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"You knew you were working and dealing with a different breed, they wanted it more," Paul Clarke looks back on his O'Byrne Cup reign with the Dubs

Former Dublin star outlines what sets Jim Gavin apart

Author: Media GPA/11 September 2017/Categories: Year 2015, Year 2016

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It's amazing what you can learn about someone from their Twitter handle – be it a nickname, their age or something that means a lot to them – and when you search for former Dublin star Paul Clarke, the year 1995 immediately comes to the fore.

That was the year Dublin ended a 12-year wait, deemed as a famine in the capital, for Sam Maguire and for Clarke it was a time when everything came together for him after some frustrating years in sky blue.

Scoring from play in every championship game that year, the Whitehall Colmcille forward, then 29, was playing the football of his career as the Dubs denied Tyrone their first All-Ireland crown, and a five in a row for Ulster counties.

It's funny what sticks out with some people from their playing days and when looking back at the '95 final it's not Charlie Redmond's sending off that he recalls, or Peter Canavan hitting 11 points, all but one of the Red Hand tally that day.

Redmond's red mist

Instead it was the immediate shift in Dublin's mentality when Redmond was given his marching orders and the responsibility which then lay in his hands with free-taking duties, a couple of which he spurned, before delivering the final blow to Tyrone's coffin in their 1-10 to 0-12 win.

"There was a bit of a mix-up over Charlie but if you look at the coverage straight away when he is sent off and goes off, a number of us in that forward line started pulling strings and pointing what had to be done," Clarke tells gaelicplayers.com

"Jason Sherlock, a young player like him, was very much included in that and we knew we had to work harder if we wanted to get over the line. Charlie was sent off and all of a sudden I was thrown in as free taker.

"A lot of people forget that I missed a few difficult frees under the Hogan Stand but I haven't, that could have been the winning of the game for us and I could've made it a lot easier. Thankfully, the head didn't drop though.

"I could've dropped it but instead I got into a good position and kicked the winning score, a really good score, from a position that I was comfortable in and that I'd practiced a lot in training. It sailed over and that was the final score of our championship."

After the euphoria of an All-Ireland win and receiving his first and only All-Star, Clarke was keen to push on the following year but instead he watched on from Hill 16 the following year alongside a handful of other All-Ireland winners.

Clarke didn't feature in the plans of new boss Mickey Whelan and when subsequent All-Ireland kingpins Meath put them to the sword in the Leinster final he went from being "on top of the world to crashing back down to earth".

Filling Gavin's boots

His inter-county career finished soon after following the appointment of Tommy Carr and John O'Leary but his love of Dublin football never diminished and having returned as selector work alongside Paul 'Pillar' Caffrey from 2005-2008, Clarke took the temporary reins of the senior job this year when the back-to-back All-Ireland champions were holidaying in early January.

Despite being in charge of a rookie squad, Clarke guided the Dubs to O'Byrne Cup honours with the emergence of the likes of Niall Scully, Conor McHugh and Evan Comerford no surprise to him given the extra yards which the young Dubs are willing to make.

"It wasn't only the O'Byrne Cup, the way we looked at it was 'this was the Dublin senior football team entering a competition and myself and Jim Brogan were the Dublin senior management team. That's the way we saw it and that's the way the lads looked at it," he says. 

"'Enjoy the moment, embrace it and keep the standards high and give ourselves and Jim Gavin a headache by showing a great attitude and aptitude, discipline, impeccable behaviour and high standards that would allow them to possibly go into a senior panel.

"That's what we tried to do and as a result of that and telling them to enjoy playing for Dublin, there was no shackles of set pieces or kick-out strategies, we just said 'go and express yourselves and play football' and that's what they did and what they achieved.

"From day one when I went to Abbotstown to see them do some gym work – the first chance I got to meet a lot of these players – so at 6am you're turning up and they're there before you and follow the gym programme set by Bryan Cullen to an exact detail.

"They do their work and then head off to college or their jobs. You knew you were working and dealing with a different breed, a different mindset. By doing it that way it showed that they wanted it more."

What sets Gavin apart

Having played in the half-forward line with Gavin, who chases his fourth All-Ireland SFC title with the Dubs in Sunday's decider with Mayo, Clarke is often asked to describe what sets his former team-mate apart in terms of management but the 51-year-old is quick to acknowledge their footballing education growing up and how it has helped shape Dublin's current success.

"We had a bit of a reunion last Friday night of the '95 squad and Pat O'Neill and Jim Brogan were there, two hugely intelligent guys who we all have huge respect for. We wouldn't have won an All-Ireland without them," Clarke says.

"We were educated well, club football in Dublin is tough, hard and physical and we'd been in tough situations playing for Dublin so we were learning all the time. when you think of that group of players, a large majority have worked at inter-county level in some guise. 

"That group of players have given a huge amount back to club and county, be it at minor, U-21 and senior, and I think that's based on our footballing ability and knowledge and the way we were tutored, plus we have a passion for Dublin football.

"It's not a big surprise that Jim is so good, we were all learning from each other at the time and we all believe in playing football a certain way. Jim is a very articulate, intelligent guy whose job as a pilot with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) demands so.

"He delegates well, he looks at things strategically and he acts on them and does in it a cool, calm manner so it's no surprise he's doing what he's doing. And the group of players that are there, we introduced a lot of those under Pillar's regime. 

"We looked at Bernard Brogan, Eoghan O'Gara, Michael Darragh Macauley, that's going back ten years and these guys have developed under Pat Gilroy and under Jim, plus you have this influx of U-21 All-Ireland winners all coming underneath and driving on the standards. 

"It's a development within Dublin that's what's caused all of this and this is a great time. People who are old enough will remind you of the long gap from '83 to '95 and '95 to 2011, it whets the appetite and makes you appreciate it more when you win one.

"But now Dublin have had this great run, it's coming around regularly and you're expecting to win every League match, the O'Byrne Cup, every challenge and every championship game, and you have to. 

"This theory of being run over if you fail to move forward and improve yourself is true, and Dublin are trying to stay ahead of that."

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