DECLAN DARCY HAS been Jim Gavin’s right-hand man since their U21 days when they delivered two All-Ireland titles to the capital.
When Gavin took charge of the senior side in 2013, he brought Darcy on board as a selector and they’ve enjoyed some fruitful times since then.
Sunday will mark their fifth All-Ireland senior final in the last six seasons but for Darcy it never gets old.
The Dublin native, who spent a decade lining out with Leitrim – the birthplace of his parents – before he ever played with the Sky Blues, says there’s no sense of familiarity when preparing for an All-Ireland final.
“It all feels new,” he says. “But I suppose the subconsciousness of being there before helps a little bit in terms of how the team can act.
“I don’t feel it (the routine) at the minute. It’s just a brilliant honour to be involved on the biggest sporting day of the year. We’re really looking forward to it and excited by the challenge ahead.
“That’s all I’m thinking about, really. Other years, the experience helps maybe. But we don’t dwell on it too much.
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“Complacency? We’re just so excited about trying to get out and perform. We put an awful lot of focus on getting out and playing.
“We’ve really, really good players. Really exciting players. Fun players like Jack McCaffrey! But it’s great. They’re energised and the camaraderie in the group is massive. They really enjoy going out and performing with each other and I think they’re excited about that.
“I think that’s probably why they do what they do. They really like what they do and they really enjoy doing it with each other. That doesn’t get them to dwell on complacency or think behind at what they have or what they could get.
“I think that’s a lot of it as well.”
If Dublin defeat Tyrone on Sunday, their levels of dominance will have matched that of the Kilkenny hurlers who completed the four-in-a-row in 2009.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
While Darcy doesn’t feel the Dublin management are quite as ruthless as Brian Cody in terms of handing out game minutes, he agrees that competition for places within the squad is key to sustained success at the top.
“The biggest thing for us as well is if fellas are not performing he knows there’s another young buck waiting, just mad-keen to get in. So that competition for places kind of keeps (complacency) a little bit of bay.
“We don’t see it as personal, if we see a dip they know we’ll make the move. We won’t labour on emotions or what he’s done.
“If we look out and he’s not executing for whatever reason, then they know. I think Brian was harsher than us maybe, but it definitely created a tone within the group that they needed to perform and that was brought to training games as well.
“We expect that from them and, in fairness to the players themselves, they expect it of themselves. There’s a really driven culture in the group and if you’re not performing then you’ll be easily seen quickly and you don’t want to be there, it’s not a nice place to be there.
“But the consistency of performance is about players taking ownership for the team performance as well as the individual performance.
“They grab hold of that as the week progresses into game-time. It’s player-led, they drive it, it’s their game and their rewards at the end of the day to execute that performance.
“So them little accommodations probably eliminates that drop from performance and keeps their consistency. I suppose the trump one would be there’s another Con O’Callaghan or someone waiting to go in there. That’s as simple as it can be at the moment.”
One of most Gavin’s notable achievements has been in preventing the team growing older while they continue to win. In the 2015 final the average side was 26.7, while it dropped to 26.2 for this month’s semi-final win over Galway.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
John Small, Niall Scully, Con O’Callaghan and Brian Howard have all been added over the past few years as Dublin continue to refresh their squad with young blood.
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Darcy admits sometimes it can be difficult to pull aside an experienced play to inform him he’ll be starting a big game on the bench.
“I think it’s very tough in that context but we were all there as players ourselves when you’re on your last legs and you’re not getting game time and you feel you’re being hard done by.
“You can get very negative in your thought process so it’s a big challenge. Especially with some of the players who have won an awful lot in their careers.
“The best way for us is to just be as honest as we can with them, call it as it is. We can obviously only give out 15 jerseys on the day and then another six when it comes to game-time.
“So a lot of fellas were not happy with no game-time the last day. Fellas not even getting on the pitch.
“It’s difficult (keeping everyone motivated). It’s not easy. As it comes to this part of the competition fellas begin to know what’s likely to happen and it’s difficult. If there’s a fella not getting game-time and him still having to push and drive.
“We’ve had instances in previous games where fellas have made huge game-changers for us on All-Ireland final day. The likes of Alan Brogan, Darren Daly, fellas coming off the bench for a couple of minutes.
“We try to keep them as positive as we can and obviously that’s difficult because they all want to play. And we understand that, but at the same time we still have to pick what we feel is the team that will represent the group the best.
“I think if we do that consistently enough they might understand it. They mightn’t like it, but they might be a little bit more understanding.”
Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Dublin have noticeably moved away from the all-out attack philosophy they adopted in the early Gavin years. These days they play a more possession-based game, which has been effective at breaking down the mass defences Dublin often face.
“It has changed and it has evolved very quickly. I like that thought process where you have to figure it out because you can’t just smash it, unfortunately, as much as you like to. We tried that against Donegal (in 2014).”
A key part of Dublin’s system now is allowing players think on their feet in-game, although Darcy says the players do not have a direct input into the style of play they employ.
“Probably more we create the pathways for them to think about offence and defence. And then they can evolve it. They can speak about it when we show a clip about what we think and then we can adjust how we think or act by what they’re saying.
“We need to understand the group. As a coach if you go into a group and you start dominating and saying ‘This is the way we’re going to play’, I don’t think you’re going to succeed. You’re going to fall at some stage.
“You need to get the players buying in, you need to listen to the players because how they think and act is how we can facilitate them to think and act and play the next game and share that experience.
“But I do think that ownership piece is really important for them. Now, they can’t come in and start saying we’re going to start playing this kind of style. But they do have an emphasis on taking ownership.
“Particularly when it happens, they’re able to see it, analyse, and figure it out for themselves and not to be looking over to the sideline to Jim and myself and wondering who’s going to figure this out for me. They have to be able to figure it out for themselves.
“By their language during the week and having spoken about it they’ll have that ability and that confidence to deal with situations when it happens. We give them the total ownership to do that.
“So far, so good.”
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