Dublin selector Darcy believes defeat to Donegal strengthened side

Declan Darcy thinks players are stronger this year as the team prepare to face Kerry

Dublin selector Declan Darcy and team manager Jim Gavin: “There’s a little bit too much made of management teams to a degree.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Dublin selector Declan Darcy and team manager Jim Gavin: “There’s a little bit too much made of management teams to a degree.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

With his low-key instincts Declan Darcy might look askance at the description but in the past 25 years he has been a protean GAA presence, straddling the worlds of small-scale rural and the mega-urban metropolis and performing key roles in the success of each.

On the field he has provincial medals from Connacht and Leinster whereas off it he has been integrally involved in All-Ireland titles at under-21 and senior level.

As a back-room contributor he sat on the influential Football Review Committee and also found time to take a prominent role in the Race the Rás charity, raising funds for the Irish Cancer Society in memory of his sister Sinéad, who died of the disease at the age of just 39 four years ago in April.

Most immediately he is selector with the Dublin footballers who in six days go in search of a second All-Ireland in three years. It is, however, the one defeat in those three championships that prompts most curiosity. Dublin sailed into last year’s semi-final against Donegal completely oblivious to the storm that was gathering.

Management teams

“So it’s a little bit of in between. Yes, every game we play we learn. We learned harshly last year, to be honest with you. Yeah, it was tough.

“It was tough as a management group, and it was tough as a group in general. But I don’t think it was a case of we felt that we . . . just, things didn’t go the way that we had planned them to go. Donegal did very well, and I think their hunger and desire outdid ours.

“You could say tactics yes, for sure, could have played a part in it but at the same time, you couldn’t deny the appetite of some of their players – like Ryan McHugh – which was phenomenal. Sometimes you can’t legislate for a player doing what he did that day; it was just fantastic.

Second Captains

“But it was a harsh lesson. It was tough but any day you lose is tough. We have learned. We’re three years here now, so we’ve lost one game, one important game.”

The story of Declan Darcy, footballer, fizzed into the national consciousness in the summer of 1994 when he became the first Leitrim player in 67 years to raise the Nestor Cup for the Connacht championship. He did so on a July afternoon with 94-year old Tom Gannon – sole survivor from and captain of the 1927 team – beside him as if underlining both the continuity and epochal rarity of the achievement.

A southside Dubliner, it was his father Frank’s single-mindedness that drove the re-establishment of his home club Aughawillan in Leitrim. Darcy then got involved in lining out for club and county far from the Dublin 4 of his upbringing.

Playing background

Jim Gavin

This was repeated in 2010 and 2012 before the step-up to senior management brought a senior All-Ireland and next Sunday, the shot at another.

With his playing background he has a broad insight into the ongoing discussion on championship structures, having played with the most and least populous counties.

“There are arguments for both sides, to be honest. For Leitrim, 1994 was as important as winning an All-Ireland for Dublin or Kerry. It meant as much for Westmeath [in 2004]. For any team that does that, it’s huge; Sligo, they all want it. They might talk about winning All-Irelands but really it’s the provincial championships that matter most.

“Clare [in 1992], it gives them that great day that no other sport can give a sporting group. So it’s hard to know at this stage; you’re not going to keep everybody happy.”

He is reluctant to accept that the likes of Leitrim may never know good days again.

“I wouldn’t agree with that. I think it’s just county boards do need to be more diligent at paying attention to their under-age structures. I know it’s difficult, I’m not saying it’s easy because the numbers in each of them are difficult, but at the same time it doesn’t necessarily mean that that work should not be put in.

“And when it is put in, it works well. Waterford are reaping that reward in the hurling this year by putting effort into under-age, getting kids into the position that when they do come out, they’re going to compete.”

Part of the lessons of management is the lessons of defeat and with 12 months’ perspective Darcy even sees benefits in the sharp corrective administered to Dublin by Donegal.

“And maybe it was a good thing that it happened to us last year, we won’t know until Sunday but maybe it was the best thing that happened to us – it took the whole anticipation and expectation out of the team.”

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