Friday 24 March 2017

1995 The last of the rare auld times for Dublin

David Kelly

David Kelly

A penny for a peek behind the curtains into the hearts and minds of the Dublin and Cork footballers this morning. An All-Ireland won't be won tomorrow. But it can most certainly be lost.

At least 140 minutes of sporting war stand between them and the Sam Maguire. On Monday, the winners won't be there yet. But it will seem a whole lot closer than it did the previous morning.

There's been a lot of distance covered chasing the dream; Cork have been slogging since Sam's parting with the greatest team in their history back in 1990; Dublin's longing has been burning an emotional hole in blue hearts since 1995.

That's a hell of a lot of pining.

Absence makes the pair grow fonder of each other; the duelling duo, traditional giants but relative strangers in championship combat, know that when they meet in high summer, significant rewards follow.

In '74, Dublin were thieved of support and racked by doubting Thomases, just as in this campaign, yet victory against Cork liberated a collective and Heffo's Army was born.

They trekked to the second city in 1983, galloping gaily on the smirking southerners' Trojan Horse and smacked four goals to launch their assault on the final salvo of Dublin's supreme era.

Few metropolitans dare to speak of '89, when Cork were the finer force by far in bleaker times for Dublin. By 1995, Cork were a mostly fading force, retaining a modicum of significance but, akin to a doggedly defiant Dublin, slowly subjugated by northern exposure.

By 1995, Dublin were still waiting in the departures lounge. Waiting and waiting.

Torment

John O'Leary was the only link to the previous All-Ireland winning combo; the bulk of the team had nothing against which to measure their regular torment, as the majority of them had appeared in two losing semi-finals, two losing finals and the Meath epic.

A hell of a lot of pining.

Cork were elbowing the Dubs in the heartbreak stakes too, let us remember. They had just seen off Kerry for the third successive year in Munster; two semi-finals and one losing final would be their sorrowful harvest.

Dublin corner-forward Mick Galvin called it a "s**t or bust match" for his men. He could just have easily have been talking about Cork.

Fifteen years on, the landscape is much changed but certain constants remain, aside from the yearning hunger within both camps.

Dublin and Cork have been tilting at a duopoly for a decade now; Dublin's Leinster hegemony always rendered impotent at the knock-out stages, while Cork's easier path to the last four has been thoroughly thwarted, usually by Kerry.

Jim Gavin sees similarities between Dublin then and Cork now. "The options Cork have now are frightening, a bit like we had then. Their consistency is astonishing, like ours was."

Dublin, in the second year of Pat Gilroy's term, are at a different juncture. They have cast aside recent historic foibles and gathered anew with a different style and a radically reshaped team, and their early implosions against Wexford and Meath have leavened any rampant hysteria.

"It's two different teams, different demographics, different life experiences really," said Dessie Farrell, Dublin's centre-forward back then, when asked to faintly sketch any blue parallels.

"We were a much more experienced team then, at our pinnacle. When we won it eventually, we probably overshot our pinnacle and were on the downward slope. This team is different, they're emerging."

It is altogether different from '95 but some threads remain; not least the presence of Gilroy himself, an effective second-half substitute for Paul Bealin 15 years ago.

Gilroy has recognised that this outfit would never pull through as the '95 vintage had done; hence his radical surgery on the under-performing side who had repeatedly flopped on the big stage against the marquee names.

"Everyone buys into the panel," said Galvin.

He should know. During '95, he was regularly the first into the showers, even taken off during the 10-point Leinster final romp over Meath. That he thrived with 0-4 in the heat of the semi-final's second half vindicated not only him, but also Pat O'Neill's management.

"Giller has also made brave, hard decisions, really tough ones and they're coming out really strongly from it. The word from the camp is that they're all happy, buying into it and he's keeping the lid on the hype," Galvin said.

"I'd been taken off before but that as the way it was. Robbie Boyle was coming through and Vinny Murphy was still there. Then you had Jayo.

"But the bigger picture is bigger than any of us. That's what Gilroy gets into them now. He wants them to be a team, he doesn't want any prima donnas, fellas hogging the limelight.

"Everyone needs to put the shoulder to the wheel, and we're better for it. It's a better-looking team. And if they don't get their rewards, there won't be mass hysteria on the streets. The team has been steadied and they'll develop from here."

That's probably the kernel of the thing right there. Dublin football in general needs a win more than ever but this particular set of Dublin players don't have to win. For once, the city isn't suffocating them in the build-up to the big occasion.

"It was s**t or bust for us then but now it's different," Galvin said. "The supporters know that if they compete well, they can win and if they don't, well it's been a good year.

"But in '95, we had the world on our shoulders. We had to get to another final and we had to get it done."

Gilroy's surgery has been detailed elsewhere. In '95, there was sufficient tinkering to inculcate the required measure of competition for places. Vinny Murphy's authority was no longer guaranteed. Paul Clarke reasserted himself. Farrell switched to a play-making role. Gavin's industry returned after a broken arm. Then you had Jayo.

"We were all fighting for places in the team and it was a competitive place to be," recalled Gavin, speaking from Chad, where he is detailed with the Irish mission. "That was a huge factor in our success. To have Vinny Murphy on the bench detailed our strength in depth."

Yet this summer Dublin have also consigned stalwarts to the bench and beyond, others have been re-moulded to do different tasks -- like David Henry -- and nobody is guaranteed 70 minutes. For Mick Galvin, read Alan Brogan.

Both the '95 and 2010 outfits have also employed sports psychologists, so franking the view that not merely physical deficiencies teased each side's pursuit of success.

Gilroy would be the one to spot the thread. "He definitely had a managerial head on him," offered Farrell. "He was always a deep thinker about football. He was never very much to the fore in team meetings, he never sought that sort of situation at all.

"But whenever he made a point, it was always very pertinent. And in small groups, it was obvious to everyone that he talked a lot, and deeply, about the game. We knew he would have the capacity to get into the coaching aspect of it."

With Jack Sheedy's knee smashed, Gilroy played reserve to Bealin and the industrious ex-Aussie Rules star Brian Stynes, who formed a formidable midfield partnership.

Not as formidable, it seemed, as the rangy Liam Honohan alongside the pinpoint accuracy of Danny Culloty. Dublin remained slight favourites for the contest but a woeful start mocked that judgment.

They were 0-5 to 0-2 down in jig time, with Mark O'Sullivan running rings around the hitherto dominant figure of Keith Galvin in Dublin's teak-tough back line.

"It was a strange, strange game," recalled Galvin. "Ten minutes in we were flat. It didn't look like we were playing in a s**t or bust game. We played as if the weight of expectation was bearing down on us."

All over, Dublin players struggled. "For long periods, myself included," said Farrell. "I didn't have a good game that day."

Then you had Jayo.

It all began with a quick Keith Barr free. "It was a dubious free," said Brian Corcoran, who would later suffer the ignominy of being switched to the rampant Mick Galvin.

Jason Sherlock turned Mark O'Connor beneath the Hogan Stand, the twists and turns of the full-back straining his attempts to catch air as the summer sensation dashed towards a goal that suddenly went BOOM!

O'Connor had trash-talked Sherlock in the build-up, depending on your choice of newspaper. Billy Morgan had pithily assessed his influence on RTE following the Leinster final.

Now he owned the city for the whole summer. "We were screaming for Jayo to just hit it. He was so confident," Galvin said

Dublin led 1-5 to 0-6 at half-time. Cork panicked. Shea Fahy came on at wing-forward when Dublin's midfield dominance required plugging; Bealin's loss through injury was nullified by Gilroy's contribution from the bench.

Paddy Moran, whose like we've rarely seen since, blasted O'Sullivan and the ineffectual Colin Corkery with two bulldozing hits to stamp the back three's authority on the low-scoring fare. Galvin scored four points. He wouldn't be taken off.

"Mick was the shining light," said Farrell. "It was his solo effort that shone above the mediocrity that day. It wasn't one of our better performances of those years but it helped to put things in perspective for us.

"That we got through it was useful in dampening the height of the hype in the capital. You're going to have the hype and, once the machine cranks up, it's impossible to put the lids on it.

"But not having played well was perhaps the best way for that Dublin team to get to the final.

"This current squad won't settle for bonus-territory status. It will still be a good year if they don't win. But they'll be driven to win."

Same as it ever was. Two teams on the verge. History's burden waiting to suffocate or soothe.

Irish Independent

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