Rebels leave Dubs fans seeing red after a very late smash and grab raid on the capital
THEY made their way into Croke Park full of hope and optimism, but left feeling as blue as the colour of their team's jersey.
For the thousands of Dublin fans who attended GAA headquarters yesterday for their All-Ireland football semi-final against Cork, the cliche 'so near and yet so far' never felt more apt.
They were up for this one from the off -- both on and off the pitch. A total of 82,225 people packed into the ground -- the first sell-out of the season -- to witness the latest chapter in the intermittent rivalry between the capital and 'the real capital'.
The Dubs got off to a dream start when Bernard Brogan slammed the ball to the back of the net for the game's first score.
And those on the Hill remained in dreamland for most of the match -- but crucially, not all of it.
Cork pulled it out of the fire, claiming the win that most of their supporters had predicted, but which few had imagined would be so difficult.
Brothers Jack and Paddy Dealy, originally from Skibbereen in west Cork, were "fairly optimistic" before the throw-in that the Rebels would win.
The retired fishermen moved to Howth, Co Dublin, more than 45 years ago, and despite their children being born and bred in the Leinster county, yesterday they wore the red and white of Cork with pride.
So would there ever come a time where they'd don the Dublin colours? "If they were playing against some team in Africa, maybe," Paddy joked.
Jack added: "Whoever wins, it'll be good to see any underdog get into the final, now that Kerry are out.
"For the GAA as a whole, it would be good for Dublin to get though as well, seeing as they have so many fans and they don't do it too often."
There was a subtle dig there, of course. And some not-so- subtle digs out on the grass.
The early goal arguably stunned the Dublin fans more than the boys from Cork.
James Leahy (13), from Glasnevin, originally predicted a two-point win for Cork, but after some pressure from mum Noreen, he changed his guess to a one-point win for the Dubs.
In this case, mother didn't know best. But it was a confusing time.
Many fans were still looking for their seats when Brogan struck, and Dublin would hold onto that lead right up to the 68th minute. They didn't hold it at the end, however.
"We're devastated -- we just threw it away," Niall O'Heanaigh, from Blanchardstown, said after the final whistle.
"After being a few points up, we should have pulled away, but fair play to Cork -- they played badly and still won."
Fellow Dublin fan Ciara Sullivan admitted to having counted her chickens by planning to have the Monday after the All-Ireland final off from work. The best laid plans, and all that.
Those from Cork were magnanimous. "I would have taken a draw after we saw Brogan's goal go in," said David O'Leary, from Kiskeam.
"We live four miles from the Kerry border, so for the last 10 years it's been a nightmare. We're looking forward to the final now, and at least having a 50-50 chance now Kerry aren't in it."
And despite their side's loss, Castleknock residents Niamh McMahon and Therese Ryan were hopeful Dublin would go one step further next year.
"I think the team has grown absolutely massively this season," Niamh said. "If you had said at the start of the year we'd get to the semi-final, you'd say it was a really successful year. It can only improve."
Next year for the Dubs then. Same as it always was.
Meanwhile, the GAA vowed to press on with plans to erect a barrier in front of Hill 16, despite yesterday's game passing off without any crowd problems or pitch invasion.
The controversial move to put up the nine-foot fencing is a reaction to the pitch invasion by fans after the Louth-Meath Leinster football final which resulted in some angry supporters attacking the referee after the final whistle.
But there were no such problems yesterday, as the sporting body's crowd control plan went off without a hitch, just a week before the fencing is due to be erected.
"Everything went very well," a GAA spokeswoman said last night. "We had a post-match meeting with the gardai and everyone was happy.
"Pitch invasions usually happen when there is a final and there is the presence of a cup. As there was no final this weekend, the match wouldn't have had any impact on our decision to put the fencing up," she said.