Dublin - Class of '95
FEW enough people get a chance to say they changed the course of the GAA
But that’s just what I did in 1995 as the Dublin football team of the 1990s finally fell over the All-Ireland winning line.
Because of me, yellow cards and red ones, and there’s now black ones too, came into our world – as a result, of course, of my sending off in the 1995 final.
Yep, that’s my claim to fame now 25 years after I didn’t realise Paddy Russell had sent me off.
What happened was I went for a ball and was fouled by Paul Devlin of Tyrone. Paddy blew the whistle for a free, but while I was lying on the ground, another Tyrone player came over and drove his elbow into my back.
The red mist fell and I got up and charged after the player and confronted him. We were pulled apart and then Paddy said he was sending me off because I had headbutted the Tyrone player.
I said that I hadn’t done it, that I confronted my opponent alright, but I had never headbutted anyone in my life and hadn’t done it in the middle of an All-Ireland decider.
Then the linesman came over and Paddy moved away to talk to him and I heard the linesman saying "no, no, no." So I presumed he was putting Paddy straight on what had happened. Then Paddy threw up the ball and the game carried on.
A few minutes later I came out to collect a pass and play it on, and the ref blew the whistle. Nobody knew why, but he came over to me and delivered the now famous line "You shouldn’t be here" – and sent me off.
By the way, I never actually said in response, "I know, I failed a fitness test yesterday." It was the late, great, Jimmy Magee who came up with that line and it was such a good one that I ran with it for years. But I can’t claim to have been quick enough to have thought of it at the time.
So, thanks to me, it’s nice and clear-cut nowadays. The player sees the yellow, black or red card and knows exactly where he stands.
People often ask me was I annoyed or frustrated at not being on the pitch when we finally won the All-Ireland? The answer is no, I was irked about the fact that I was sent off in the wrong in an All-Ireland final, that bugged me.
The win was a culmination of five years of being so close. We’d had the four games with Meath in 1991, been well beaten by Donegal in the 1992 final and a year later came out on the wrong side of an epic semi-final with Derry.
I believe the 1994 final with Down was the one that got away, I still believe we were the better team that wet day.
We lost by two points and yours truly missed a penalty, again. If I’d scored that peno, I firmly believe we’d have won the match, but we just didn’t get the bit of luck that came our way in 1995. And if it hadn’t come, I believe the group would have won the 1996 or 1997 Sam, because we were such a tight group that we would not have rested until we all got a Celtic Cross.
We fell over the winning line in 1995 in another way, we were running out of steam in the final itself – for 1995 was the year the Dublin squad was first exposed to what is now known as sports science.
Dr Pat O’Neill was our manager and he used his connection with UCD to get a group of students from the university to time our 400m runs during training sessions. He wanted to see how fit we were and he used the fact that there were always going to be three weeks between every match that year, all the way to the final, to plan our training regime.
The data from the runs showed we were at our fittest and fastest about ten days before the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork. About ten days before the final itself, all our times were a second or a second and a half slower than they had been three weeks’ previously.
I remember Pat telling me, about a month after the final because he had not yet walked away from the Dublin job, that he was going to start our intercounty training for 1996 three weeks later into January, so that in that year we would be just ripe for the final instead of beginning to tire.
I was beginning to tire in 1995. I’d been a sub in 1983, so I’d done the hard road with Dublin football and I was turning 33 late in 1995. But Pat was such a clever manager that he had pulled me aside one evening back in January and said "Charlie, if you ever feel like skipping a Saturday session because you are tired after a hard Thursday one, just say to me publicly that you cannot get out of a Fire Brigade shift on a Saturday morning and I’ll understand."
It was great management, he knew that at that stage of my football life, hard training was not always what I needed.
We used to have to give urine samples too, so that Pat could ensure we were not dehydrated, that we were taking in enough fluids to do the training and play the matches.
All basic stuff now, but back then it was the first time any of us had been exposed to that type of science – it was far removed from ‘do a few laps and then a few sit-ups lads’. I played on with the Dubs for two more seasons, but Meath beat us in the Leinster final in 1996 and in the early rounds a year later. Paul Bealin misssed a penalty in that latter game – I get blamed for it too. But it was ‘Bealo’, not me.
I’d been thinking about retirement for a while. And something Alan Ball, the late England World Cup hero of 1966, said to me when I had a few pints with him stuck with me. "Son," he said, "from the moment the idea of retirement comes into your head it never leaves until you actually do it. It is your mind’s way of telling you that your body has had enough."
That was me finished in 1997, the end of the line for a man whose friends still tell me that it should not be the Red Card, but the Redmond Card. That it’s all my fault.