| 5.3°C Dublin

byes in blue New year's departures leave Dessie Farrell facing new set of challenges


Close

Panel beating: While the inter-county retirement of Michael Darragh Macauley (pictured) was no surprise, the expected opting out of Paul Mannion for 2021 is a surprise setback for Dublin manager Dessie Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

Panel beating: While the inter-county retirement of Michael Darragh Macauley (pictured) was no surprise, the expected opting out of Paul Mannion for 2021 is a surprise setback for Dublin manager Dessie Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

Dessie Farrell

Dessie Farrell

/

Panel beating: While the inter-county retirement of Michael Darragh Macauley (pictured) was no surprise, the expected opting out of Paul Mannion for 2021 is a surprise setback for Dublin manager Dessie Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

It's 16 years since Dessie Farrell's autobiography Tangled Up in Blue was published, but you'd wager there's a half-decent sequel in his first season as Dublin senior manager alone.

Even for someone as suited and seemingly destined for inter-county management as Farrell, baptisms don't come much fierier.

The late, unexpected appointment. The hasty assemblage of a management structure and coaching team.

Two lockdowns. Scant and scattered contact time with players.

Diarmuid Connolly retiring. Jack McCaffrey opting out.

A remodelled championship played in empty, echoey grounds.

But ultimately - and much to Farrell's credit - another All-Ireland for Dublin.

Amid the turbulence, whilst simultaneously familiarising himself with the job Tommy Lyons once called "the biggest gig in town," Farrell orchestrated as smooth a transition from the Jim Gavin era to his own as anyone - even Farrell himself - could possibly have predicted or hoped.

A new year brings fresh challenges.

Like the rest of the inter-county management community, Farrell was entitled to expect that 2021, his second season, would be played along much more conventional lines.

Draw

Yet here we are: six days after inter-county teams were originally slated to resume training and no official recommencement date. A draw for the championship has yet to be made.

And so long as infection rates remain high, cancellation of the league remains a possibility, albeit a last resort.

All of which is beyond Farrell's control. But stability is an underappreciated concept in the context of this Dublin group. The retirement of Michael Darragh Macauley, announced in such understated terms yesterday by the 2013 Footballer of the Year, wasn't unexpected.

Macauley will be 35 this year. He tasted no game-time in last month's All-Ireland final.

A man as deeply competitive with as diverse a range of interests as Macauley was never likely to hang on as training fodder or to simply add one to his medal count. He is, for example, surely the only former Footballer of the Year to list US musician Nile Rodgers as his hero.

And he's highly unlikely to be spotted around town now wearing monogrammed official-issue Dublin gear.

Reports that Paul Mannion will join the ranks of departed, at least for 2021, suggests loss of a different scale, however.

At 27, Mannion should be in the prime of his sporting life.

Whether that's true or not is difficult to discern.

An All-Star in 2017, '18 and '19, Mannion didn't start a game in last year's championship.

It was a curious development.

Such had been Mannion's form over the previous three years, he had put himself in the very elite bracket of inside forwards along with Con O'Callaghan, David Clifford, Conor McManus, Cillian O'Connor and Cathal McShane.

Like now, there had been speculation that the Kilmacud Crokes player was considering opting out, only for his travel plans to be kiboshed by the pandemic. It stands to reason, given his peripheral role in 2020.

Effectively, Mannion lost his spot to Paddy Small.

Good though he was in what was his first championship campaign as a starter - Small scored 0-8 (3m, 1f) in five games - his body of work was hardly strong enough to hold off a fully-involved, fully-focused and in-form Mannion. Certainly not at the levels of the previous three seasons.

His most striking contribution of 2021, a high, floating free nailed with ease in the final, spoke of a player still very much in possession of his footballing faculties.

The general expectation then was that Mannion would ease his way back into the Dublin attack, either as a direct replacement for someone or in a rejigged alignment.

Though there has been no official word from the Dublin camp, Mannion is not expected to be part of the Dublin squad in 2021.

This is not unbroken ground.

Jack McCaffrey is in his second self-imposed exile from the Dublin squad.

A couple of weeks ago, speaking to Bernard Brogan on 'OTB Sports', McCaffrey stressed that he wasn't comfortable with the assertion that he had retired from inter-county football - merely that he wasn't sure when or if he would return.

Rory O'Carroll made a cross-hemisphere comeback in 2019 after three years away, although his game-time has been extremely limited in the two seasons since.

Connolly returned from a year out to win a sixth medal.

Mannion took a season out in 2015 to study in China.

All the while, Dublin kept on winning.

There is, very clearly, an acceptance from within the Dublin camp of any player's decision to opt out for however long or for whatever reason.

Exit

And it's not as though Mannion's exit leaves Farrell with a gaping hole in his team that needs filling.

On top of the starting six forwards in last year's All-Ireland final, Brian Howard, Colm Basquel and Cormac Costello came on.

As things stand, Kevin McManamon remains an option.

Mark Lavin and Ciarán Archer, the two outstanding attack prospects of last year's Dublin U-20 team, are also worthy of close examination, although some period of acclimatisation is inevitable.

But Mannion, like McCaffrey, is part of the bunch of players born in 1994 who Farrell nurtured from an early age.

It's a group he would have naturally expected to lead the senior team now under his management.

And just like McCaffrey, there is no doubt that the quality of the Dublin squad will diminish in his absence.

For the other All-Ireland contenders, it offers a glimmer of hope.

For Farrell, it's a loss he really could have done without.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

Online Editors


Privacy