Rebels guilty of falling into trap of complacency with upshot that a squad which appeared capable of so much became one-hit wonders
Who were the best All-Ireland football champions over the last 50 years? Which were the best finals . . . and the worst? Who gave the best individual displays in finals? Who were the best managers, best captains, best subs? What were the biggest controversies, surprises etc?
How do the champions rank against each other? Our series rates them all from 1972 up to this year.
Teams that won more than one title in a short space of time are classed as one unit, as is the Kerry team that dominated so much of the 1970s/’80s and Dublin’s super-squad since 2011.
It amounts to 24, comprised of 12 once-off winners, seven two-time champions, two treble squads, one four-timer, plus the multiple winners from Kerry and Dublin.
Starting at 24 we rank them in reverse order counting down to the last two, who we will pit against each other in a final on Saturday week. These are the bottom eight – we will continue the countdown over the coming days:
24. Cork 2010
23. Dublin 1995
22. Tyrone 2021
21. Derry 1993
20. Donegal 1992
19. Dublin 1983
18. Kerry 2014
17. Cork 1973
Still to be ranked: Offaly 1971-72; Dublin 1974-76-77; Kerry 1975-86; Offaly 1982; Meath 1987-88; Cork 1989-90; Down 1991-94; Meath 1996-99; Kerry 1997-2000; Galway 1998-2001; Armagh 2002; Tyrone 2003-05-08; Kerry 2004-06-07-09; Dublin 2011-2020; Donegal 2012; Kerry 2022.
Tomorrow: We reveal the 16th and 15th placings, plus the five best captains of the last 50 years.
18 . KERRY 2014
Depending on their mood, the Kerry squad which won one All-Ireland in the 2010-’19 decade can consider themselves lucky to have hit the jackpot once or unlucky to be playing at a time when arguably the greatest panel of all time were accumulating seven titles. That left three titles for the rest, shared between Cork (2010), Donegal (2012) and Kerry (2014).
It was similar to what other challengers found in 1975-’86, when Kerry won eight of 12 All-Irelands, leaving opposition wondering what might have been if they were playing in a different era when there was no superpower.
Ironically, it might have been a touch of Kerry swagger which allowed Dublin to make the breakthrough in 2011, a win that changed everything. Leading the final by four points after 64 minutes, Kerry deviated from the adventurous style which had seen them outscore Dublin by 0-8 to 0-1 between the 40th and 63rd minutes, switching instead to a more cautious approach.
Sensing the opportunity, Dublin raised their attack levels and were rewarded with a splendid success. It was the start of a period of Dublin dominance over Kerry, during which they beat them in the 2013 and 2016 semi-finals, the 2015 and 2019 (replay) finals. It left Kerry wondering how many titles they would have won if Dublin were even a notch less effective.
On the other side, a lucky break in 2014 helped Kerry to win their only title of the decade. Donegal had earlier stunned Dublin in the semi-final, beating them by six points.
Was it down to Dublin complacency that they lost a five-point first-half lead after suffering their worst defensive collapse since 2010 when they were hit for five goals by Meath in the Leinster semi-final?
Given how Dublin performed before and after 2014, it’s clear there was something freakish about the manner of their defeat by Donegal.
Suddenly, all the focus was on Donegal, which suited Kerry ideally going into the final. The gods were kind too, handing them a match-turning break in the second half when Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan had a wayward kick-out intercepted by Kieran Donaghy, who scored a crucial goal.
It was Kerry at their predatory best, a quality they had also displayed in the semi-final replay against Mayo in Limerick when they recovered from a seven-point early deficit to win in extra-time.
That excellent recovery, followed by the clever exploitation of a Donegal error in the final, were classic examples of Kerry’s capacity to find a way of winning in tight situations.
That was especially relevant in the final against Donegal, who had hit Dublin for 3-14 in the semi-final. It called for a massive defensive effort by Kerry and they responded impressively, restricting Donegal to 0-12.
Kerry were without the injured Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper for that entire campaign but improvised well every time the hard questions were raised. Winning that All-Ireland may have been a better achievement than the squad are generally given credit for.
FACT: Kerry scored 2-9 in the 2014 final against Donegal. It was the first time since 1996 when Meath beat Mayo (2-9 to 1-11) in a replay that the All-Ireland winners had only 11 scores.
17. CORK 1973
On the evening of September 23, 1973, the football world was not only proclaiming new All-Ireland champions, but also confidently predicting that a great era lay ahead for them.
Cork had beaten Galway by seven points (3-17 to 2-13), having earlier demolished Clare, Kerry and Tyrone. Surely there was a lot more to come from a squad which appeared to be bristling with exciting talent.
A major contributor to their high scoring rate was 19-year-old Jimmy Barry-Murphy, the St Finbarr’s prodigy who emerged as the sensation of that year’s championship.
He missed Cork’s opening game against Clare but made his first impact when scoring a goal against Kerry in the Munster final.
“This Cork team has everything” ran the heading on John Comyn’s analysis in the Sunday Independent a week after the win over over Galway in the All-Ireland final. And so it appeared.
With Kerry in apparent decline and no obvious sign of a surge anywhere in Leinster or Ulster, Galway looked like the only real threat to Cork’s two-in-a-row ambitions.
Both retained their respective provincial titles and since they were on opposite sides of the All-Ireland semi-final draw, another clash in the final was widely anticipated.
Cork easily beat Kerry (1-11 to 0-7) in the 1974 Munster final and when they looked towards Croke Park for the All-Ireland semi-final, they found that it was Dublin, rather than Offaly or Meath, who were priming a challenge.
Frankly, nobody outside of Dublin anticipated any problems for Cork. That may well have applied to the Rebel squad too, but with Dublin powering up a blue wave under Kevin Heffernan, trouble loomed.
It hit with awesome force in the semi-final, as Dublin built on the momentum of five wins in the Leinster Championship to run out six-point winners. A strike force which had scored a total of 8-27 in the previous year’s semi-final and final was held to 1-8.
Surprisingly, Cork folded rather meekly in the closing 10 minutes, which raised questions about the squad’s mentality.
Not only was that the end of their reign as All-Ireland champions, it marked the start of deep depression, which left them waiting nine years for their next Munster Championship win.
Mick O’Dwyer, whose Kerry empire inflicted all the pain on them during that period – and later too – has no doubt that Cork made the fatal mistake of underestimating Dublin in 1974.
“That Cork team should have won more All-Ireland titles. They had a lovely balance all over the field but fell into the oldest trap of all.
“Their easy win over Kerry in the Munster final seemed to convince them that retaining the All-Ireland title was a formality,” recalled O’Dwyer.
“They didn’t rate a re-emerging Dublin side as a real threat and were hopelessly ill-equipped to respond when the pressure came on in the semi-final,” was O’Dwyer’s summation in his autobiography.
Whatever the reason, the upshot was that a squad which appeared capable of so much became one-hit wonders.
FACT: Jimmy Barry-Murphy scored a total of 5-2 (4-2 from play, 1-0 pen) against Kerry, Tyrone and Galway in the 1973 Munster final, All-Ireland semi-final and final.