Crashing down to earth

There was a palpable air of expectation on Hill 16 in the 1980s and 1990s, but these would become the decades of unfulfilled promise for the Boys in Blue, writes Seán Potts

There was something symmetrical about the 1980s and 1990s for Dublin football's fortunes. Both decades yielded a single, if glorious, All-Ireland title while both were punctuated with seasons of unfulfilled promise.

Early in the 1980s, Offaly and Dublin became circuit-breakers in Kerry's all-powerful surge to immortality.

Séamus Darby's late goal in 1982 to deny Kerry's five-in-a-row remains one of the most striking moments in GAA history, yet Kevin Heffernan's achievement the following season, rebuilding a team to compete at the top table, taking them to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the semi-final replay demolition of Cork and watching them survive in the trenches with 12 men during a pitched battle with Galway must rank alongside the glorious breakthrough of 1974.

For the 20-year period up to the dawn of the new millennium, the GAA was in a state of flux; television coverage of Gaelic games grew exponentially during this time - live broadcasts of matches outside of All-Ireland semi-finals and finals became a regular occurrence and consequently commercial sponsorship, of the championships and subsequently the jerseys, became a reality. Dublin were in the thick of it.

The GAA had to change; its future depended on it.

The 1983 final is remembered for a lot of things, and not very favourably by those outside Dublin. But it's fortunate that the controversy was confined to a few slaps on the field.

The gates of Hill 16 were breached after the terrace had been closed and serious overcrowding occurred. Those who remember the old set-up behind the Railway End understand only too well how ill-equipped the area was. And the Hill was a rougher environment in those days. Mercifully, nothing serious occurred but it marked the beginning of the end of old practices and the Hill was rebuilt later in the decade.

Another remarkable aspect to '83 was not the dismissal of one of the county's greatest warriors, Brian Mullins, but rather the remarkable personal journey of rehabilitation he had taken, back from the brink of death after a horrendous car crash, to the field of play and All-Ireland glory.

Brian Mullins gets sent off

Brian Mullins gets sent off

The county was alive again with its new heroes... Joe McNally, Barney Rock, Kieran Duff, Tommy Conroy and PJ Buckley, while veterans like Tommy Drumm, Anton O'Toole and Mullins were elevated higher in the Dublin pantheon. John O'Leary, an enduring member of Dublin's elite goalkeeping band, pocketed his first Celtic cross - he would wait 12 long years before he added another.

The All-Ireland hurling final in 1984 was moved to Thurles to mark the Association's centenary but it was business as usual in Croke Park, with Dublin and Kerry locking horns in the football decider. Well, more business as usual for Kerry.

They destroyed Galway in the semi-final - the atmosphere that day was described as 'funereal' by the late Mícheál O'Hehir - in contrast to another feisty encounter between Dublin and Tyrone the following week when the Ulstermen, first on to the field, went to the Hill end for their warm-up.

Dublin followed suit but, as O'Hehir subsequently remarked in his commentary, despite the Hill end being Dublin's goal following 'recent tradition', that didn't give them 'squatters' rights' - some GAA topics are timeless.

However, less than a year after the problems on Hill 16, the pre-match circus resulted in serious crowd trouble and baton charges on the terrace. Despite the distractions of the original 'Hillgate', Dublin ran out comfortable winners. The joy was short-lived. Mick O'Dwyer's team kick-started their second coming in the final with a five-point victory. Just as Heffo had done, O'Dwyer added new blood, players like Ambrose O'Donovan, Tom Spillane and Ger Lynch. The fusion with the established base was seamless.

After a two-match showdown with Mayo in the '85 semi-final, Dublin, with new recruits like Noel McCaffrey and Davy Synott in the line-up, booked their sixth final appearance against Kerry in 10 years.

Kerry, captained by Páidí Ó Sé, blitzed Dublin the opening half despite getting lucky when Jack O'Shea picked a ball off the ground in his own square. The introduction of John Kearns to the Dublin midfield, however, turned the tables and two goals from Joe McNally had Kerry visibly rattled.

Not for the first time in these legendary battles, Pat Spillane kicked a defining score after his brother Tom had punched a loose ball along the ground. A goal from Timmy O'Dowd sealed Dublin's fate.

Empires inevitably fall and Dublin's victory over Kerry in the 1987 league final merely deflected attention from Leinster champions Meath who, under the charismatic hand of Seán Boylan, had become a formidable force with a very potent forward division.

It would be 1989 before Dublin bettered their neighbours who had secured back-to-back All-Ireland titles, but that campaign ended against Cork in a wind-swept semi-final.

Dublin made a great start but conceded two penalties, both scored by John Cleary, and had a young Keith Barr sent off before half-time after retaliating to an incident with Dinny Allen.

Meath reasserted their control of the province a year later before falling to Cork in another tempestuous final. The contribution of the two now great Leinster rivals the following summer proved to be epochal.

The four-game saga between Dublin and Meath in 1991 is seared into the hearts and minds of both counties. It captivated the nation during a time when the GAA needed a shot in the arm. Tickets for the final instalment were like hen's teeth, while, significantly, the sell-out fourth game, on a Saturday afternoon, was televised live.

Not for the first time in the series, Dublin had established a match-winning position by playing really well, despite missing a penalty where Mick Lyons almost blocked the kick. Barr, Eamonn Heery, Paul Curran - there was a wonderful mixture of dash and menace in these players and they were motoring.

Meath never played to the clock, however, and kept the ball moving through the hands before Kevin Foley emerged as the unlikely hero after a dazzling sequence that had commenced on Meath's own end line. David Beggy's winning point was a dagger through Dublin hearts, yet as compelling a score as you could witness.

Football people had travelled from all over the country to watch that game and mingled with the contrasting sets of supporters afterwards. The sense of pride in the game itself was palpable - the result for the neutral not as important as the manner of victory and the attendant heroism of the epic itself. Italia '90 was finally eclipsed by groups of amateur players going about their daily working lives in the middle of a six-week sporting saga.

For Dublin, meanwhile, it was a case of picking up the pieces again. A new rival was born in Leinster when the county's old nemesis Mick O'Dwyer took the reins in Kildare.

A melodramatic Leinster final was marked by an absolute screamer of a goal from Keith Barr but the year was to end in serious disappointment again when Donegal produced a tour de force in the All-Ireland final.

That defeat changed the mood considerably in the capital. Dublin were supposed to bury the ghosts of 1991 by winning the Sam a year later. They had won every championship game relatively comfortably; Donegal's semi-final victory over Galway, meanwhile, had been a turgid affair - the Dublin team had travelled to Croker to watch it.

There was fallout. There was an acrid tinge to football talk in Dublin during the winter of '92 with the blame game in full swing.

The 1993 league final provided a modicum of revenge for Dublin over Donegal but the victory proved costly when a ridiculous summer-long suspension was dished out to captain Tommy Carr for a petulant kick at Brian Murray.

Eamonn Heery was man of the match that day but the subsequent decision to move him to the half-forward line backfired in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Derry. The redemption craved by the team and the county was denied once again and the fallout continued.

In his biography Dessie Farrell spoke about the team almost wanting it too much, that there was an emotional drain, particularly on the eve of the 1994 final clash with Down. Commentators love to sneer at the modern idea of employing process to sports management, but it is used to cope with pressure of expectation.

There was also a nagging sense that individual hubris was costing Dublin, the sum of the parts just wasn't adding up. Dublin were now seen as king-makers; a moniker which persisted well into the 2000s when Kerry and Tyrone saw beating Dublin as pivotal.

Manager Pat O'Neill changed the set-up in 1995 and took the courageous move to throw young teenager Jason Sherlock into the mix. The result was transformational. Sherlock scored key goals against Laois and Cork while setting up the match-winning score in the All-Ireland final against Tyrone.

As often happens with a team that has endured such a protracted journey to success, Dublin fell over the line in the '95 final. O'Neill's team had excelled all summer but, in the end, had to survive a disallowed equalising point by Tyrone's Seán McLaughlin.

The 1995 victory was huge for the county. As Barr famously remarked after the match, it was like a 'donkey' off their backs.

Unfortunately for Dublin, however, the effect wasn't cathartic. O'Neill stepped down and the innovative Mickey Whelan took charge of a group which, collectively, probably took its eye off the ball.

As has been shown repeatedly since, Whelan was ahead of his time but the players weren't and many have admitted subsequently that corners were cut by them in 1996. The net effect of this was to open the door to a Meath side reconditioned with talented young players.

The subsequent treatment of Whelan by some elements in the county was shameful. In hindsight, it was pure ignorance. Whelan is a county treasure and with a lifetime of first-class coaching experience, continues to contribute handsomely to this day.

Tommy Carr took the reins after Mickey Whelan but despite overseeing a very united camp, a period of transition had commenced and the competitive edge of the early '90s was blunted.

Strikingly, the door opened to opponents by Dublin in 1996 remained ajar for 16 years. However, four protagonists from that era - Farrell, Pat Gilroy, Jim Gavin and Mickey Whelan - helped slam it shut from 2011 onwards. The question for the county now is, are we prepared to keep it bolted?

Winning - as Vince Lombardi famously put it - is not a sometime thing, it is an all-time thing.

Duff Love

Dublin sharpshooter Kieran Duff

Dublin sharpshooter Kieran Duff

'I loved playing for Dublin and I love going to support them now...' Kieran Duff reflects on his career in the famous Sky Blue with Rónán Mac Lochlainn.

Like many others, Kieran Duff's love affair with Gaelic football, and specifically the Dubs, was sparked by events in 1974.

Dublin's successful championship campaign, which culminated in an All-Ireland final win over Galway, enthralled and enticed many within the capital and Duff was no different after a childhood that was exclusively immersed in soccer.

His loyalties initially lied with Swords Celtic but with Heffo's Army taking hold, Duff began to develop a love for the game in Swords Vocational School and joining Fingallians was the next logical step for the talented forward.

"I was a big lump of a lad and used to play at centre-back or wing-back and I really enjoyed it," says Duff.

"It went well for me and there was never any shortage of games as we used to play in the Fingal leagues during the week and the county leagues at the weekend.

"By the time that I was 16, I was playing midfield for Fingallians in the top division in Dublin and coming up against the likes of Brian Mullins and Jimmy Keaveney and that was a great education for me.

"It was then that I would have come to the attention of 'Buster' Leaney, who was involved with the Dublin minors, and I was lucky enough to play in All-Ireland minor finals in 1978 and 1979," he added.

His progression to senior ranks was immediate as Dublin's senior loss to Kerry in 1979 represented the end of an era, with Duff and Barney Rock brought in for Dublin's National League campaign that autumn. Duff made his debut against Cork in October 1979 as Kevin Heffernan looked to youth after successive All-Ireland defeats to the Kingdom.

"He [Heffernan] was a player's man and he really did everything, from coaching the team, to managing it and also being the psychologist.

"He had really good instincts and seemed to know what you were thinking all the time and it was just a pleasure to play under him," adds Duff.

Offaly dominated the following three years, however, before Dublin eventually got the better of their midland rivals with a superb display in the 1983 Leinster final.

The Dubs had struggled up until that point but a mixture of Offaly arrogance and Dublin's greater tactical acumen proved decisive on the day, according to Duff.

"We really should have lost to Meath on two occasions in the quarter-final and we didn't play particularly well against Louth in the semi-final either.

"However, we felt that Offaly paid us very little respect, with their manager Eugene McGee going down to watch Cork in the Munster Final before our match.

"We felt they may have taken their eye off the ball and with John Caffrey excelling in the third midfielder role, we beat them handy enough in the final."

A late, late Barney Rock goal at the Hill 16 end saved the Dubs in their All-Ireland semi-final, a replay that took place on Leeside.

"We used to love playing on the road in those days, so after drawing with Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final we had no problems with travelling to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the replay.

"We stayed in Blarney the night before and I remember that Barney [Rock], myself and Joe [McNally] went for a quiet pint the night before the game and not one of the Dublin supporters in the pub recognised us.

"There were no training tops with our initials on them or anything like that, and back in those days, we were lucky to get a free pair of socks.

"Driving into Cork the following morning, the atmosphere was just unreal and seeing 'Hill 17' at the Blackrock End was a wonderful feeling," he said.

Duff kicked 1-3 as Dublin blitzed the Rebels, although their subsequent All-Ireland final win over Galway was a bitter-sweet one, given his second-half dismissal.

"At the time, I was disappointed in what happened but with time, you realise that winning the All-Ireland was not based on just one game and now I can look back with pride on my contribution in winning Sam Maguire.

"There was a lot of negativity after the match and I felt that Dublin were dealt with harshly by the authorities in Croke Park, as they had been previously with suspensions for Tony Hanahoe, Heffernan and Jimmy Keaveney.

"They wanted to make an example of us and when you consider that Offaly's Mick Fitzgerald got two months and missed no [intercounty] games after his reckless challenge on me in the Leinster final, suspending me for 12 months was totally excessive," he added.

Unperturbed, Duff returned to the fold as a new rivalry with Meath developed and dominated the football landscape in both Leinster and indeed the country for the from 1986 onward.

The Royals enjoyed the upperhand for the large part, although Duff scored crucial goals in Leinster final wins in both 1984 and 1989 and the contests and indeed his personal battles with Kevin Foley will live long in the memory. "There was a serious rivalry with Meath, but we were also friendly with them as lads and the intensity of the first 15 minutes in games was unreal.

"Foley's job was to take me out of the game and we had a right few battles down the years.

"He wouldn't say an awful lot and I remember before a Railway Cup match for Leinster, Jack Boothman had to bring myself and Kevin into a room on our own just to make ourselves talk to each other."

Foley's name is etched into the minds of Dublin supporters, of course, for his crucial goal in the last game of the incredible 1991 four-game saga.

"I suppose one of the biggest regrets I have about not being heavily involved in the 1991 saga against them was watching Foley score the decisive goal in the fourth match as I can assure you, there's no way he would have scored it if I was playing as we probably would have been wrestling with each other down the other end!"

With All Stars in 1987 and 1988, Duff's legacy is cast in stone, although the feeling persists that his intercounty career was truncated a touch prematurely.

However, once his game-time became increasingly limited, it was evident that he didn't figure in the plans of Dublin's new management team of Paddy Cullen, Pat O'Neill and Fran Ryder.

"I was only 30 when I made the decision to step down, but I really don't regret the decision as it was obvious that I didn't really feature in their plans.

"I think it's a good thing that I recognised that and made the decision myself and it allowed me to go back to my club and I played some good stuff with Fingallians for the next few years.

"I loved playing for Dublin and I love going to support them now. "To me, Gaelic football has been such a positive experience and making the friends that I have has been such an important part of my life ever since I took up the game."

Heffo's heroes

The Dublin team that lined out against Cork in the replayed semi-final in 1983, back row, left to right, Tommy Conroy, Barney Rock, John Caffrey, Joe McNally, John O'Leary, Anton O'Toole, Mick Holden, Gerry Hargan, Ciarán Duff, front row, left to right, Brian Mullins, PJ Buckley, Tommy Drumm, Ray Hazley, Pat Canavan, Jim Roynane.

Kevin Heffernan

It was tough and it wasn't pretty at times, but the Boys in Blue were heroic as they managed to break the lean spell and lift the Sam Maguire in 1983, writes Niall Scully.

It was a tale of the unexpected. Dublin 1983.

The glory days of the 1970s had passed. Most of Heffo's Heroes had retired. The Heff was building again. With new names. But with the same dream. To bring Sam back to the city.

Young John O'Leary in the goal. Fitting into Paddy Cullen's gloves. Gerry Hargan flourishing at full-back. Tommy Conroy showing the elegance of the Panther. The Blue Panther himself (Anton O'Toole) back in the fold, leading by example. Teen idol, Joe McNally. And the most inspirational story of all - Brian Mullins, back in the Dublin jersey after a serious car accident.

Meath had proven stubborn opponents in Dublin's opening match in Leinster. The first game finished in a draw. It was still level after normal time in the replay. The Dubs prevailed in extra-time.

Offaly were well tipped to beat Dublin in the Leinster final. Offaly were seeking their fourth successive Leinster title. They were the All-Ireland champions. They had stopped Kerry's five-in-a-row. Derby day!

But Dublin won their first Leinster crown since 1979. Yet Cork came within seconds of victory in the All-Ireland semi-final. Barney Rock's goal brought it to a replay.

Much debate centred on the venue for the replay. Eventually, it was decided to hold it in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Heffo's Army were on the march south.

Dublin stayed in the Blarney Hotel. All the players had steak. Except for John O'Leary. He ordered a trout. It didn't agree with him. He was terribly sick. Heff arrived up to the room with a brandy and 7UP. The sun shone the next day. Dublin won by 11 points (4-15 to 2-10). A masterclass by the Lee. The weather wasn't as nice in September. A gale howled around Croker and a storm also blew up in the tunnel at half-time.

Antrim referee, John Gough, had a busy day. It was tense. Tempers boiled over. Before the interval, Dublin had two players sent off, Brian Mullins and Ray Hazley. Galway had Tomás Tierney dismissed.

Early in the second half, Kieran Duff was also sent off. And so the Twelve Apostles were born.

Dublin had played with the wind in the first half that blew into the Hill. They led at the break by 1-5 to 0-2. Barney Rock got the goal.

It was a spectacular effort. The Galway goalkeeper, Pádraig Coyne, kicked out the ball. The wind played all kinds of tricks with it. It went straight to Barney who promptly lobbed it over the 'keeper and into the net.

From the chaos of the tunnel, the Dublin players found themselves in a calm dressing-room at half-time. Kevin Heffernan made sure of that.

His team were up against it. Galway had the extra man. And the wind. His message was clear. Don't waste possession. Keep the passes tidy. Work like you have never worked before. Attack on the counter. And if you don't score, make sure the ball goes wide and dead. Don't give Galway the ball.

Joe McNally was told to stay up front. He was the target man. Heff knew he had the ability to hold the play up and wait for support.

Dublin quickly went eight points up in the second half. But then their troubles deepened with Dully's dismissal. The Dubs had to cover acres. Pat Canavan played the game of his life.

They got there in the end. By two points. 1-10 to 1-8. The man from Whitehall, Tommy Drumm, climbed the steps of the Hogan.

Both teams gathered in Jurys of Ballsbridge for the traditional lunch the following day. The angry mood of the game still lingered. The atmosphere was sombre.

It was customary for a player from each team to sing a song. Joe McNally got up and sang The Fields of Athenry. And suddenly, the day was brighter.

Sadly, like the great man himself, two of the '83 Dubs have passed on: Mick Holden and Ciarán Maher. Kevin Heffernan achieved so much for Dublin. And perhaps '83 was his greatest deed of all.

One thing is sure - he couldn't have been prouder of his Heffo's Heroes on that famous afternoon.

Barney scored like a rock star

Barney Rock in action for Dublin

Barney Rock in action for Dublin

Barney Rock scored 30 goals during his glittering Dublin senior playing days including some right gems.

It was the Ballymun Kickhams sharpshooter who found the net late on against Cork in the 1983 All-Ireland semi-final that forced the replay by the Lee.

In that year's final Rock showed incredible technique and precision to lob Galway keeper Pádraig Coyne in the 11th minute from 40 metres.

However, none could match his goal in the 1987 NFL quarter-final on April 5 for comedy gold!

That goal, at the Canal End, brought a farcical conclusion to the Dubs extra-time victory (1-10 to 1-7) over Cork in Croke Park.

With time almost up in normal time, the Leesiders were awarded a penalty when ref Michael Greenan adjudged that Glenn O'Neill had handled the ball on the ground in the square.

Up stepped Cork legend Niall Cahalane to fire past John O'Leary and push his side ahead by a point.

Dublin launched one last attack, which culminated in Rock equalising, Dublin 0-10 Cork 1-7, as the final whistle sounded.

Extra-time was announced over the public address system but after 15 minutes only Dublin had emerged.

The Cork panel, management and officials were now heading for the station to catch their train home!

So with just Dublin players on the field in their positions ref Greenan threw the ball in, Declan Bolger fielded it, kicked it long down the middle to Rock who soloed in carefully close to goal before firing to the net from eight metres.

Who says refs always play for replays!

The Dubs went on to become NFL champions that season after defeating Galway in the semi-final and Kerry in the final, when Declan Bolger gave a powerhouse display at midfield and Kieran Duff scored a superb early goal after being picked out by a stunning crossfield ball from Joe McNally.

A successful and colourful conclusion to a NFL campaign that had started with three defeats in-a-row to Meath (2-13 to 0-9), Monaghan (2-10 to 2-8) and Kerry (0-10 to 0-8) before Dublin recovered with victories over Armagh (0-11 to 1-6), Mayo (0-8 to 0, 0-6), Down (2-12 to 2-8) and Roscommon (1-11 to 0-8) to finish fourth in the table and progress to the quarter-finals.

The Incredibles

Mick Deegan of Dublin in action against Meath's Bernard Flynn

Mick Deegan of Dublin in action against Meath's Bernard Flynn

Big Jack. Italia '90. Nessun Dorma. And Toto Schillaci. World Cup fever had captured the nation. The GAA were worried. Then along came Dublin and Meath in 1991.

The draw for the Leinster Football Championship. No seeding. And out of the bowl popped Meath and Dublin. In the preliminary round!

Two counties with an incredible rivalry at the time, and not always of a sporting variety. Bar the 1989 Leinster final when Gerry McCaul's Dublin prevailed (2-12 to 1-10), Meath held the upper hand for the previous few years with victories in the Leinster deciders of 1986, '87, '88 and 1990.

The provincial final of 1986 was a turning point for the Royal County. Meath midfielder of that era Liam Hayes in his autobiography, Out Of Our Skins, wrote: "[Liam] Harnan had collided with Rock, and Barney fell to his knees on the soft turf, one hand clutching his left shoulder, begging for help.

"The referee ignored him, and turned his back to keep play going. Rock was in agony. He stayed on his knees, attempted to get to his feet at one stage and fell back down again.

"His collar bone had cracked. He was a pathetic sight, and at half-time the picture of his face stayed with us in our dressing room. It was comforting and most encouraging picture to have."

Paddy Cullen took over as manager in the autumn of 1990. They were the National League champions the following spring and looked ready for the summer.

Seán Boylan was in charge of Meath. They had just about survived in the top division.

Nobody knew it then, but the clash of the old foes would go down in history. It took four games to finally decide one of the greatest duels of them all. Maybe the greatest.

Five hours and 40 minutes. The game that started on the back page had ended up on page one. And in everybody's living room.

It was a remarkable event. When it was finally over, the Lord Mayor of Dublin hosted a reception for both teams in the Mansion House.

Each match was played with such intensity. It was tough, physical stuff.

Tommy Howard, the postman from Kildare, refereed all four games. And even Tommy was going down with cramp. The games all took place in Croke Park. Crowds of 60,000 and more. The first instalment on June 2, 1991, ended 1-12 each. Mick Galvin got the Dublin goal. Meath were happy to get out with the draw.

In the replay a week later, Meath were ahead. Dublin came back in the rain. Mick Lyons, the hardest of full-backs, was sent off for a foul on Vinnie Murphy.

It went into extra-time. Meath were able to bring on a 15th man. It finished 1-11 apiece. Jack Sheedy scored Dublin's goal.

Meath had their eye in the sky - Gerry McEntee and Joe Cassells, who watched high in the stand, gave their tuppence worth. McEntee had retired, but after the second game, he was back.

The matches began to generate reams of copy. But no journalist had a better view than the Meath captain, Liam Hayes of the Sunday Press.

There was a two-week break before the third helping. Dublin were ahead again. But a late goal from Bernard Flynn and two points from Brian Stafford saved the Royals.

Extra-time once more. McEntee came off the bench. And, incredibly another draw - Meath 2-11; Dublin 1-14. Dublin's goal came from Paul Clarke.

The interest in the games kept growing. There was enormous hype. It was the talk of the country.

Boylan took his players and their partners off to Scotland for a weekend. And that turned out to be the winning of the game!

The last chapter took place on July 6. The afternoon began badly for Meath. While getting changed in the dressing-room, Terry Ferguson injured his back and couldn't play.

Terry, the son of the Dublin legend, Dessie Ferguson. A connection that added even more flavour to the tale. Once more Dublin held the edge. They led by six points in the second half. They then got a penalty. Keith Barr took it. As he ran up to take it, Mick Lyons went with him. The ball went wide.

As Seán Boylan often joked: "We say that Keith just about beat Mick in the run to the ball!"

Meath forward Colm O'Rourke in recent times reminisced of that surreal four-game saga in the Sunday Independent. "The last match was fixed for a Saturday, a first, and was the first game ever televised on a Saturday.

"The weather got better and there was a huge crowd and the most wonderful partisan atmosphere of any game I was ever involved in.

"After a few minutes Staff put a pass into a space for me to run on to. Eamonn Heery and Keith Barr measured me up and hit me from both sides.

"I went down like a sack of spuds, was carried off, never remembered coming back on and only had knowledge of the first half from watching the tape later.

"My wife Patricia had our young daughter Elaine in the stand. With the bit of commotion going on around me on the ground she enquired off her mother, 'Is he dead?' It did feel like it."

With two minutes left, Meath trailed by three points. Then came the goal of the century. It began with Martin O'Connell on his own end line at the Canal End.

And 11 passes later, Kevin Foley put the ball in the Dublin net from five yards. Boylan later revealed they had worked endlessly on such a passing movement on a little soccer pitch when they were in Scotland.

The teams were level yet again. Extra-time beckoned once more. But Meath won the kick-out. And David Beggy sent over the winning point. Meath 2-10; Dublin 0-15. Jinksy had finally brought the curtain down on a most extraordinary saga.

As Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh declared from the commentary box: "Incredible. Incredible."

Diary of a Dub

Paul Curran celebrates the 1995 All-Ireland win

Paul Curran celebrates the 1995 All-Ireland win

From his debut against Kildare in 1989 to those epic battles against Meath in the '90s and the 1995 All-Ireland win over Tyrone, Paul Curran recalls the incredible time he spent in Sky Blue.

I consider the era that I played all my intercounty football in to be the most competitive decade in the history of the championship.

The 1990s produced no fewer than eight different winners in a ten-year stretch. I look back with some regret but also with great satisfaction at what Dublin achieved in that decade. My debut season was 1989 and that year, like every other year I played, had some success but ultimately ended without the big prize.

Meath were defending All-Ireland champions and going for three in-a-row and four Leinsters in-a-row, having beaten Dublin in the three previous provincial finals.

We weren't showing great form going into the 1989 Leinster final, having struggled to get over Kildare (my senior debut at corner-back) in the opening game in Newbridge and then a very good Wicklow team in the semi-final.

It was a daunting task facing the best Meath team of all time and as an excited and very nervous 20-year-old walking under the Hogan Stand to the dressing room with Dave Foran, we were both the target of some Meath snipery.

"Ye'll be going home with no medals today boys," is the one line I remember to this day and it would have been nice to see that same gentleman after the game, but I'd guess that he was a good bit down the Navan Road by the time I was exiting the dressing room apres-match.

The game itself was a classic and on a scorching hot day it was difficult to catch breath at times. Charlie Redmond failed a fitness test before the game and was replaced by Kieran Duff. 'Dully', one of Dublin's greatest forwards ever, scored an incredible goal in the first half to give us breathing space and deep in the second half we looked to be heading for a win. Meath at that time were masters at winning games that they might have lost, and a goal from Mattie McCabe put the Royals back in control. However, the last few minutes were all ours and with a goal from Vinnie Murphy and points from Joe McNally and Mick Galvin ensured a five-point win.

The All-Ireland semi-final against Cork turned out to be a disappointing day but a good year nonetheless to get one's career up and running. Then came the 1990s...

1990

A year that I was looking forward to turned out to be a total disaster as I didn't kick a ball in this year's championship. A nasty eye injury, a result of a street fight outside a chip shop in Terenure, meant surgery for a detached retina and a summer on the sidelines.

The only thing I remember about that year's Leinster SFC final was Colm O'Rourke's dubious goal which turned out to be the difference on the day. In those days a ball in the air was fair game and a player was entitled to go for it. O'Rourke put ball and man (John O'Leary) over the line and that finished us for that season.

1991

I was really looking forward to this championship year, having recovered fully. We won the league, defeating Mick O'Dwyer's Kildare in the final, but the draw for the first round of the championship could have been kinder.

It was the preliminary round of Leinster and our bitter rivals Meath were the opposition. It turned out to be an extraordinary four-game saga that captured the public's imagination.

I still think to this day that we should have closed out the very first game, but Meath were a 'never-say-die' team and a PJ Gillick equaliser at the death had the Croke Park accountants rubbing their hands at the thoughts of another big pay day.

In that first game I was picked at midfield with Paul Clarke but ended up at wing-forward for most of the second half.

The replay a week later again finished level and a further two periods of extra-time failed to separate the teams. I actually don't remember too much about this game, having taken a blow to the head in the opening half, other than Vinnie Murphy's glorious chance to win the game at the end of normal time.

Straight through on goal and only Mickey McQuillan to beat, a simple fisted score would have done the job but Vinnie went for the three-pointer, which was saved and the saga continued into extra-time.

The third instalment produced no winner, again after extra-time, but more of the same in terms of physicality and manly football. Some might argue that the quality of football was poor but for me the forgotten skills of high catching, blocking and shooting were there in abundance.

There was very little video analysis back then but between the third and fourth games we sat down after training one night to watch the VHS video of the second replay. I was dropped for the start of that third game and was sitting down the back of the room.

After watching the first 15 minutes manager Paddy Cullen pressed the pause button and started complaining about the lack of support from our half-forwards. He went on and on and then asked me "where were you, Paul, in the play?" at which I replied "sitting beside you, Paddy".

Needless to say laughter broke out and the seriousness of the point was lost for another day.

I did make it back to the starting line-up for the fourth and final game on Saturday, July 6, and played in front of yet another packed Croke Park. Playing on the 40 and being marked by Liam Harnan, I began well.

Harnan, a great presence at the heart of the Meath defence and a physically intimidating player, obviously wasn't too pleased when I got my hands on the ball early in the game. A little jab into my ribcage was a message to stay quiet, but it turned out to be one of my better games.

Unfortunately, we bowed out that afternoon despite being in control with time running out. Kevin Foley and David Beggy got the final two scores to bring the curtain down on a terrific battle between two great rivals.

The physicality in those four games was something that we don't see anymore. It was difficult to breathe and even harder to play any type of open football.

1992

After spending the first three seasons playing in the forwards and the odd run at midfield, this was to be my first chance in the half-back line.

Offaly were first up in Tullamore and after an easy enough win we headed for Portlaoise to face Wexford. Another comfortable win set up a meeting with Kildare.

Meath lost to Laois in the first round in what was a shock result and that cleared the way for us to pick up our first provincial title of the '90s.

However, on the way we very nearly threw it away in the semi-final against Louth. Séamus O'Hanlon was having a field day at midfield until Dave Foran was sprung from the bench and turned the game single-handedly.

Clare were surprise winners in Munster and were very difficult to break down. I remember they had a goal disallowed deep into the second half, which would have probably made the last few minutes very uncomfortable for us, but in the end we got through to the first of three All-Ireland finals in four years.

Donegal were waiting for us in the long grass, with a very talented team and fully deserved their maiden win, but from our point of view we got a lot wrong in the build-up too.

The rot probably set in when we went to see the semi-final between Donegal and Mayo and it turned out to be a poor contest. We came away from Croker thinking that Sam was ours and we were never able to get the minds back to where they should have been.

We had a function the evening after losing the All-Ireland final to Donegal in the Mansion House and Paddy Cullen would effectively lose his job after a throw-away comment he made about "it being only a game" when, in fact, his opinion all year about football was the very opposite to that.

It was an unfortunate slip of the tongue and harmless in its meaning, but players were annoyed and made their feelings known. In the end, Pat O'Neill took over in the hotseat as Dublin attempted to win its first All-Ireland since 1983.

1993

Another league title was secured and a sweet one at that. We got some revenge on Donegal after a replay and that win set us up for another tilt at the provincial title.

Meath were going backwards while Kildare began to show signs of the talented team they would become later in the decade.

We were made to sweat in the opening round against Wexford in Wexford Park, winning by just four points. A club-mate of mine, who will remain nameless, fell through the roof and into the middle of the Wexford dressing room and received a couple of pucks before being escorted through the door!

The Leinster final against Kildare was another close affair but in the end our experience of these types of occasions helped us to get over the line.

In the All-Ireland semi-final we faced a Derry team with legendary figures like Henry Downey, Anthony Tohill, Johnny McGurk and Mr Brolly. They were managed by the late, great Eamonn Coleman and the way football was heading, were destined to win.

We, of course, were doing our best to stop them and led by five points at the break, having played some excellent football. But back Derry came and reeled us in. The final point of the game by John McGurk was as good a point as you will see. That Derry team went on to win that year's All-Ireland, beating Cork in the decider.

We had to settle for another provincial title and a league but one could feel the frustration building in the county as another year ticked by without Sam.

1994

This was World Cup year and with Jack Charlton and the boys in another big competition there didn't seem to be much of an appetite for Gaelic football.

We got a tough draw against Kildare in the first round and, in front of a small attendance in Croke Park, we were very fortunate to get out with a draw. Charlie Redmond saved our blushes with a very late score.

The replay was a different matter altogether and our heads were firmly focused on getting the performance required.

After beating Louth in the next round, it was Meath again in our way. A very closely fought affair, we managed to win by a single point.

A broken jaw kept me out of the semi-final win over Leitrim but I managed to make it back for another final tilt, this time against Down.

Paul Clarke had done well at right-half-back against Leitrim, so it would have been hard on him if he didn't start the final so I was picked at left corner back and happy to be back in the team.

Curran marks Down's Mickey Linden in the 1994 All-Ireland final

Curran marks Down's Mickey Linden in the 1994 All-Ireland final

I was given the unenviable task of marking Mickey Linden, who was on the top of his game at the time and almost unmarkable. My plan was to play him from the front because I knew that the ball would be kicked in early and, sure enough, in the opening exchanges a long ball came hurtling in our direction.

I'd say I was at least 20 yards out in front and ready to win the opening duel, tear up the field and kick the opening score... but the bloody ball bounced over my head and into Linden's lap and he was away!

I chased him for about 15 minutes until I was saved by Pat O'Neill and switched with Paul Clarke. Back out in my usual position, I watched as Clarkey also struggled to hold the great man.

In the end, we lost that final but could have snatched it at the death. Charlie Redmond had a penalty saved at the Hill 16 end in the dying minutes when trailing by two points.

A crushing defeat yet again but you can't win All-Irelands unless you get to the final, so going in 1995 there was still plenty of optimism despite being relegated to Division 2 earlier in the year.

1995

The year we eventually got over the line. It started in Navan against a Louth team that knew how to play us. Early in the second half a Stefan White goal rattled us but we were able to see out the game by taking a high percentage of our point-scoring chances.

Jason Sherlock made his debut and had a terrific championship, scoring a goal without his football boot in the next game against Laois.

The Leinster final against Meath was a game that all Dublin supporters will remember. A massive 10-point win against our rivals was a very unusual margin but it was a scoreline that was unfair on them.

Fifteen minutes into the second half, Evan Kelly scored a goal to tie it up and a couple of minutes later Graham Geraghty edged them in front. It was all set up for a nail-biting finish but we produced some magic and ran out comfortable winners.

"It was the first time we could actually enjoy the last five minutes of a game against Meath, as all the others that I played in went down to the wire."

The semi-final was always going to be a difficult one against Cork. You never know what you are going to get when playing the Leesiders and they always have great footballers. We were very happy to just get through this test and get into another All-Ireland final.

Facing us was Tyrone and, to be honest, we were all fed up to the gills with defeats by Ulster teams. We were highly motivated and after a very bad start we played some excellent football for the rest of the first half.

An early three-point deficit was turned into a five-point advantage and all looked good going in at the break. We knew that Tyrone would come at us and, with time almost up on the clock, they equalised only for the score to be ruled out after Peter Canavan had touched the ball along the ground.

It was a harsh call but one that we were delighted with. At last we were champions and the party began. I think that most football people around the country, apart from Tyrone, were pleased to see us get over the line at last.

It bridged a 12-year gap without an All-Ireland SFC title and for the previous four or five years it was a case of 'so near and yet so far'.

The next few days were all a haze but very enjoyable. Now that we had done it the goal for the following year was to go back-to-back.

1996

A controversial start to this season as Pat O'Neill and his successful management team decided to step down. As far as I know Pat wanted two more years, while the county board were only prepared to offer one.

It sounds crazy if true, but Pat walked and Dublin would not win another Leinster title for seven years and not feature in an All-Ireland final for an astonishing 16 years.

Coincidence? I think not.

With Mickey Whelan in charge, we attacked the season. I felt that Mickey got a lot of blame for the team's demise over the following two seasons, but for me the players took liberties and never really bought into his playing philosophy.

Eamonn Heery and Joe McNally were brought back into the squad after missing out on 1995, along with a host of new players. We did manage to get to another provincial decider and very nearly won it but a disallowed Ciarán Whelan goal in the final minute robbed us of a Leinster five in-a-row.

Meath went on to win the All-Ireland, beating Mayo in a replay, so looking back one wonders if O'Neill had of stayed we might just have achieved something great.

1997

Another change of manager after Mickey stepped away after a defeat to Offaly in the league. It was a game that neither I nor Finbarr Cullen will forget in a hurry, but thankfully there is no bad blood between us and we have met on a couple of occasions since.

We were really starting to struggle as the poor performances and defeats racked up. Former player who not long retired, Tommy Carr, was handed the job but must have been cursing his luck when the draw for the Leinster Championship paired us against Meath.

With time almost up and three points down we were awarded a penalty at the Canal End.

I made my way up the field quickly and approached Paul Bealin as he was getting ready to put the ball on the spot. The only piece of advice to him was to keep the ball low. Bealo nearly broke the crossbar with his shot and our chance of winning was gone again.

We both had words in the dressing room afterwards and it very nearly developed into a bit more, but thankfully for Paul common sense prevailed. I won't say which Paul!

1998

1995 was now a distant memory and the team had changed completely, with only seven of the All-Ireland winning team starting against Kildare in the first round.

Another defeat after a replay left us with nowhere to go, while Kildare went all the way to the All-Ireland final. The Kildare supporters were fantastic and always brought great enthusiasm and no little noise to every championship game.

It was disappointing for manager Tommy Carr, who put a lot of work into it to try and get us back to being competitive, but two first-round knockouts never looks good on your CV.

Leinster was different back then, with a lot of very good teams, and it was an achievement to get out of the province.

Meath, Kildare, Offaly and Dublin were the big four, while Wexford, Louth, Westmeath and Laois would all give you a right game, particularly if you had to face them in a provincial ground.

Curran takes on Eddie McCormack of Kildare in 1998

Curran takes on Eddie McCormack of Kildare in 1998

1999

Let's party like it's 1999. Well, not on the football field, but we did manage to get back into a Leinster final, where we would face our old friends Meath.

I had to watch this one from the sideline after breaking my collarbone in the drawn semi-final against Laois.

A ball dropped between myself and Hughie Emerson and I decided to go shoulder-to-shoulder with the big man. We met each other fair and square but, unfortunately, I came out worse and suffered a season-ending break.

That meant the 1990s for me were book-ended with two injuries that kept me from finishing the championship season.

We did, however, manage to win the replay although it took a couple of late Ian Robertson points to get us through.

The final against Meath was a sobering experience. A five-point defeat didn't tell the full story because we had a late rally to take the really bad look off the final scoreline.

Meath would go on to win another All-Ireland while our team struggled to find any real improvement.

It was now four years without a provincial title and that would stretch out to seven before the comeback season came in 2002.

The 1990s was an extremely competitive decade and Leinster was a very competitive province.

We had great success in the first half of the '90s but the well ran very dry and as a county we never really recovered until the mid-noughties, when we started to dominate the province again.

I certainly enjoyed playing all my football in this decade. Every game was competitive and you had to be able to look after yourself. It was no-nonsense football with a lot of long kicking and that's something that I'd like to see more of in the modern game.

We'll probably never see the likes of the 1990s ever again, with Cork (1990), Down (1991, 1994), Donegal (1992), Derry (1993), Dublin (1995), Meath (1996, 1999), Kerry (1997) and Galway (1998) all lifting the Sam Maguire.

"The players earned this All-Ireland the hard way. Hopefully, we won't have to wait 12 years for another"

Jim Galvin celebrates in the 1995 All-Ireland final

Jim Galvin celebrates in the 1995 All-Ireland final

After a string of heart-breaking, narrow defeats in the early 1990s, the Dubs finally lifted the Sam Maguire again in 1995, writes Rónán Mac Lochlainn.

After the near misses of the previous three years, Dublin dusted themselves down once again in 1995 as they looked to finally deliver on their undoubted potential.

The question Pat O'Neill's men had to answer was would the demoralising defeat to Down in 1994 effectively finish the team off or would it act as a galvanising agent as Dublin strived for their first All-Ireland title since 1983?

Their quest began in Páirc Tailteann against a Louth team that had already beaten Kildare and despite the concession of two soft goals, the Dubs eased home by 0-19 to 2-5.

That particular summer was blessed with sunshine as Dublin once again made the trip to Navan for their provincial semi-final against Laois.

In a tight, cagey affair, Dublin enjoyed a narrow edge throughout but with Laois refusing to crumble, it was a moment of inspiration from one of Dublin's fresh faces that effectively settled the issue.

Little was known of Jason Sherlock, a minor of the previous summer, prior to that championship but he more than made his mark with a goal that underlined his brilliance and set the tone for his legendary status among Dublin supporters.

Having already hit the post in the first half, Sherlock gained possession from a sublime Jim Gavin pass and despite losing his right boot, he calmly and confidently cracked home the only goal as Dublin advanced by 1-13 to 0-9.

Next up for Dublin was the by-now annual joust with Meath and a final that will live long in the memory.

Traditionally, only a bounce of a ball would separate these gnarly rivals but Dublin's excellence over the concluding 20 minutes could not be denied as they romped to a 1-18 to 1-8 victory.

Bizarrely, the Dubs trailed by 1-7 to 0-9 early in the second half but with Dessie Farrell running riot at centre-forward in what was one of his most influential displays. They cruised to victory, with Paul Clarke netting at the Canal End to augment seven points by Charlie Redmond.

Cork laid in wait for Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final and it was Sherlock that took centre stage again with a goal that highlighted the fearless nature of his play.

The Rebels started brightly, with Mark O'Sullivan clipping over a couple of classy points but the whole momentum of the game changed as Sherlock gathered the ball from Keith Barr's quickly-taken free and as Mark O'Connor hesitated, Sherlock fired an impeccable finish into the bottom corner.

Dublin improved after the break with Mick Galvin's contribution of four points from play proving pivotal in their 1-12 to 0-12 success.

As a result of their win, Dublin were raging hot favourites as they came up against a Tyrone team that edged Galway by 1-13 to 0-13 in their semi-final.

However, the significance of the occasion and a doubt surrounding the fitness of Redmond prompted a hesitant display by the Dubs, although they were boosted by a first-half goal from the Erin's Isle player after Sherlock's pace and bravery had unlocked the Tyrone defence.

"What Jason gave us was something we didn't have previously," reflected Charlie Redmond some years later.

"What we didn't have was the goal touch. Jason brought that with great aplomb and great skill.

"From the very first time he came training with us, you could see that. He wasn't the most technically gifted footballer, but he had an eye for goal and that's what he gave us that year.

"And also what he gave us was relief from the press because he took the whole concentration of the press away from the rest of us and let us get on with what we needed to get on with."

Controversy dominated the second half as Redmond was ordered off in the 46th minute by referee Paddy Russell, but only left the field two minutes later when the linesman spotted his presence on the pitch.

With Redmond absent, Dublin spurned a number of frees that would have spared them the anxiety and tension of a Tyrone comeback that was almost complete but for Seán McLaughlin's point being disallowed late on after Peter Canavan was adjudged to have handled the ball on the ground in the lead-up.

It was a mixture of relief and joy that greeted Russell's final whistle, with former captain Tommy Drumm striking the right note with his post-match comment.

"The players earned this All-Ireland the hard way. I am delighted for them all, and hopefully we won't have to wait 12 years for another one," said the Dubs' heroic captain of 1983.

'I didn't know if I would play in that 1995 final'

Redmond celebrates the All-Ireland win in 1995

Redmond celebrates the All-Ireland win in 1995

THE sweet taste of success. 1995. Goodness knows how that Dublin team deserved it.

They didn't need to be playing Heartbreak Hotel on their head-phones. Disappointment had been a constant companion.

"Every sporting career has its ups and downs," reflects Charlie Redmond. "You see both sides of the coin. But it's the downs that make the ups."

The years hadn't been kind prior to '95, as Charlie well remembers.

"We had been on a long road. In 1991 we had the four-game saga against Meath. Donegal beat us in the '92 All-Ireland final.

"We lost to Derry in the All-Ireland semi-final the following year and then Down beat us in the '94 final. So it was a road that we were determined to get to the end of."

Dublin would play Tyrone in the '95 All-Ireland final. On the Thursday before the game, Charlie was practising his free-taking at Erin's Isle.

"It was something I had done over the years. I'd go up there on my own to practise. I was trying to become more accomplished at the free-taking. I didn't really like anybody looking at me.

"Then one day Wayne McCarthy's father said that Wayne would be willing to give me a hand. I was reluctant at first because I just liked working away on my own. But he was only a young lad. I think he was nine or ten at the time.

"He'd stand behind the goal and retrieve the balls. I always used to work with eight balls. Wayne became invaluable to me. He saved me so much time retrieving the balls. And I don't think I would have become the place-kicker I became without him."

Wayne himself became a future Dub. And an elegant striker of a ball in his own right.

Yet as Charlie fine-tuned his kicking a few days before that '95 All-Ireland final, he got injured.

"I was doing my usual free-taking stuff at Isles with Wayne. I had been hitting frees for about 35 minutes from different angles. I was finishing up with 14-yard frees when suddenly I felt something go in my groin.

"I was distraught. I rang Pat [O'Neill] immediately. He said he'd look at it that night at training. I didn't train. It was still bad on the Saturday. I wasn't sure would I be able to play or not.

"Pat said he'd give me a pain-killing injection before the match. So that relaxed me. I was sure in my mind that Pat would sort everything out.

"It was only later that I found out that Pat never gave pain-killing injections. He didn't believe in them. In Pat's book, you were either fit or you weren't. He only said that to me to put my mind at ease!"

All-Ireland final day dawned.

"If you look at the team picture, I am the only one still wearing a tracksuit top. Even at that stage I wasn't sure would I be able to play or not.

"Word had leaked out about my injury. I can remember hitting a 14-yard free and barely raising the ball off the ground, and the 'ooooh' reaction from the crowd.

"But I said to myself that I'd give it a go. If it goes, it goes. Luckily, I was able to get through it."

Dublin won by a point - 1-10 to 0-12. Charlie got the goal. But he gives all the praise to Jason Sherlock.

"The Tyrone 'keeper, Finbar McConnell, was a huge man. The ball broke. It was 50-50 between Jason and the 'keeper. Now Jason is about five foot two, nine and a half stone and is carrying sweets in his pocket! He showed great courage in getting to the ball.

"I thought it was going in. But when I saw that it wasn't, I became involved in a tug of war with my marker, Paul Devlin, in trying to get to the ball, and fortunately I was able to get a boot to it."

Later, Charlie was sent off. But he didn't go immediately. The game went on. And Charlie played on. Until referee, Paddy Russell, spotted him.

"I met Paddy a few years ago. We shook hands and had a bit of banter about it."

Charlie still sees many of the '95 side, who included two future All-Ireland SFC-winning Dublin managers, Pat Gilroy and Jim Gavin.

"Dr Pat O'Neill deserves so much credit for winning that All-Ireland. He raised the standard of fitness in the mid-90s. Dr Pat made that team into an un-stoppable force."

The Decades of the Dubs: The 1950s-1960s

Decades of the Dubs: The 1970s

Editors: Joe Davitt and Kevin Nolan

Additional editing: Tony Considine

Contributors: Sean Potts, Ronan Mac Lochlainn and Niall Scully

Photographs: INM, Sportsfile

Design: Dermot Keys