Thursday 19 September 2019

Roy Curtis: 'Fifty years after man walked on the moon, Dublin took a giant leap into the untouched five-in-a-row cosmos'

Jack McCaffrey of Dublin prepares to shoot past Seán White of Cork to score the game's opening goal in the eleventh minute during the All-Ireland SFC Super 8s Group 2 clash at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Jack McCaffrey of Dublin prepares to shoot past Seán White of Cork to score the game's opening goal in the eleventh minute during the All-Ireland SFC Super 8s Group 2 clash at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Roy Curtis

Usain Bolt scorching Olympic tartan, Frankel surging majestically down the Ascot runway, Lewis Hamilton’s afterburners blistering the Silverstone tarmac.

Raw, uncontainable pace, electrifying, speed of light, athletic surges, a rhythmic, fast-twitch, Lear Jet chorus, continue to stand alone as summer’s most intoxicating spectacle.  

Jack McCaffrey, a human sonic-boom, Clontarf's first verified cheetah, blazes across Croke Park like the highest-octane, insupressible, wind-assisted wildfire.

He brings to mind that mischievous Muhammad Ali line: "I'm so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark."

McCaffrey, bubbling, ebullient, torquing so rapidly through speed traps that the cameras are rendered impotent, made Croke Park his breakneck playground.

Little wonder that he departed the bull-run on 69 minutes to a riotous standing ovation.

Here was a proper, captivating, purist’s-delight festival of football.

Cork, true to their word, chose adventure over caution, daring over conservatism:  They led by four-nil after six minutes, a blur of movement and ambition.

Paul Kerrigan – three points from play in the first flourishes - shook his fist at the tyranny of time.

Luke Connolly, as classily impudent as his sadly absent Dublin namesake, dispatched a 46 minute penalty into the gut of the Hill 16 net, announcing Cork were for real. 

At that stage, the Rebels trailed by just two, asking questions of Dublin rarely posed in the Jim Gavin era.

Brian Hurley rumbled like a volcano on the verge of eruption; Cork, ignoring all the tedious nonsense about finances and population, went for Dublin’s jugular.

Brian Howard of Dublin in action against Luke Connolly of Cork during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 2 Phase 1 match between Dublin and Cork at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Brian Howard of Dublin in action against Luke Connolly of Cork during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 2 Phase 1 match between Dublin and Cork at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

It was stirring, high on artistic merit fare.

Cork, offering a bold, admirable template for all pretenders, declining to shrivel, were making a statement of intent:  If they were to die it would be with their boots on.

Dublin, a group united in their rejection of defeat, would find a way to stake out the terrain only they can touch.

Ciarán Kilkenny and Con O’Callaghan had combined for six points from play within 40 minutes.

Kilkenny, emphasising yet again that he is a footballer without weakness, would finish with 1-3.

Paul Mannion, that left-foot stun-bolt greased and oiled, brought his summer tally to 14 points from play.

Stephen Cluxton – a key point blank save from Brian Hurley turning the first half tide – goal scorer Michael Darragh Macauley and the flinty Philly McMahon, continue to defy the march of the years and shape their team's destiny.

McMahon, with that defiant Dirty Harry Ballymun swagger that is trademark, would contribute three points from play.

But McCaffrey dominated July’s Super 8 Broadway in the way that peak-era Olivier did a Shakespearian stage.

Not merely because he scored the 11 minute goal that was the launch-pad for a Dublin surge, but because each time he touched the ball a tidal wave of anticipation drenched the arena and Cork's world was reduced to Cape Fear.

McCaffrey terrifies like the darkest Stephen King novel, he triggers a nervous hosanna of panic buttons in even the calmest opposing force.

On top of scoring a goal, his injection of pace was vital in the green flags raised by Macauley and, with the killing 63 minute incision, the tireless Niall Scully.

And it was his poise and vision that set up the imperious Brian Fenton for Dublin's thunderous fifth net-buster.

Anybody looking for a physical embodiment of X-Factor should simply frame a portrait of the flying wing-back.

Cork, impressively travelling the redemption road, simply did not have the stingers to deflate Jack Mac's tyres.

Snapshots of revival, little sunbursts of hope to support the thesis of a Rebel reawakening, lined the road to Croker.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin shakes hands with Cork manager Ronan McCarthy following their All-Ireland SFC Super 8s clash at Croke Park. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin shakes hands with Cork manager Ronan McCarthy following their All-Ireland SFC Super 8s clash at Croke Park. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Like the cutting edge that had yielded ten goals in three championship matches; the 26 points per game average.

And the Castlehaven spearhead of Brian Hurley and Mark Collins.

Even if they were caught by a fourth quarter blitz, Cork impressed and their Croke Park meeting with Tyrone next weekend has the feel of a semi-final play-off.

But Gavin's Dublin – who introduced returning Allstars Johnny Cooper and James McCarthy off the bench - test the authenticity of every team’s credentials in the most brutal and relentless fashion.

With 17 major trophies in a star-spangled less than seven seasons, Gavin has pushed out the barriers of achievement toward the territories of wonderland. 

Dublin's championship record under their stoic general is now a faintly preposterous 40 wins, two draws and a single defeat (to Donegal, 1,778 days ago) for a win rate of 93.02%.

By way of comparison, Mick O'Dwyer's 1970s Kerry's titans, had a 79.6% win rate; Kevin Heffernan's stood at 78.7%. Of Gavin's contemporaries, Mickey Harte's 68.6% record is the closest – though not remotely close - to the sovereign.

Here, the champions were pushed, but even if Cork landed some impressive haymakers, there was not the feintiest sense of a Sky Blue wobble. 

Just the unshakeable, sang-froid of masterly assassins.

Fifty years after man walked on the moon on July 16 1969, Dublin delivered the kind of remorseless exhibition which emphasises why they are such overwhelming favourites to take a giant leap into the untouched five-in-a-row cosmos.

At its heart was the invogorating McCaffrey. 

After the Royal flush that did so emphatically for Meath, Dublin turned over their latest hand of cards:  If featured a Jack of Diamonds alongside a poker of aces.

Online Editors

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