Saturday 21 October 2017

Dublin a certainty for Sam? Don't be too cocky

Dublin's Keith Barr is consoled by team-mate Ciaran Walsh in 1992 and (inset) the lighter
Dublin's Keith Barr is consoled by team-mate Ciaran Walsh in 1992 and (inset) the lighter
Frank Roche

Frank Roche

FANCY a light? Then may we recommend this priceless keepsake from a quarter-century ago. “Dublin All-Ireland Football Champions 1992,” our lighter (pictured right) proudly boasts.

It mightn’t be as notorious as those Kerry five-in-a-row T-shirts but it’s a metaphor worth recalling in this, of all weeks. Especially if you’re a Dub diehard convinced that what happens next is preordained.  

Examples are littered through the decades, salutary tales of All-Ireland coronations quashed. 

The years when everyone – fawning media, presumptuous public – had concluded in advance that Sam Maguire was going only one place that Sunday in September.

Who will win the All Ireland football final?

A general view of the pre-match parade ahead of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

This is the scenario now facing Jim Gavin’s Dublin.

It helps that, by now, they are so accustomed to favouritism. It helps that 2014 – that shock-and-awe semi-final ambush by Donegal – is forever lurking in the memory, a perennial antidote to complacency.

It probably helps, too, that it’s Mayo in the opposite corner: even if Dublin have won most of the many recent head-to-heads, history has shown that their championship collisions are a fraught tale of the unexpected. 

Mayo’s form, coming into this final, is also far superior to 12 months ago. But then, so too is Dublin’s … and after their semi-final demolition of Tyrone’s much-touted defensive system, there was a rush to acclaim the 2017 champions, the three-in-a-row kingpins in waiting. 

Even as we write, facing the one summer rival to have caused them more trouble than anyone else, Dublin are 2/5 with the bookies to win in 70 minutes. Mayo are 3/1. So maybe it’s a good time to recount some earlier ‘coronations’ that never came to pass. Including ’92.

The story goes that the Dublin players who watched that year’s Donegal/Mayo semi-final left Croke Park convinced that Donegal were there for the taking in the final.

In fairness, this terrace observer can see where that consensus might have formed: the match was deplorable. But it’s curious to note that Dublin had yet to even reach the final, their semi-final against Clare coming a week later.

Dessie Farrell was but a young cub on Paddy Cullen’s team and admitted to being “oblivious” at the time to much of the well-documented flaws in Dublin’s approach to the final.

Donegal's Tony Boyle, left and team-mate Manus Boyle celebrate after the game. All Ireland Football Championship Final, Dublin v Donegal, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit; Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Donegal's Tony Boyle, left and team-mate Manus Boyle celebrate after the game. All Ireland Football Championship Final, Dublin v Donegal, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit; Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

But in his autobiography, Dessie – Tangled Up in Blue, he writes: “Parts of the lead-up to the game were shambolic. Complacency had probably set in and, worse still, this had become evident by the camp’s behaviour.”

Farrell recounts a lack of management strictures on peripheral events. “There was the chance of a few bob modelling clothes for Arnotts and appearing on a local radio station for a big laugh,” he reveals.

“There were loads of small things that, looking back, seem daft. I mean, we all had to troop into Arnotts in Henry Street individually to collect our clothes for final day in the full glare of a bemused public. Puma boots were delivered to training sessions and we even had a guy call to Parnell Park with a pair of Wrangler jeans for everyone.”

None of this, you can assume, has happened on Gavin’s micro-managing watch. For all its conspicuous success, his team has rarely if ever betrayed hints of hubris. Certainly not since Donegal ’14. Besides, the truism that history is always written by the winners springs to mind when harking back to Donegal ’92.

Jim McGuinness was a wide-eyed teenage sub on Brian McEniff’s panel. In his 2015 memoir, Until Victory Always, he describes the All-Ireland build-up thus: “Madness in the county. Margo brings a song out. Into Magees to get fitted for suits.” 

Doesn’t sound a whole lot different to the Dubs – the one difference between that no one expected a Donegal win.

McGuinness then recalls the Saturday night before history dawned - a cameo to suggest that embracing the hype can sometimes help. McEniff brought them greyhound racing in Shelbourne Park, then instructed the bus driver to venture down O’Connell Street en route back to the hotel.

“Wanting us to see the lights and the flags and the Donegal people on the streets,” he writes.

“Wanting them to see our bus. Eleven o’clock at night and the city on the tear. Chaos once they copped it was the Donegal bus. The boys bouncing in the door of the hotel. Pure McEniff. Showing us what it meant.”

The Meath of 2001 witnessed a different type of frenzy in the run-up to their All-Ireland with Galway. They had thumped the holders, Kerry, by 15 points in the semi-final.

Playing keep-ball near the end, the rampant Royals were greeted with a chorus of “olé olé” from their fans.

I came into the dressing-room and looked at one of the lads and said, ‘We’ll pay for that some day!’ I never thought the pay-back would come so soon, though,” said Donal Curtis in The Boylan Years. 

Galway had lifted Sam only three years previously, and were replay runners-up in 2000; but their ’01 form graph was erratic … how could they possibly halt a team that had inflicted that on Kerry?

“I thought in my heart that lads just looked over-confident,” admitted Geraghty in the above book, while Darren Fay half-blamed the media for getting carried away.

“Seán kept telling us not to believe in any of that. He kept telling  us that it was rubbish, but subconsciously it must have got in on us a bit. We were surely thinking that all we had to do was go out and win, and that was a very dangerous way to be thinking,” Fay conceded.

Fast-forward 16 years and there are echoes with the reaction to Dublin’s trouncing of Tyrone. Awesome? Yes. But how much of that was down to the faltering opposition?

Fancy a light? Then use a match. Better still, wait for the match itself.

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