Friday 21 October 2016

Dublin became a football force after the team went 'only Dubs need apply'

Hugh O’Flaherty

Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30

Brendan Kennelly
Brendan Kennelly

The first true Dublin team was that of 1955. Until then, Dublin would field teams with many country players.

  • Go To

As a result, the followers did not show up in such large numbers as they did in 1955 - and ever since.

In truth, we should go back another year to 1954, when a very talented and glamorous minor Dublin team - they had cheerleaders like American football teams - burst onto the scene.

Their chief hero, Vinnie Bell - he was to Gaelic games what Tony O'Reilly was then to rugby - galvanised the team.

They met Kerry in the final. The poet, Brendan Kennelly, was given the task of keeping Vinnie Bell in check, which he did, until near the end of the match. Bell won a free, a goal resulted, Dublin won and the legend began.

Dublin had resolved, by 1955, that henceforth it would only have true Dubs on the team. The St Vincent's club provided nearly all the panel. In a galaxy of talent, Kevin Heffernan and Ollie Freeney stood out.

Coincidences with this year should be noted. Dublin and Mayo drew in the semi-final. Dublin narrowly won a hard-fought reply. That year, the other semi-final between Kerry and Cavan had also ended in a draw. Both matches were replayed on the same day. But Kerry, in contrast, had an easy passage and won by a wide margin.

So the scene was set for the match of the century. Dublin was seen by many experts as the team of all the talents that would bring a new dispensation to the way Gaelic football was played.

Heffernan was to be a 'roving' full forward and the speed and skill of the whole team would put paid to the Kerry traditionalists with their reliance on 'catch and kick' and each man to be confined to his own sector; this was an especial article of faith for the Kerry trainer, Dr Eamonn O'Sullivan.

Pre-match, this newspaper had John D Hickey to assess the prospects of each team. The 'Irish Press' assigned Mick Dunne (father of the broadcaster Eileen Dunne) to the Dublin camp and Patrick Purcell to Kerry.

In those days, pre-television and before the arrival of the many pundits, the Gaelic games writers occupied a celebrity status as great as the players.

They also had total access to the players and selectors and other mentors. They were not confined to a solitary 'Press Night' and training sessions were not held behind closed doors.

So what they wrote was read with great interest and appreciation by the public.

John D Duly gave a very full and fair assessment of both teams, as did Dunne and Purcell about their respective postings.

The 'Press' sports editor, Oliver Weldon, was slated to give his summing up the day before the match. Like the Delphic oracle, he kept the scales evenly balanced.

However, the general consensus led to Dublin entering the fray as outstanding favourites.

What tended to be overlooked was that Dublin had lost two outstanding players after the bruising encounter with Mayo;

Kerry, on the other hand had come through fresh and unscathed.

Also, Kevin Heffernan abandoned his roving role. Dublin were determined to beat Kerry at their own game. This did not work out. Kerry just about survived a late Dublin flourish to win what was a truly classic game of football.

It should be said that Kerry were forewarned. Earlier in the year, at a tournament held at Whit, Dublin had trounced Kerry in Killarney. This was a tournament that Kerry always took seriously.

So they knew they would have a fight on their hands the next time they met Dublin. I remember asking Kevin Heffernan about that match many years later and suggesting the Dublin display that day may have cost his team the All Ireland.

He dismissed the idea that Dublin were taking that match very seriously; they were out for a joyful weekend in the country. Whatever about their enjoyment off the pitch that weekend, they certainly enjoyed their time on it.

After 1955, what resulted? Many further classic clashes.

Kevin Heffernan recorded historic wins in 1976 and 1977. Brendan Kennelly did not progress to senior county level but he had many outstanding games for his club, Shannon Rangers.

After one such local match he was accosted and asked whether he was Kennelly the poet. He responded that he was, whereupon his questioner said with renewed admiration: "Well, for a poet you hit a great belt of a ball." Nor did Vinnie Bell progress to senior inter-county level, but he became a notable golfer and was captain of the Royal Dublin Golf Club when he met an untimely death.

Páraic Haughey, a Dublin forward that day, has given his name to one of the most famous Irish constitutional law cases.

Finally, another coincidence with 1955. Tipperary were then in both minor finals. They won the hurling against Galway and lost the football to Dublin. The 1954 trailblazers had retained their title.

Irish Independent

Read More

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport