Thursday 19 October 2017

Dubs still true to Heffo’s faith

Gavin's men too streetwise for Kerry as they play down comparisons to '70s legends

Philly McMahon turns the tables to kick a point for Dublin despite the efforts of Kerry star Colm Cooper
Philly McMahon turns the tables to kick a point for Dublin despite the efforts of Kerry star Colm Cooper
Dublin's Philly McMahon and Kerry's Colm Cooper in conversation after the game
Dublin's Philly McMahon and Kerry's Colm Cooper in conversation after the game
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Dusk fell at lunchtime on the city and Dublin, all bite and in-your-face moxy, took the Kingdom to places they were ill-advised to tread.

So in the rain-blackened gloom, this final was fought strictly on the Capital's terms, their third crown in five seasons putting them, statistically at least, right up there with Heffo's matinee idols. The Dubs? You love or loathe the din they make.

They exist in a world of extremes, maybe put there by our habit of being hopelessly reactionary in how we see them.

One moment, their radiance stings a nation's eyes, the next we are wheezing at their innocence. Every victory thus becomes a virtual declaration of government, every defeat some kind of careless apocalypse.

This one?

Maybe it's an impatience for them to be glamorous again, to turn the concrete steps of the Hill into another quivering mirror of a loud city's inner self-belief, into something bristling, something animate, but we were bigging it up almost before they'd even put the blue tassels on Sam Maguire.

Stockpile

The basic arithmetic defends us. Heffo's team of the '70s didn't stitch three National Leagues to its summer glories. Nor did it stockpile the same mountains of scores, albeit yesterday's was, due to the sky being on the grass, more Sugarloaf than Materhorn.

Michael Darragh Macauley smiles at the appetite for turning history into a competition.

"Look I think everyone adds this stuff up when you're finished playing," he shrugs to a copse of media men beneath the Hogan Stand.

"I'm sure there'll be a few stats thrown out about ourselves and the team from the '70s for the next while, but there's still a long way to go and we're nowhere near those boys."

He is pressed to try harder.

"I dunno, no, not really," he protests. "These are the sums that I'll do when I'm wrapped up on a bar-stool when I'm about 40 and I'm trying to big myself up to some young one or something. For the moment, we'll just keep playing the game."

It had been an ugly game, yet utterly compelling too. The rain slickened everything to the point of turning smart men into fools.

Even the basic rudiments of football became difficult, the ball having the adhesive qualities of a bar of carbolic just retrieved from a bath. Foot-passing became a needless gamble. Possession needed to be coveted and protected yet, time and again, it was tossed away like sweet-wrappers.

That said, Dublin were always better, always more street-smart. Had Brian Fenton's 46th-minute shot not snapped back from the butt of a Hill end upright, there was even the faint possibility that Kerry might have been overwhelmed. As it happened, the possibility of escape stayed with Eamonn Fitzmaurice's men to the end. But never as anything stronger than a murmur.

And Dublin sure put the lie to any notion that all their game is propped up, almost to the point of enslavement, by a goalkeeper's refrigerated nerve.

Stephen Cluxton had a wretched afternoon. Four of his restarts went directly out of play and one almost gifted Kieran Donaghy the goal that Kerry so desperately needed. Beyond that, his glacially-slow safaris upfield to kick any free beyond the 45 yard line regularly decanted Kerry ire and all but one of his kicks was unsuccessful.

Dublin won this game then through their flying half-backs and a midfield plan that completely decommissioned what was supposed to have been Kerry's strongest sector.

They also somehow managed to turn the battle between Philly McMahon and Colm Cooper into the equivalent of a zebra chasing a crocodile.

McMahon can be unscrupulous and downright unpleasant in how he goes about his business, but yesterday he out-scored 'Gooch' 0-1 to 0-0. If you want the story of this final edited down to a single line, you have it there.

Kerry flapped and railed against the narrative and they seemed to have a case when David Coldrick twice seemed to ignore legitimate charges of GBH on Donaghy as the inevitable late aerial assault came raining down.

But it would have been larceny had Kerry stolen a reprieve here.

Dublin simply looked keyed to a higher intensity.

Maybe James McCarthy articulated their defiance best, albeit without identifying any specific name-callers.

"This is the sweetest one we've had," said the Ballymun wing-back, whose father John had been one of Heffo's brightest forwards.

"There were a lot of people with knives out for us last year that gave us a bit of stick.

"There was a lot of things being said to us, being called bottlers and cowards. It's a bit funny, lads in this dressing-room with two All-Ireland medals being called bottlers and cowards. But I think that's the answer for them anyway."

Bottlers and cowards indeed.

This Dublin team is up there with the greats of the past now, right alongside the gods of the Hill who, 40 years on, still evoke a city's absolute adoration.

Jim Gavin blanched at the notion that his team might sit alongside Heffo's.

"You know they're different eras for their time," he smiled diplomatically. "But those kind of honours I suppose are to be looked back on when they're finished their careers.

"Like nothing will ever match Kevin Heffernan's team and what he did for Dublin GAA. You know his spark and genius. . . we just stand on his shoulders really. Dublin GAA certainly wouldn't be what it is today but for those teams in the '70s. They really got the city alive again to gaelic football.

"So I don't think you can ever compare with those giants of the game."

Maybe, maybe not. What we do know is that this Dublin team held Kerry scoreless between the 51st and 72nd minutes yesterday. In other words, they suffocated them at the business end of things.

When the game was there to be won, only one team looked programmed to truly scrap for it.

And there will have been little solace for those already eyeing their crown last night in hearing Gavin talk afterwards of being ready for their National League opener on January 30.

A dynasty building then?

"I'm sure they'll say that, yeah," chortles Macauley.

"Fourteen in a row, they'll say. No, look, it's going to be another hard year next year obviously. Hopefully we can come back and grind one now. We've seen how tough it is to put them back to back.

"This was my most frustrating year on a Gaelic football pitch. But you have to take the highs with the lows. With the injuries I had at the start of the year, I seemed to be chasing my tail a bit.

"I've always said the toughest time to lose is the semi-final. We really felt that last year. We felt we were primed to win it last year.

"We're not ould lads yet. Apart from Ally (Alan Brogan). No, so we still have a bit more bite in the ould dog!"

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