Dessie Farrell can't win in this position - but Dessie Farrell thinks bigger than that
"I’d imagine they're not inclined to suffer fools gladly."
Dessie Farrell is in an impossible position.
It might appear easy. He's taken over the most successful football team of all time and there isn't any reason to think they won't continue doing what they do. They've comfortably the best squad in the country, they still have the best resources and it would take something extraordinary to derail them - and that would probably have to be aligned with an internal fuck up at the same time.
Dessie has jumped aboard the gravy train and he doesn't even need to steer it, just let it roll to another All-Ireland.
But there's nothing easy about any gig that demands that level of success. There's no other metric with which Farrell's time will be judged. He's the only Dublin manager in history who's coming into the job with Sam Maguire considered par for the course. If he doesn't win it, it will be considered total failure. If he does? That's what he was supposed to do. Business as usual.
And yet the circumstances have not lent themselves to a new manager seamlessly keeping a trusted machine well-oiled.
Farrell hasn't announced his backroom team yet. Because he hasn't finished it. Because he was hired in December.
He hasn't been able to let the players know who's on board yet. Because they're on a team holiday.
He couldn't change anything about their training routine in DCU or Parnell Park because by the time he took the job, he was scrambling to find playable pitches for trial games and the O'Byrne Cup was starting.
"Ideally, you’d like some more time," Farrell admits.
"The season has come upon us quite quickly but, anyway, there’s nothing we can do about that now at this stage."
Of course, then there's the particular changing room he's walking into. He might've worked with a lot of these lads in the past but that was before they were game-changers, immortals. They've spent seven years under Jim Gavin's regime, they won six All-Irelands and they've developed the highest set of standards in a relentlessly perfection-pursuing culture that's the envy of the country.
So when Farrell meets the press for his first briefing in AIG's offices by the Liffey, it's not like another run of the mill manager interview. The gathering is different for a start - the room isn't big enough to house the amount of people from the national media that has showed up. And the questions are different because Dessie Farrell is the first man to take over a team who has won five in a row.
"I’ve no doubt it’s a strong dressing room," he would've known what he was in for beforehand anyway but he was directed a few times down the path of pressure and winning over the changing room and the reality that he's coming in to a happy, successful camp.
"This group, as well as being high functioning, are highly evolved. I’d imagine they're not inclined to suffer fools gladly. So I’m under no illusions there."
Farrell's also aware of the changing landscape.
He might be driving the best vehicle in the sport but it's harder for him to win now.
Harder, because the competition is getting better again. Harder, because he's dealing with players who've already won the thing seven times and doing six in a row isn't a landmark. Harder, too, because the attacking mark has fundamentally changed the game they're playing.
It was a silly, unnecessary and wildly drastic rule to introduce into a sport that was rewarding offensive play and imaginative coaching and it's a step into the unknown for everyone, especially for a manager expected to whitewash the island again.
"I am concerned about the advanced mark.
"I can understand the rationale behind it but then when you look at last year’s championship, particularly the business end of it, the games were fantastic and very attack oriented games. And I am just concerned that what they are trying to achieve with this advance mark may end up being counter intuitive - that you could, as a result of it, end up deploying more personnel and defenders in that space to protect the goals and I don’t think that was the rationale or reasoning in the first instance.
"We definitely need to give it a lot of consideration. I know when it was introduced the last time the lads didn’t spend a lot of time on it because it wasn’t part of the championship. But it is definitely something we have to work on the training ground for sure.”
And they'll be thinking about new faces in the squad, fresh blood that Farrell wants to see involved.
— Dublin GAA (@DubGAAOfficial) January 11, 2020
One of the biggest tasks that faces the new boss is to keep an overfed unit hungry. He has to find a new way of motivating a group that has done everything there is to do and one that was savagely focused in the last few years on their chase of history.
Farrell is a popular man amongst all his past players. His coaching is renowned and his ability to create a team ethic and a winning culture is often said to be even stronger than his predecessor's but, before this Dublin team came along, winning back-to-back All-Irelands had been done once in two decades.
It's always been a question of how much would the champions want it when they no longer need it. And going for a sixth in succession - you'd like to think anyway - would be this team's relative equivalent of a 90s and 00s winner going for it a second time.
"What's happened now is in the past and we need to look forward," the new manager says.
"Looking forward to establish with them that there will need to be improvement in this squad and in our performances in 2020. We can't afford to be complacent, we can't afford to stagnate.
"The competition out there is getting better and getting stronger. Kerry are coming with a full deck and coming in a big way."
If 2018 was the lowest health the competitors found themselves in - Kerry were knocked out of the Super 8s, Mayo out of the qualifiers and Tyrone disappointingly far off it in the final - 2019 showed the leaps that the Kingdom, at least, have made. 70 minutes from immortality though, it wouldn't have taken any work at that stage to encourage the Dublin players to go back to the well to dig themselves out of another battle.
This year will pose new questions of the bullet-proof mentality that has helped Dublin into this position. It will require them to summon more energy and more fortitude and it will require them to dig deeper than men who have never even gotten a glimpse of the riches they've been bathing in this decade.
They say when it comes down to it in the white heat, it's the man who knows what it's like to lose who will go farther to make sure it doesn't happen again.
That's never been the case before when it comes to Dublin and, equipped with the best players and coaches, they don't have to dig as deep - but they do anyway. The only thing that makes it more plausible - that their drive might wane - is the longer time ticks on and they're inspired not by inscribing their names in the annals of history but just at the prospect of adding another to their collection, because that's their January to September routine. Eventually, it will take more than that.
For Farrell, he'll have to deal with that. He's the one who will have to instil that hunger that will keep them winners. He's the one who will have to find a way of remaining the hands-on coach on the training pitch whilst managing a massive operation at the same time. He's left to deal with Kerry's full deck and the new rules that could change the attack and defence of everyone he encounters. And he has to do it by replacing the most successful manager ever who's left behind an expectation that nothing other than an All-Ireland is acceptable.
If Farrell does what you'd expect him to do and go on and win Sam Maguire? So what? The only story here would be Dublin not winning the thing.
If the new manager masterminds a conquering of the island, he's just added a sixth to five in a row. An eighth in 10 years. He's just done what he was expected to do.
Dessie Farrell knows that narrative and he knows what's at stake. But he still couldn't help himself because he couldn't not help Dublin.
"There’s two ways to live your life," he says.
"One, as a timid soul. Year by year, month by month, week by week, possibly even hour by hour, as a timid soul. Or the other is to do the things that frighten you at times.
"This thing stimulates me, it challenged me. I love football and working with footballers. Ultimately, now is the time that if I didn’t do it now, it would probably never come around again."
It's all on the line for a man in a position you think he can only really lose from. But Farrell is thinking bigger than that. He's thinking of creating his own legacy.
And he's not one to walk away from that opportunity in the off chance things don't work out. He's not a timid soul.