Sunday 8 December 2019

History-makers: Jim Gavin and Dublin's journey to the famous five

The road to GAA history was paved with high drama

14 September 2019; Brian Fenton, left, and Ciarán Kilkenny of Dublin celebrate with the cup following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
14 September 2019; Brian Fenton, left, and Ciarán Kilkenny of Dublin celebrate with the cup following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Niall Scully

A summer-like afternoon on September's second Saturday. The second coming for Dublin and Kerry.

A Donegal man up on the Mobhi Road said he'd love Dublin to do it. 

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"This great team deserves the five-in-a-row. They deserve their place in history."

Just before 4.30, the Dublin bus came down the Alfie Byrne Road. Heading past Fairview Park. Sirens blaring. Ready for another Lord Mayor's Show.

There was another bus right behind it. Empty. The champions were covering every angle.

The Dublin Kop was outside Gaffney's. Ten deep. There was one Kerry jersey among the blue.

Further on down the road, a man played a blue guitar with Dublin and Kerry colours hanging from it.

All Dubs hoping that Jim Gavin's team could do what Garth Brooks couldn't.

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The Blue Army crossed over Luke Kelly Bridge and the atmosphere was bouncing on the way up Clonliffe Road.

Mickey Ned O'Sullivan was among the crowd. And Dublin folk heroes Vinnie Murphy, John McCarthy and Joe McNally and many more.

And many other dedicated Dubs that played on in the wind and the rain.

The floodlights came on well before the throw-in, even though there was a dazzling sun.

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14 September 2019; A general view of Croke Park during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

And, once more, Dublin and Kerry quickly went about providing another cracker. People living every second. Every tackle.

Dublin sprinting from the off. But Kerry never too far from their heels.

Dublin, on the threshold of history. Kerry folk know all about that.

But, on this night of nights, they were the first to salute the remarkable achievement of this remarkable team.

Yet, even in the five additional minutes, the job was far from done. Kerry still searching for salvation. But then came the last, long blow of the whistle.

That sent Dublin into history. And had the five-in-a-row T-shirt brigade thinking of buying a villa in Spain.

It had been a long summer. Dublin began it on the road. Portlaoise. The Midway Hotel on the roundabout. Louth in the Leinster Championship.

Louth's greatest day came back in 1957. Dermot O'Brien lifted Sam. He'd pack dance halls all over the country.

But nobody in the Wee County was dancing at the crossroads on this night. Dublin 5-21 Louth 0-10.

It was Christy Moore's Kildare next. In Croke Park. How they long for a Tommy Carew or a Johnny Doyle. 

Mick O'Dwyer talked about his days there. Leading them to the All-Ireland final. The streets turning whiter than snow. He had never seen anything quite like it.

Certainly, not around the roads of Waterville, Kenmare and Listowel, where reaching All-Ireland finals were greeted with all the excitement of having spuds for the dinner.

Dublin beat the Lilywhites by 0-26 to 0-11. And then it was the Royals. Their great foes from another time.

Seán Boylan was talking about Stephen Cluxton (above) on Brian Carthy's Championship programme. The goalkeeper for the ages.

"Stephen played for me when I was managing the Irish team in the Compromise Rules series against Australia," recalled Seán.

"He was very young then, but even so his dedication was so admirable. He'd arrive in early and go off practising his kicking.

"He is such an extraordinary goalkeeper. But he is so much more than that. He loves Parnells. And he loves playing for Dublin. He really cherishes the jersey.

"And every time he goes out to play, he has so much enthusiasm that you'd swear it was his first time playing for the county."

Andy McEntee is doing noble work in Meath. Things are beginning to bubble again. He led Ballyboden St Enda's to the All-Ireland Club Football title.

But the result of the Leinster final made for grim news in the Chronicle – Dublin 1-17 Meath 0-4. Yet, in the first half, Meath were well in the contest.

At the end of it, Dublin hadn't conceded a goal in the provincial Championship that used to draw 82,000 to Croke Park.

The old tournament in bad need of a shake-up. But it's no fault of the Dubs.

The return of the Royals and the Lilies can't come quickly enough

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14 September 2019; Dublin manager Jim Gavin with his father Jimmy following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

It was then onto the Super 8s. But things weren't all that super.

Dublin had 5-18 to 1-17 to spare over Cork in Croke Park. And back at HQ, Dublin beat Roscommon, 2-16 to 0-11.

The Rossies managed by an old friend of the city, Anthony Cunningham, who led them to the Connacht title.

But there just seemed no way of stopping the Dublin Express.

If one breaks down, there's another one right behind. With not a passenger in sight.

Then, on a slow news day in July, Jim Gavin gave an interview to Dubs TV.

And with the demeanour of a fella going into the corner shop to buy a box of tea bags, he said that Diarmuid Connolly was back in the Dublin squad.

The shout could be heard all over the country – hold the back page. And the front one too.

The news changed the climate in the city. Dermo hadn't played for the Dubs since February, 2018.

He had spent that summer in Boston, playing for 'Donegal Boston', and was due to return there again last June.

But red tape with his clearance papers ensured he stayed on Dublin tarmac.

He came back into the starting team for Dublin's last Super 8s match against Tyrone in Healy Park.

And the biggest cheer of the afternoon came when he lofted over a point in the second half. But late on, he received a black card.

There was a big crowd at the game. But both teams had already qualified for the All-Ireland semi-finals.

And it was little more than a dress rehearsal. Without the orchestra.

Seán Bugler had a terrific match. And he made the game's only goal for Eoghan O'Gara.

Dublin won the tie, 1-16 to 0-13. And the main concern the Dublin followers had was trying to find their way out of the heavy post-match traffic.

The semi-finals were the following week. Dublin first up against Mayo on the Saturday night.

James Horan back in the dugout after leaving the comfort of the Sky studio.

A Mayo team that know the Back Door route as well as they know the back roads of Belmullet.

The team that 31 counties would love to see lift Sam. The team of Colm Boyle, Aidan O'Shea and the great Andy Moran.

Mayo were two points up at half-time. But then the Dubs turned up the stereo. And it was over. In a blur.

Con O'Callaghan got two quick-fire goals. Fist pumping the air. Showing the physique of a young man that doesn't stack up on the Mars Bars.

The following day, Tyrone looked to be heading back to the final. But Kerry's second half display produced the perfect script. For the perfect final.

Dublin v Kerry. The Dubs going for five-in-a-row. Against the team that came within inches of achieving it.

On came Offaly hero of 1982 Seamus Darby on 'Up for the Match'. And Paddy Cullen. Still having to put up with questions about the most famous free in Gaelic football history.

And so September's dawn. Its first day. The poetry of Sunday Miscellany. And the sound of 'The Jacks Are Back'. Again!

Many feared for Kerry. Their young team would be no match for the Dubs. People were saying the same in 1975.

The appointment of David Gough as the ref had sparked the biggest debate of all.

Éamonn Fitzmaurice and Aidan O'Mahony questioned the appointment on the grounds that he works and lives in Dublin.

Kerry manager Peter Keane was asked for his view. He has just opened a new car wash opposite his SuperValu store in Killorglin.

And he quickly threw a bucket of water on the controversy. Saying the best man got the job.

And so it proved. It was a breathtaking match. And as many had also predicted, Kerry don't arrive in All-Ireland finals just to walk behind the Artane Band. In the pre-match entertainment, Phelim Drew, son of Ronnie, sang 'Dublin in The Rare Auld Times'.

Liam O'Connor accompanied him. Bringing back memories of the night he played at the thrilling League match between Dublin and Kerry before a full house in Tralee back in February.

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1 September 2019; Jonny Cooper of Dublin, second from left, is shown the red card by referee David Gough, after previously been shown a second yellow card, during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Late on in the final, Kerry were a point up. And Dublin were a man down. Jonny Cooper had got two yellows.

The chant of 'Kerry, Kerry, Kerry' echoed around Croke Park. Jim Gavin looked on from under his baseball cap. No fear.

And the Dubs held tight. As he knew they would. Holding onto the dream.

A draw. In a match that nobody deserved to lose.

Off the players trooped to prepare for another day. Another two weeks of living with the pre-matches nerves. And avoiding the neighbours.

Kerry happy with their offering. And Jim Gavin not about to high-five anybody in the cockpit.

The two-week build-up to the replay offered many questions. Who would start? Who would make the 26?

In came Eoin Murchan, and he ran the length of the St Mobhi Road to score the only goal of the five-in-a-row game.

Ciarán Kilkenny gave a masterclass. A man said: "He's like the conductor of the orchestra. The director."

Ciarán, at the heart of the team. Summing up their selfless attitude. It was all about putting in the hard yards. He was always there to receive possession. Offering the out ball to a colleague under pressure. Or seeking another avenue into Kerry's back garden.

It was tight. Tense. Full of delightful pockets. And little, telling moments.

Michael Fitzsimons making the tackle of the season, Stephen Cluxton spreading himself like O'Leary to make the crucial save, and James McCarthy lobbing one into the Canal like his Da used to do.

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Eoin Murchan of Dublin shoots to score his side's first goal during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

And then it was over. Joy and relief. People hugging. Smiling. Shaking hands. So happy to be there. To have been a part of the carnival. To have the story to tell.

John Horan handed over Sam to the safest pair of hands in the country. And then came the lap of honour.

Jim Gavin did a circle of the pitch, applauding the supporters. A Garda stopped him to shake his hand. And, amid the din, the two began chatting. Like two farmers down at the local creamery.

On came the songs. 'The Boys are Back in Town.'

And, as Ciarán Kilkenny said, "there was going to be some party".

In Deano's bar and grill.

The pavement outside Gaffney's was rocking. There was a full moon over Clontarf.

On this starry, starry night.

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