times.
“I think in my first year as Dublin minor manager, we got to an All-Ireland final, got beaten in that, won it the second year. So the lesson I take from that is failure, you can learn a lot from it for sure. And one of the challenges with this group is that they’ve been so successful, they haven’t had to endure or encounter that.
“Success can be a lousy teacher, and there’s an onus on us to be very, very vigilant around how we set ourselves up for the season ahead.”
Overall, the new boss will be looking to instil further the sense of appreciation for Dublin football within the squad while ensuring that the players don’t become complacent over the coming seasons as rival counties continue to progress.
“I think it was to convey a sense of appreciation to those players for what they’ve done for Dublin football and a sense of gratitude for their commitment and dedication. Also, to convey to them that’s what happened now is in the past and that we need to look forward. Looking forward to establish that there will need to be an improvement in this squad and in our performances in 2020.
“We can’t afford to be complacent, we can’t afford to stagnate. The competition out there is getting better and getting stronger. You don’t have to look too far. Even within our own province, I think the standard will improve this season.
“I think 2020 is going to be a very, very interesting season and the big message that I wanted to convey to the lads is that we need to be on our guard, we need to be on our toes and, if there’s areas for growth and improvement, we need to identify what those areas are and get on with it.