'This team are no different to us... They wear the Dublin jersey with huge pride'
2015 Dubs aim to match achievements of Mullins and Co with third title in five years
Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30
Not long after Dublin won the 2013 All-Ireland title, former player David Hickey was convinced that the current Dublin team were on the cusp of greatness.
Dublin had just completed a first National League and All-Ireland double since 1976 when Hickey made the comparison between the current crew and his decorated generation of the 1970s.
"They are better than us," said Hickey. "I hate to say it but they are better athletes, more all-round. We had some superhuman guys. But this is a team that can bring five guys on and there is no blip in the performance. A seamless transition. We can't back off now from creating a dynasty."
At the time, everyone associated with Dublin had those dynastic aspirations and ambitions. A few days after that 2013 success, Bernard Brogan reflected on what he and his team-mates had achieved, the league-championship double tracing a direct link back to the glory team of the 1970s.
"When you haven't won one, it's all about getting over the line," said Brogan. "When you have it, then it's a case of, 'Can we join the elite who have won more?' There is loads left in this team. There is real hunger there."
The opportunity to win a third All-Ireland in four years and equal the feat set by the 1970s side slipped past Dublin last year. That 1970s team contested six successive All-Ireland finals and, along with Kerry, reinvented football and changed the way everyone looked at the sport. Yet now that the current crew are back seeking three All-Irelands in five years, the question has returned; is Hickey's claim still valid?
"I have no difficulty in saying that the current team, on their day and at their best, are every bit as good and better than the '70s team," says Tommy Drumm, who played on the 1976 and 1977 teams, and who captained Dublin to the 1983 All-Ireland title.
"It is so exciting to watch them playing football. Their ability to get goals is something else. So is their bench. The '70s team had a good bench as well but the impact that the Dublin subs have made over the last three or four years has been remarkable. So yeah, these boys are right up there."
It's impossible to compare teams from past and present but such comparisons are at the heart of sporting discourse. A thousand pub conversations would otherwise die in the throat.
"This Dublin side are an exceptionally good team," says Jimmy Keaveney. "The game has changed hugely but if they win this All-Ireland, they are entitled to be ranked alongside us, and maybe even better than us. Trying to make comparisons is very difficult but, I'll put it this way, they would be as good as us. Any team that wins two All-Irelands and is going for a third in five seasons has to be considered a serious team."
Although football is far more competitive now, the current generation still needs another All-Ireland to match the achievements of their illustrious predecessors. Yet this team also has the potential to win more and enjoy Dublin's most sustained period of dominance since the outset of the last century.
In the meantime, that chase for history is inevitably going to force comparisons with the 1970s team. "Dave (Hickey) has strong opinions about a lot of things," says Brian Mullins. "When we played, he was never behind the door in expressing his opinions. He manned up and delivered on the pitch. If that's what he feels (when comparing the two teams) that's his opinion. I just wouldn't agree with it.
"I think this team are no different to us. They are the same. They have huge talent. They wear the jersey with huge pride. They are very focused. They deal well with pressure. I have the height of respect for them. They are tremendous ambassadors for themselves and the county, and the GAA in general. I would have nothing but praise for them."
The current group are the natural heirs to the team of the 1970s in so many ways because that generation ignited the revolution, setting the standard for every other generation to follow. Dublin have now won 10 of the last 11 Leinster titles. The 1970s team didn't have that platform to build from.
From 1966 to 1973, Dublin's record in Leinster was disastrous. The selection committee was a mess, riven by politics and apathy. Good footballers came and went. Supporters stayed at home. Then Kevin Heffernan arrived and changed everything.
Between 1974 and 1978, Dublin won five Leinster titles, three All-Irelands and two National Leagues. In a similar five-year period between 2011-15, Dublin have won five Leinsters, two All-Irelands and three leagues, with the opportunity now to secure that third All-Ireland.
Between 1974 and '78, Dublin played 26 championship games, scoring 57-318. In 28 games between 2011 and '15, Dublin have clocked a whopping 52-466. Scoring fewer goals than the 1970s team is understandable in the modern era of blanket defending but the current team have still been able to score for fun.
In every other sector, the comparisons are almost identical. The 1970s team had an average concession ratio of 0-13; the current team's average is 0-14. The 1970s side had a championship win rate of 92pc; this side's rate is running at 89pc.
Yet this equation can't be balanced by just adding and subtracting numbers. "I just don't think you can make comparisons with 35 and 40 years ago," says Mullins. "They were different times. The opposition were different. Sports science was different.
"Everyone says that the pressure is greater now but I don't agree. Pressure is what people feel. The definition of stress in the dictionary is one's inability to deal with one's environment. There was huge pressure on the players 40 years ago, just as there were 60 or 70 years ago. Everything is relative to the environment around you."
When Drumm looks at the present side, he can still see many of the same shades of excellence of the 1970s side, the same hues of class, similar tints of talent and ambition.
"Like us, they're not afraid of anybody," says Drumm. "Some players are very similar, in what they contributed to the team, and their special talent; Anton O'Toole and Paul Flynn; Dave Hickey and Alan Brogan. We might have an edge with some players, and vice versa.
"Mullins and (Bernard) Brogan were unbeatable on their day, so I think the 1970s team would take it at midfield. I don't see much difference between the forwards. We didn't go to the gym. This Dublin team have all those strength and conditioning advantages that we didn't have but we still had very strong individuals.
"Tony Hanahoe was a great strategist at centre-forward. Jimmy Keaveney added an ingredient which the current team don't have, an absolute certain freetaker from a borderline position.
"Kevin Moran was unique in the sense that he was the first real attacking half-back. Myself and Pat O'Neill didn't have that attacking ability to carry the ball at speed that the current half-back line have. Every member of the current team has that, which you don't generally see in teams other than Kerry. That probably gives this team an edge on us."
The 1970s team will always be immortal because they did more than just win All-Irelands; they transformed a sport, and spawned a new culture. The current team will never have that status, unless they can deliver more All-Irelands, but they are already carving their own unique identity.
Dublin have the talent, resources, financial backing, development squad model and playing numbers to aim for the kind of domination and dynasty building that only Kerry can strive for. Talk of dynasties is easier to make with the current group's lineage to the past; Alan and Bernard Brogan are sons of Bernard Snr; James McCarthy's father, John, won three All-Irelands between 1974 and '77.
Barney Rock, Dean's father, won an All-Ireland alongside Drumm and Mullins in 1983. Jack McCaffrey's father, Noel, played in the 1985 All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry.
One of the most significant advantages the current team have over their predecessors is their record against Kerry. In that era-defining period, Dublin and Kerry competed as equals between 1974 and '78, with two wins each.
Since 2011, the counties have met twice, with Dublin winning both games. When Dublin turned over Kerry in the 2011 All-Ireland final, it was Dublin's first championship win over Kerry since 1977. The 2013 semi-final was an epic which Dublin won, and which Kerry have been itching to avenge ever since.
A third successive victory over Kerry now would lift this team to a whole new level; in their entire history, Dublin have never beaten Kerry in three successive championship matches.
That would separate this team from the 1970s side but, as time goes by, the achievements of the current team only enhances the legend of those who set the standard before them.
That was always Heffernan's aim; that the philosophy he instilled would endure, that the movement he spearheaded would continue to drive on to new heights. In this era, it has.
"In the 1970s I'd like to think that Kevin Heffernan established a brand in terms of courage and conviction," says Mullins.
"We had it. I'd like to think these guys have it too. Like us, they are also very aware of the traditions of the jersey, and what it takes to wear it with pride and distinction. And I think they're doing that."
As they chase history, the current group are still tracing the steps of their predecessors as much as they're aiming to step out of their shadow.
The legacy endures. The legacy continues.