How Dublin bounced back from 17-point defeat in 2009 to dominate Kerry in recent times
Martin Breheny examines how Dublin emerged from the wreckage of a 17-point defeat to Kerry in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final to dominate their old rivals 9-2 in the 11 games since then. How did it happen, and will Dublin's grip get even tighter?
Published 27/08/2016 | 02:30
Offering imaginative similes wasn't exactly on Pat Gilroy's agenda but it happened anyway in one of the most memorable descriptions of a performance ever conjured after a big game in Croke Park.
"We seemed to be like startled earwigs in the first 15 minutes," said Gilroy in a searingly blunt analysis of how Dublin had collapsed against Kerry in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final.
Gilroy, then in his first season as Dublin manager, had taken his side into the game as favourites and left it feeling empty and bewildered, having watched them being shelled by Kerry, who ran out 17-point winners (1-24 to 1-7).
It was the ultimate nightmare for Dublin, who were rattled by a Colm Cooper goal in the first minute, setting the tone for a first half which Kerry won by 1-14 to 0-3.
"I think nerves got to us in a lot of positions. We were behind for everything, everywhere. There were so many changes we could have made, because we were just getting killed everywhere," said Gilroy.
Yet again, Dublin failed to push on beyond Leinster, where they had dominated for five successive seasons. This time, the dejection was far more acute than usual as Kerry had made them look like juniors in the wrong competition.
In these days of rich harvests for Dublin, it's easy for their supporters to forget what it was like back then.
It's easy too to forget Gilroy's role in the elevation of Dublin from consistent Leinster winners who struggled once they met big boys from other provinces, to All-Ireland champions, a process that began after the 2009 wipe-out.
Seven of the 'startled earwigs' - Stephen Cluxton, Paul Flynn, Bernard Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly, Cian O'Sullivan, Paddy Andrews and Denis Bastick - are still contributing handsomely, with the change for the latter two particularly interesting.
Bastick was at full-back that day, with Andrews, then a 21-year-old, at No 2. Suffice to say, neither has been asked to re-visit those positions since then.
The 2009 embarrassment was a watershed for Dublin. By February 2010, Gilroy had embarked on an extensive re-building programme, which started with a win over Kerry in the first round of the Allianz League in Killarney.
Given Kerry's dominance over Dublin prior to that, they weren't remotely concerned by losing a league game.
Dublin could have their fun, but come the big action, Kerry would despatch them back into their box. Hadn't they been doing it for years?
That was the perception but the reality has turned out very differently. Remarkably, Dublin have beaten Kerry in nine of 11 league and championship games since the start of 2010. Kerry's sole successes were in the 2012 and 2015 Division 1 games.
Since the latter win 18 months ago, Kerry have lost all three clashes with Dublin, two in this year's league by a combined total of 17 points.
It's a dominance which is frustrating Kerry to the point of distraction.
For years, they talked up Dublin, implying that it was a rivalry of equals, even if results didn't back it up.
With the exception of Dublin's double success in 1976 and '77, they failed to beat Kerry in the All-Ireland series between 1934 and 2011.
Now, Kerry are attempting to avoid a fourth successive championship defeat by Dublin, an unthinkable statistic for the Kingdom in their relationship with any county.
It's hurting. This week, Bryan Sheehan broke with the normally magnanimous approach that Kerry adopt when commenting on defeats.
He claimed that Dublin 'stole' the 2011 All-Ireland final off Kerry while the 2013 semi-final apparently, came down to Kevin McManamon's attempt for a point late on dipping into the net.
As for last year's All-Ireland final, Sheehan said that Kerry 'just didn't perform to our capabilities'.
In effect then, he argued that there were specific reasons why Kerry lost all three games, none of which acknowledge that Dublin might actually have been better.
That won't have gone unnoticed in Dublin, even if they claim to totally ignore everything that happens outside the camp.
That's impossible, but then the Dublin management isn't the only one to peddle the line that they are impervious to outside influences.
The reality is that however hard the Dublin players try to cocoon themselves, they know what their supporters are thinking.
Jim Gavin can't control that either, but however hard his players try to ignore it, they are living in an environment where the bad old days are forgotten and success is being taken for granted.
The talk in Dublin now is of All-Ireland doubles, trebles and maybe even more in an era of long-term blue dominance.
Just as there was a fear in 2009 that Dublin might never escape from under Kerry's and Tyrone's giant thumbs, there's a confidence around now that doesn't entertain the possibility of dark clouds.
Barney Rock has been on both sides of the line, having experienced the high of an All-Ireland win in 1983, followed by the lows of successive defeats by Kerry in the '84 and '85 finals.
Now, he is proudly watching his son Dean playing an important role in a big Dublin success story, which includes unprecedented dominance over Kerry.
As ever, he is pragmatic, using the lessons from history to inform his view.
"Nothing last forever, whether it's bad or good days. Change happens all the time, which is important to remember whether a team is going well or poorly," he says.
"I never felt after the big defeat by Kerry in 2009 that Dublin would be down for a good few years. It was one defeat, a bad one admittedly, but still only one. There were still a lot of very good footballers on that Dublin squad, with a lot more coming up through the ranks.
"Dublin are going well now and the average age of the squad is quite young so you'd expect them to be around the top end for a good while, but it doesn't mean they will win the All-Ireland every year. It's never that simple.
"Everything runs in cycles so you have to make the most of it when you're going well."
Dublin are certainly doing that, hungrily scooping up major prizes as they go.
Another All-Ireland win next month would bring the haul to 11 from a possible 12 titles (4 league, 4 Leinster, 3 All-Ireland) since Gavin took over at the start of the 2013 season.
And with Gilroy having presided over the Sam Maguire Cup success in 2011, it would leave Dublin with four All-Ireland wins in six years, a feat not previously achieved by the county for 115 years.
It's the definitive expression of an empire striking back. And if Kerry were to be beaten for a fourth successive time, it would add greatly to the sense of satisfaction for Dublin.
Despite Dublin's recent good run against Kerry, Rock is surprised that the odds are running so overwhelmingly in their favour.
"You have to take each of those games on their merits and when you do, it shows how little is between the teams. Kerry looked to have won in 2011, only for Dublin to come back and win by a point," he explains.
"In 2013, Dublin won by seven points but it was very late on that they pulled clear, and last year there was only one score between them. Dublin won all three games, but it doesn't give them any particular advantage this week.
"That's just the way it is. Each game is different.
"In fact, it adds to the pressure as Kerry will be really stinging from those defeats, so Dublin can expect a mighty backlash. There's a lot of pride on the line for Kerry, so you can imagine how determined they will be."
Rock is enjoying watching his son playing a big part in a great Dublin journey, a satisfaction enhanced by the style of football they are playing.
For while they may be slightly more cautious since the shock of the 2014 semi-final defeat by Donegal, Dublin still remain hugely adventurous when the opportunities arise.
"What's very obvious is that every player knows his role in detail. You might hear comments about why someone isn't doing this, that or the other, but they all know what their job is and they get on with it. That's why it works so well," says Rock.
"They play very much as a team and when you get that, with everyone doing what they're meant to do, you always have a great chance."
Dean Rock has followed in his father's footsteps as a free-taker, a role that has changed since Barney's time when kicks from the hand were not allowed.
Nowadays, most free-takers kick from the hand only, but Dean (and Michael Murphy) are among those who use the ground route too, depending on the circumstances.
"He likes to have the two options. Of course, it means he has to practise more than I did because obviously there are different techniques involved in kicking from the hand and from the ground," says Rock Snr.
There are many other facets of play that have changed dramatically too since Barney's days as a cult figure for Dublin fans.
"You could hit or be hit harder in my time. Whether it was legal of course is a different matter. When a referee blows now, you never know what's coming next, he has so many cards to choose from," said Rock, who played senior for Dublin between 1980 and 1991.
Now, Dean is embedding the Rock name ever deeper into Dublin football folklore as part of an attack which has at least two top-quality candidates for every position.
It's the same elsewhere too in an era of unlimited riches for Dublin which, unfortunately for Leinster, coincides with a depression elsewhere in the province.
Good times for Dublin then, but Kerry are coming to Croke Park with menace on their minds as they feel they owe Gavin's men a beating.
It's going to be one shuddering collision.