Thursday 27 October 2016

A fair city convenes on its hill to salute monuments to magnificence

Published 03/10/2016 | 02:30

Lee Keegan fouls Diarmuid Connolly resulting in a black card for the Mayo player. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Lee Keegan fouls Diarmuid Connolly resulting in a black card for the Mayo player. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

No longer do they stand on the shoulder of giants. In the Croker coliseum, a colossus for all time revealed itself in shimmering blue to prolong the Dublin dusk light and make so many of its cheered citizens feel as if the sunlight would never, ever fade.

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And, if they surveyed the scene from their rooftop perch in the Gibson Hotel the morning after the night before, a little bleary- and teary-eyed, it could quite easily have seemed to Dublin's players that they could, perhaps, see for ever.

Forty years on from the day when Heffo's Army conquered its highest peak, we have been blessed with a new generation of the most worthy of successors; except now, indisputably, Gavin's grenadiers are the greatest of all time.

In the championship, 25 games, 22 wins, two draws and one defeat. Just one. Twenty-nine games unbeaten. Oh, and that unprecedented run of league success while we're at it.

While so many others build castles in the air - even some of their recent colleagues built three castles in the air! - this Dublin side have constructed an enduring monument to magnificence.

Panache and persistence dovetailing when they are needed most.

Four All-Irelands; now two assembled back-to-back, the final leap into the history books, emulating their trailblazing predecessors of the chrome-tinted 1970s.

Regrettably, though drug addicts roam freely upon its boardwalks and bag-snatchers imperil all on its main thoroughfare, this dirty and ugly and beautiful old town has never seen fit to erect a statue to Kevin Heffernan.

When the nabobs of City Hall finally get around to their belated beatification of the modern-day founding father of a once dormant Gaelic game, they may as well carve a plinth to honour its greatest 21st century son.

These are the finest of players but also the finest of men.

"We're not here to prove a point," says Diarmuid Connolly. "We were not coming this year to defend the Sam Maguire. We were coming to attack it."

Gavin has before said that every All-Ireland is unique. But they cannot be. This has been the same but different.

Like so many of the Dublin supporters, sniffing the perfumed air of success deep into the night and deeper into Sunday, the songs remains the same too but are sung with a greater relish than ever before.

For the heroes of renown are not just commemorated to memory in song, they walk amongst us; the songs and stories are a latter-day fable. No longer the lament that Dublin changes and nothing stays the same.

"To go unbeaten in the championship for so long is a reflection of application, intensity, just trying to be the best," says Gavin, whose focus is to bring the best out of all who pass through his hands.

"These are unique circumstances, for so many volunteers to take the time away from their families."

It seems trite to outsiders but that sense of family envelops the team whole; "We're like brothers," says Ciaran Kilkenny. "We train together. We eat together. We swim together. Sometimes we go to the cinema together."

And the happiness they feel for the happiness they bring is genuine; when they walk to Hill 16, they confront a mirror image of swirling blue heaven.

"Look how happy it makes them," wonders Brian Fenton. "And seeing that happiness makes us feel so happy too. There's no better feeling."

Fenton does not know what it is to lose in a Dublin jersey; for those of us who spent decades and more of our lives in barren wilderness, it seems almost unconscionable.

At the other end of the spectrum, Denis Bastick is holding his son as he peers into the mass of blue; the feeling of success thrills him like no other but the feeling he gets when he holds his son will now become more important to him.

When he walks away from Hill 16, we know it will be for the last time. Paul Flynn, his body tortured by the toil which made him Ireland's greatest player so recently, may also ponder his future. Brogan, perhaps, too.

Stephen Cluxton, another torch-bearer of history, being the first man to lift the trophy three times, had to be persuaded to persist this season; there is a sense that he may need less, not more, convincing this winter.

But see what emerges from behind these stalwarts? Tributaries of youth flowing into a seemingly ever rolling blue river.

Davy Byrne, 21; Cormac Costello, 22; Eric Lowndes, 22; Paul Mannion, 23, Con O'Callaghan, 20. Kilkenny is only 23! John Small, a breakthrough star, is 23 also; Jack McCaffrey and Rory O'Carroll to return, perhaps.

"October," sings Bono. "And kingdoms rise, and kingdoms fall. "But you go on. . . and on."

Irish Independent

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