Dessie Farrell came in for unfair over the top criticism over the previous two seasons making Sunday’s All Ireland Final win all the sweeter
The dust has settled on the 2023 All Ireland Senior Football Championship and it ended with Dessie Farrell masterminding his Dublin side back to the top of the tree once again.
It’s been a long couple of years for the double All Ireland winning manager who was subjected to two years of over the top criticism and harsh calls for him to be removed from his post after his side lost the 2021 semi final to Mayo, were relegated from division one of the league in 2022 and succumbed to a late point to lose the 2022 All Ireland semi final.
It was ridiculous nonsense, Dessie Farrell had the unenvious task of taking over the reins from Jim Gavin who had just created history by securing a fifth all Ireland title in a row.
Farrell inherited the bulk of Gavin’s squad and in his first season in charge, despite the massively disrupted season due to covid restrictions, managed his side to another title to make it six in a row in a eerily empty Croke Park stadium on a cold December day just a week before Christmas.
The problem for Dessie Farrell though going forward, was a number of the squad members were coming to the end of their careers, Cluxton had stepped away during 2020, Jack McCaffrey had taken a sabbatical, Mannion was to do the same, Cian O’Sullivan and others had retired and more were to follow over the next two seasons including Kevin McManamon and Jonny Cooper so a rebuild had to begin.
Losing players of the quality that he did was always going to make it a monumental task for Dessie to keep Dublin performing as they had and having to introduce and develop young inexperienced players to the demands of senior football was always going to include high and lows performance wise over the next two years.
Plus Farrell also lost one of the main forms of artillery that Gavin had enjoyed and that was the impact from the bench from quality seasoned pros.
But 2021 seen another Leinster title added to the collection and Dublin made it to the All Ireland semi finals. Mayo prevailed after extra time to end Dublin’s 45 game winning run.
Dessie used the following league campaign to blood more young raw talent, Dublin’s performance levels dropped off and they were relegated to division 2.
That opened the floodgates for the over the top criticism towards Dessie Farrell with calls for him to be replaced, those premature calls for a change of management were quelled come the championship as Dublin’s performance levels took an upturn, another Leinster title followed and another run to the All Ireland semi final and a meeting with fancied Kerry side.
What followed was a thrilling encounter, Kerry led by five at the break, but a Cormac Costello goal dragged Dublin back into the game. The sides were level in the dying seconds but Seanie O’Shea nailed a long range free to secure a one point win for Kerry.
So in his three years in charge Dessie Farrell had managed his side to an All Ireland title and two semi-finals which his side lost by a paltry combination of just three points, this all the while in charge of a Dublin side in transition, yet despite the fact Dublin weren’t far off returning to their lofty heights of the previous years the unfair criticism and calls for Farrell to step down continued.
Over the winter Dessie assessed that the some of the young players in the squad were still a season or two away to make the step up and decided to get back some of the old band and coaxing Stephen Cluxton, Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion back to the fold and he added former all Ireland winning manager Pat Gilroy to his backroom team.
Some in the media claimed it was a sign of desperation, but both decisions proved to be masterstrokes.
Dublin won the division 2 title and promotion back to the top division and yet another Leinster title was added.
The team was building nicely through the championship, yes their were a couple of less than stellar performances against the likes of Roscommon, but the Dubs were playing well within themselves as Farrell timed them to peak at the business end of the campaign.
The demolition of Mayo in the quarter final was the culmination of all the work done by Dessie Farrell throughout the season on the teams fitness, transitioning of the ball, sliding defence and use of what was now a strong bench which included Kilkenny, McCaffrey, Dean Rock and Paddy Small.
Monahan provided their usual stern test for Dublin in the semi final on a miserable evening weather wise in Croke Park. The tight encounter was perfect for fine tuning ahead of the final, Farrell used his bench to perfection introducing Ciaran Kilkenny, Jack McCaffrey and Dean Rock to great effect to power home in the final ten minutes.
Leading up to the final the majority of pundits and journalists tipped Kerry to win an expected tight contest and all the talk surrounded David Clifford and which Dublin defender would pick him up with most believing Clifford was unmarkable.
But Dessie Farrell played his hand to perfection, he got the majority of his match-ups right, his tactics were spot on in terms of limiting the ball into Clifford with the Kerry captain looking a frustrated figure particularly during the first half as he was starved of possession and he drifted out field to try and get more involved all the while pursued by Michael Fitzsimons who held the much vaunted forward to just two points from play.
Dessie deployed an interchangeable sweeper to sit in the hole between the full and half back lines at times to limit the long ball in to the Kerry forwards and cut off the attacking space through the middle.
The trio Dessie Farrell coaxed back to the squad this year all played a major role in the final. Cluxton was emaculate throughout, he was 100% on his kickouts through the game, kicked two vital points from a free and a 45’ and was a calm assured presence between the post, Mannion put in a stunning performance, finishing with five points to his name and the man of the match award and Jack McCaffrey was introduced off the bench to great affect as he used his pace and power to drive at the Kerry defence, drawing fouls and linking the play with the forwards.
Dublin outscored Kerry by seven points to two in the closing stages of Sundays All Ireland Final to close the deal by 1-15 to 1-13 and after two years of what could only be described as dogs abuse, Dessie Farrell deserves massive plaudits for masterminding Dublin’s return to the champion’s enclosure and a 31st All Ireland title.
2023 All Ireland Senior Football Championship Final
Scorers – Dublin: Paul Mannion (0-05, 1f), Paddy Small (1-01), Stephen Cluxton (0-02, 1 ’45, 1f), Brian Fenton (0-02), Colm Basquel (0-02), Brian Howard (0-01), Cormac Costello (0-01, 1f), Dean Rock (0-01).
Kerry: Seán O’Shea (0-05, 4f), Paul Geaney (1-01), Paudie Clifford (0-03), David Clifford (0-03, 1f), Killian Spillane (0-01).
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton, Eoin Murchan, Michael Fitzsimons, David Byrne, James McCarthy, John Small, Lee Gannon, Brian Fenton, Brian Howard, Paddy Small, Paul Mannion, Ciaran Kilkenny, Cormac Costello, Con O’Callaghan, Colm Basquel.
Subs: Jack McCaffrey for Gannon (48), Niall Scully for Costello (53), Sean MacMahon for Howard (62) Cian Murphy for Murchan (64), Dean Rock for Paddy Small (68).
Kerry: Shane Ryan, Graham O’Sullivan, Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan, Paul Murphy, Tadhg Morley, Gavin White, Diarmuid O’Connor, Jack Barry, Dara Moynihan, Seán O’Shea, Stephen O’Brien, Paudie Clifford, David Clifford (0-03, 1f), Paul Geaney.
Subs: Brian Ó Beaglaoich for Murphy (55), Adrian Spillane for Moynihan (57), Micheál Burns for O’Brien (57), Killian Spillane for Geaney (63), Mike Breen for Barry (66).