Change hits Dublin with MacAuley and Mannion moving on but no county can cope better with departures

THE DAY STARTED with Michael Darragh MacAuley’s retirement and closed with news that Paul Mannion is opting out.

The shift in Dublin’s squad continues with MacAuley bowing out after a career that properly began with his 2010 championship debut and then more strikingly came the word of Mannion’s plans not to be involved in 2021, as reported by the Irish Independent.

The exits come a week after Paddy Andrews called time on his role with Dublin career. Three departures in a month for the champions and part of a recurring pattern over the last 20 months.

The trend began on the first day of May 2019 when Paul Flynn confirmed his retirement. He was followed later that year by first Bernard Brogan and then Eoghan O’Gara, another pair of forwards removed from the capital setup.

In a volatile 2020 season, Jack McCaffrey stepped away mid-summer before a championship ball had been kicked in anger. Then September saw Darren Daly and Diarmuid Connolly both move on before the early 2021 decisions of Andrews, MacAuley and Mannion.

Add it all up and it is a sizeable amount of big-game experience, winning mentality and Gaelic football class for one squad to be stripped of. There is a combined total of 59 All-Ireland senior medals in those trophy cabinents, a sign of their input to Dublin’s decade of dominance. 19 All-Star awards collected by six of those players is a testament to their individual excellence with three of them (Brogan, McCaffrey and MacAuley) picking up Footballer of the Year gongs as well.

And yet that drain of talent has not obstructed Dublin’s march to success so far. Flynn was the only one absent for the 2019 campaign with another five watching on as the 2020 winter season unfolded. In both cases there was the familiar sight of Dublin lording it in Leinster and getting the job done in the All-Ireland series.

The striking thing is the status of the players when they retire. Their contribution to the Dublin football cause is undeniable yet it is telling that influences on the pitch have started to wane with gametime restricted.

Jack McCaffrey celebrates with the Sam Maguire in 2019.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Only Mannion and McCaffrey started the 2018 final win over Tyrone from that group, a stat repeated in the 2019 final replay success against Kerry. They have all remained valuable components of the Dublin setup, positive role models for emerging players and signalled out as key drivers in the preparation that helps keep them at the top.

But when it has come to the key moments that decide the securing of championship silverware, the trust of managers has largely been placed elsewhere. Even of the most recent departures, consider that last month’s All-Ireland final saw Mannion brought on in the 50th minute, MacAuley stay on the bench throughout and Andrews miss out on the 26-man panel.

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Michael Darragh MacAuley lifts the Sam Maguire in December.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The evolution of the Dublin squad has continued unabated, more illustrative of a conveyor belt than a golden generation. Sean Bugler and Paddy Small made their breakthrough in 2020 just as Eoin Murchan and Brian Howard were ushered in to impact in 2018.

Stephen Cluxton, Michael Fitzsimons and James McCarthy are the towering figures still chipping in since 2011 but the Dublin team is one where the generational talents of Fenton, Kilkenny and O’Callaghan are fuelling the engine to such powerful effect.

It is significant to note that Mannion and McCaffrey are the two high-profile figures who have decided to press pause on their Dublin playing narrative. Both turn 28 this year and share a strong relationship with current boss Dessie Farrell that stems from their underage days. They would appear football wise to have so much left to give as evidenced by their three consecutive All-Star selections between 2017 and 2019.

But there has always seemed an independence to their thinking and a sense that football does not govern their every decision. McCaffrey took a break in 2016 when he spent some time in Africa while still a medical student. That was a season after Mannion did not partake as he went to study in China and spent a summer in Chicago.

Paul Mannion after the 2020 All-Ireland final.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Despite McCaffrey operating at the peak of his powers, Dublin slotted in Robbie McDaid to fill that space last year. A gap opens up, whoever is next in line moves up to take that place and on the champions since 2015 go.

The playing faces may change but Dublin’s position as the market leaders shows no sign of altering.

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