After picking up 7 major club hurling trophies, can the Galway native impact with Dublin in the county game?

Mattie Kenny celebrating last year’s Dublin senior hurling final victory.

Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“WHETHER WE CAN hold onto him now I have my doubts, but he has been super for us and he owes us nothing.”

Kieran Fitzgerald was tipping his hat towards the man who had steered Corofin to the title they had so desperately coveted.

Trooping out of the dressing-room after the 2015 All-Ireland club final, he was offering his thoughts on Stephen Rochford, the Mayo man who had steered Fitzgerald’s Galway home to glory.

By the end of the year his suspicions had been confirmed, Rochford’s club feats attracting the attention of his native county board as he was installed as Mayo manager.

Stephen Rochford with the Corofin players .

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It is a path that several have taken. Work in the club game and contest at All-Ireland level to illustrate your worth as a manager before using it as a springboard to land a gig on the elite inter-county stage.

Rochford was part of a trend that is well-defined in football – Eugene McGee, John Evans, Tommy Lyons, Billy Morgan, Mickey Harte, Joe Kernan and Pat O’Shea all examples of managers that have made that jump to directing county operations on the sideline after previously steering clubs to St Patrick’s Day appearances.

In hurling it may not be as widespread a practice but Mícheál Donoghue reigned with Clarinbridge on 17 March 2011 and then backed that up by landing the Liam MacCarthy Cup for Galway last year.

The same principles govern these moves, a desire for bosses to test themselves in the county arena after ticking boxes at the highest level of club action.

Mattie Kenny becomes the latest to follow that career path. After presiding over a wave of club success with Cuala, Saturday night’s confirmation of his appointment as the new Dublin manager propels him into the national conversation for 2019.

Mattie Kenny has been appointed Senior Hurling Manager for a three year term. The management team will be confirmed at the next meeting of the County Committee #GAA

— Dublin GAA (@DubGAAOfficial) November 3, 2018

Source: Dublin GAA/Twitter

The county game is not alien to him. Stints with Galway U21 teams culminated in All-Ireland wins, a senior spell alongside Anthony Cunningham featured the rapid rise to take Kilkenny to a September replay in 2012 before the team’s form unravelled in 2013 and he stepped away.

It’s not his first bid to land a senior job. He was linked with the main post in Galway hurling a couple of times, lost out to Pat Gilroy in the Dublin race last year and found that travel exertions would be too much as he bowed out of contention for the Waterford job this autumn. 

The Dublin role hands him the inter-county managerial reins he craved and ultimately it is the body of work he compiled at club level in the capital which made for the most compelling reasoning to entrust him with the position.

Three Dublin titles, two Leinster crowns and a pair of All-Ireland accolades with Cuala between October 2015 and March 2018. Scratch the surface and statistics leap out from that golden run over the course of 29 months.

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Kenny sent Cuala teams out into action that could win any which way they pleased or respond to the circumstances presented to them. They ended a county final 21-year county title wait in emphatic fashion with a 10-point success in 2015 and won the next two Dublin deciders by a margin of a single score.

In Leinster their nine games over three campaigns yielded eight victories and a solitary defeat to Oulart-the-Ballagh at the close of 2015. Of the eight wins, they achieved five by double-digit margins and only one was by less than five points (against Kilkenny’s Clara in 2015).

Some of their victories in the All-Ireland series were claimed with comfort – Slaughtneil by 13, Ballyea by 12 and Liam Mellows by eight – and they displayed the steel when required last March against Na Piarsaigh in two shuddering collisions between highly-rated club sides.

Kenny’s team were down by three points the first day but snatched a goal to secure extra-time and then notched a pointed free to send the game to a replay. In that second affair they trailed by a point in the 59th minute before raising four unanswered white flags to seal the deal.

Cuala players celebrating their All-Ireland final replay victory last March.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Becoming just the eighth club in GAA history to defend their All-Ireland title and the first hurling side since Portumna in 2009, had a natural affect. Cuala were not able to return to that pitch in their performance levels and a late rally could not prevent a Kilmacud Crokes success in the Dublin semi-final in October.

Still Kenny’s credentials were sound and now he must see can he translate that winning habit to the Dublin camp. It’s a different environment, a group of Cuala’s hurling stars opted out of the Dublin setup this year and it will be interesting to see if Kenny can coax them back. Con O’Callaghan was a leading light for him at club level but his county allegiances lie firmly in Jim Gavin’s football dressing-room.

After Ger Cunningham’s tenure concluded with Dublin having regressed, Gilroy’s lone campaign did generate stability. 2018 may not have seen qualification from the Leinster round-robin by Dublin but the results masked the progress in their performances with their three defeats occurring by an aggregate margin of five points. 

A dejected Chris Crummy after Dublin’s loss to Kilkenny in May.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Kenny takes charge though at a time when the hurling scene has never looked more competitive. Aside from the title holders Limerick, the other three All-Ireland semi-finalists from this year will approach 2019 with optimism and there is a pack behind them of illustrious names who will be eager to fight back.

Still after the abrupt departure of Pat Gilroy in September, Dublin have ushered in a replacement in the space of seven weeks and can kickstart the process of preparing matters for 2019. 

Their new manager has proved he can conquer the club game in the capital.

Now Kenny will seek to make his mark with Dublin on the county stage.

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