A little bit of history repeating
John O'Leary sees similarities between Dublin's league winners of 1993 and the current crop, he tells Donnchadh Boyle ahead of Sunday's decider against Cork
Published 20/04/2011 | 05:00
Swings and roundabouts. Back in 1993, Dublin were preparing for a league final duel with the reigning All-Ireland champions, who had beaten them in the previous year's championship.
In the 2011 version, replace Donegal with Cork, but it's much the same story.
And as is the case now, that Dublin side had also been through the mill. The four-game saga with Meath in 1991 left its mark, as did defeat to the Ulster men in the 1992 decider, when Dublin were hot favourites.
John O'Leary captained Dublin through that 1993 league campaign, in which they also went unbeaten, and sees that success as paving the way for ultimate triumph in 1995.
"It can't be overstated how significant that was," O'Leary said. "It was a big step for us to make and it gave us all a bit of confidence I suppose. We had a couple of tough defeats in the previous years with the games with Meath in 1991, and then lost the 1992 final to Donegal too. So there was an element of revenge in it for us," he says.
"You always want to win the league and it was also our first piece of silverware, other than a Leinster title, that we were able to get our hands on.
"We had to wait another year but eventually we got over the line in 1995 and that was important for us."
Dublin needed a replay to get over Donegal in 1993, saving their best football until they were reduced to 14 men after Tommy Carr was sent off for a kick at Brian Murray and was hit with an astonishing six-month suspension, which was eventually reduced to four on appeal.
It mattered little in the end, as the ban ran out a day after the Dubs were beaten in the All-Ireland semi-final by Derry.
It did little to help the sense in Dublin that they were getting a raw deal from officials. In the drawn match, Dublin had Keith Barr and Charlie Redmond sent off by Brian White, who awarded Donegal 35 frees, with only 12 going to Dublin.
"It was a very harsh suspension. He basically missed the whole season over it. That's not defending the tackle but Croke Park made an example of him that time," says O'Leary.
While Dublin have experienced heavy defeats on big days, O'Leary doesn't give much credence to the theory that they have left psychological scars on the current side.
"I'm not sure about that. We just went from game to game; you wouldn't be talking about what had happened before. It can be overstated," he says.
"Many of the Dublin team that lost to Tyrone and Kerry those days have moved on. There are so many new faces in there this year playing in different positions. I think the Spring Series has helped them that way. They have gotten used to big occasions in Croke Park and that's important.
"They've looked very comfortable in their surroundings."
Dublin have tried to wean themselves off an over-reliance on Bernard Brogan, with brother Alan's suspension coming when he seemed to be moving towards top gear.
Eoghan O'Gara is available again after suspension and while Kevin McManamon, Mossie Quinn and Diarmuid Connolly have scored heavily, O'Leary believes Bernard will be a central cog once again.
"He's obviously a key member of the team. They haven't used him as much but when he has come on he has still made a considerable impact. He gives defenders something to worry about," he says.
Sunday's clash will be a repeat of the 1999 league decider when Dublin, by virtue of a home and away arrangement between the counties, travelled to Pairc Ui Chaoimh to take on the Rebels.
Dublin lost by two points and finished the day with 14 men when Jason Sherlock was shown red, incidentally also by Wexford whistler Brian White. Cork went all the way to the All-Ireland final, while Dublin didn't manage to get out of Leinster.
Dublin's first league success came in 1953 with 14 St Vincent's men in the team and since then they've added eight more titles. But on only two occasions (1958 and 1976) has All-Ireland success followed a league win.
They'll also be acutely aware of the experience of Mayo in least year's league final, where a loss to Cork fast-tracked them to one of their poorest campaigns, which ended with defeat to Longford.
And after beating Cork by six points in their last meeting in February, running in three goals, Dublin won't be short on confidence as they prepare for another big day out.
"The league is always important and Dublin have used it well, getting lads on the pitch and building a squad. It's been a very satisfactory league from Dublin's point of view," says O'Leary.