Niall Scully and Dublin taking distinctly more competitive approach to pre-season

Scully expects intensity of national league to grow due to condensed nature of season

Three games in and Saturday's final to come, Dublin have changed things considerably in their approach to the 2022 O'Byrne Cup, their wants and needs for the season ahead combining into something distinctly more competitive. For Niall Scully it's also been a sort of homecoming.

Five years ago, in the 2017 pre-season competition when Dublin began fielding a development side under caretaker manager Paul Clarke – giving first-choice players and manager Jim Gavin an extended winter hibernation – it was Scully who more than anyone else took his chance, playing all five games including the final win over Louth, and hasn't looked back since.

So, after spending the summers of 2015 and 2015 playing his football in Chicago, Scully ended up a first-choice wing forward, winning his first of four successive All-Irelands in 2017. Now 27, he was back where all that started in last Saturday’s 11-point win over Longford at Parnell Park.

Dublin manager Dessie Farrell has already used 39 players in those three games, Scully also joined by the likes of Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny, who in other years wouldn't be seen anywhere near a game in January, at least not with Dublin.

It's easy to see without looking too far why that is: given the further condensing of the intercounty season there's no time to lose, Kerry's David Clifford and Donegal's Michael Murphy also among those to show their faces this January. At the same time Farrell has been introducing some new faces, underage star Ciarán Archer among those to make his first senior presence felt.

“So far it’s worked really well,” Scully says of Dublin’s fresh approach. “The season is that bit shorter again this year, compared to previous years, so it’s about getting mileage in the legs, up to match speed, The league is only around the corner and there’s no huge break in between games.

“I’d say the intensity of the league will rise again, compared to other years, every team will want to hit the ground running. And that’s what I’ve been trying to say to the young lads coming in, including my own club-mate Lorcan O’Dowd [from Templeogue Synge-Street], just the significance that good performances in the O’Byrne Cup can play for your future, like it did for me. No matter what the competition.”

Indeed Scully’s role in the Dublin team has only strengthened since he first put his hand up for selection in the 2017 O’Byrne Cup: he started 59 out of 66 league and championship games for Dublin since, scoring 1-6 in the 2020 championship season that also earned him an All Star.

Interestingly he played at wing back last Saturday, the position he first started in back in 2017, another sign perhaps of more fresh things to come: “Yeah, I think going back to 2017, that was the sort of role I was brought in for. Maybe it’s something new from what I’ve done the last three or four years, but early in the season like this, playing wing back does give the opportunity to run forward and back, and get some mileage in the legs.

“We need to keep our options open, have a number of player able to play in different positions. Again that’s Dessie looking forward, Seán Bugler has played there the last few games too.”

Scully has the lean gaunt look of a marathon runner, his energy and appetite for scores on the field always matched by his desire to create them. What is unquestionably fresh about Dublin’s approach this year is that for the first time since 2014, they’re not starting as All-Ireland champions.

“Yeah, the loss to Mayo was disappointing, a tough one to take. It’s a position we haven’t been in for a few years, something new, and I think from my feeling so far it’s something exciting, a lot of the lads are motivated to go after it this year.

“I think last year, the issue really was consistency, not the strength of the bench, or whatever. We’d a good first and second quarter against Mayo, then fell off, and I suppose that happened in the Leinster final as well. That I think was the reason for the downfall, but it’s something exciting for every player to go after.”

– Niall Scully was speaking at the announcement of Peugeot Ireland as new official car partner to Dublin GAA, the three-year agreement covering all four codes.