Pat Gilroy a typical left-field choice from John Costello
Costello and Gilroy have been close since latter’s time as football manager ended
Anthony Cunningham and Dublin County Board chief John Costello. Cunningham’s name has been mentioned heavily in connection with the Dublin hurling team. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
In was in late July that the first rumours of Pat Gilroy’s possible interest in the Dublin hurling job started whispering in the wind.
At the time Anthony Daly was the unbackable bookies’ favourite, based, it appeared, on nothing stronger than his closeness to the multitude of Dublin hurlers who had left the intercounty scene and his still occasional presence at club and college matches in the capital.
Essentially, the theory went, it was a job nobody was exactly straining at the leash to do, so why not go back to the last man who had shown any vigour for it?
Behind the scenes, however, John Costello’s propensity for left-field thinking was already more interested in moving the situation forward rather than back.
Costello and Gilroy have remained close since the latter’s time as manager of the football team ended in 2012. Gilroy spent three years mainly living and working in the UK after he stepped down, but returned to Ireland in 2016 to take up a new post as Irish managing director of The Designer Group, an engineering firm based in Blanchardstown.
Once Gilroy was back in Ireland full-time, Costello had been on the look-out for a role for him within Dublin GAA. His guiding light as administrator of the association’s biggest single unit has always been to ask why certain things have always been done the way they’ve been done and never to be afraid of the radical option. From a hurling point of view Gilroy is certainly that.
While St Vincent’s have always had a reasonably significant chunk of dual players and coaches, Gilroy would not have been counted among their number. He hurled at bit at underage, but unlike, say, Diarmuid Connolly or Ruairi Trainor (just to pick out a couple of names from the current generation), Gilroy was always a footballer from minor level on. He will be bringing no hurling experience to speak of into the role with him.
That said, it’s worth pointing out that when he took the Dublin football job in late 2008 he had no football management experience under his belt either.
The qualities that swayed the Dublin County Board’s appointment panel at the time were predominantly the traits that had made him a success in the business world. Gilroy was clear-headed, organised, a skilled communicator with a record of managing people. He beat Jim Gavin to that job, which looks like some achievement now.
The working assumption is that Gilroy will be a CEO-style manager, a big-picture organiser who leaves the nuts and bolts of the actual hurling to others.
Anthony Cunningham’s name has been mentioned heavily but as of Wednesday nothing was confirmed either way. Whoever it is, Gilroy will certainly bring a hurling coach of some renown with him.
Yet from talking to footballers who played under Gilroy, the notion that he will be a sort of American-style general manager concerning himself with simply creating an overall structure and delegating the actual hurling is way off base.
While it’s true that Mickey Whelan drove the coaching in that first season with the footballers, Gilroy’s management style – not to mention his personality – is such that he couldn’t stay out of the fray for long. Expect the same to apply here.
Of course, that’s not the immediate concern. Gilroy’s first task is clearly to take out his butterfly net and start gathering up the best hurlers in the county and getting them involved again. The ludicrous situation last summer where the Herald could line out an alternative starting 15 that you would have backed to take on the 15 who played Galway in the Leinster semi-final can’t be allowed to be repeated.
In the end it’s believed that this was a key factor in Gilroy’s appointment ahead of Mattie Kenny. The Cuala manager obviously has more concrete hurling bona fides than Gilroy, but he’s not Dublin royalty like the Vincent’s man.
Gilroy’s stature should be enough to bring back whatever refuseniks he wishes to reintegrate – the likes of Danny Sutcliffe, Peter Kelly, Paul Ryan et al will presumably have no issue with throwing their lot in with the man who ended the footballers’ All-Ireland famine in 2011.
But if they come back it will be on Gilroy’s terms.