Saturday 21 September 2019

Tears and jeers: The end of the Lyons

A shock loss, fans' fury and Lyons' departure told the story of 2004

6 June 2004; Dublin manager Tommy Lyons. Bank of Ireland Leinster Senior Football Championship, Dublin v Westmeath, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit; Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
6 June 2004; Dublin manager Tommy Lyons. Bank of Ireland Leinster Senior Football Championship, Dublin v Westmeath, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit; Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Rónán Mac Lochlainn

WITH Dublin manager Tommy Lyons coming under renewed criticism, the knives may not have been out but they were certainly sharpened as the Dubs took their first tentative steps into 2004.

While the pressure was taken off after they edged All-Ireland champions Tyrone by 0-9 to 0-8 in their opening NFL 1A contest, the wheels fell off spectacularly in Round 2 as they suffered a notorious reversal to Mayo in Castlebar.

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That 1-10 to 0-3 defeat seems inconceivable today but was horribly real for the supporters who travelled to McHale Park that bleak February afternoon with Dublin's display matching the desperately poor state of the pitch in terms of its quality.

Such was the ire that Tomás Quinn, who had seen his penalty crash off the crossbar and had spurned a number of frees, was subjected to an anonymous abusive phone call the following evening.

In an interview a number of years later the St Vincent's man recounted: "I was at home on the Monday night watching telly and my phone rang. It was some fella, some punter giving me abuse. I answered the phone and said hello and someone says, 'Oh you...' – I won't repeat what he said.

"I eventually hung up and thought, 'That was pretty random'. I was sitting there, sort of shell-shocked, on my own watching the television. I wasn't really sure how to take it or how to deal with it. That was a once off, it never happened again."

A dark weekend for the Dublin footballers was encapsulated by the Irish Independent headline on the defeat to Mayo: 'Rub a dud Dubs, three points in the mud'.

A narrow 1-12 to 0-12 loss to Kerry highlighted Dublin's inability once again to find the net and, while they beat Westmeath by 0-15 to 0-10 in Round 4, again no goal was recorded.

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That sequence was maintained in the next two rounds as the Dubs drew with Fermanagh (0-12 to 0-12) and Cork (0-9 to 0-9) before they finally managed their first goals (Johnny McNally and sub Jason Sherlock) in seven games when beating Longford by 2-12 to 2-9 at Parnell Park.

With their league position secure for another year, Dublin turned their focus to regaining their provincial title but were unable to hurdle their first obstacle as they sensationally came a cropper at the expense of Westmeath by 0-14 to 0-12 on June 6.

For the second year running, a Kerry legend had masterminded Dublin's downfall with Páidí Ó Sé at the helm as Westmeath beat Dublin for the first time at senior level since 1967.

There was little to suggest from the early stages that Dublin would struggle for scores with Jason Sherlock in sublime form as he kicked four points from play inside the opening quarter. 

Alan Brogan matched that tally but Dublin's weaknesses up front saw just Bryan Cullen manage a score from play from the remaining quartet of attackers, while a team selection that included not one recognised freetaker was to prove fatal by the final whistle.

With the sides level entering injury-time, the unfamiliar sight of Paddy Christie standing over a '45' highlighted their lack of placed ball options and his subsequent miss and points at the opposite end from Joe Fallon and Paul Conway sealed Dublin's fate.

The abuse that Lyons received in the aftermath painted an unsavoury picture of Dublin at their lowest ebb in many a year. The Irish Times stated "from the blue jerseys in the stands came a chorus of booing, confirmation perhaps that whatever Tommy Lyons once had with the team and their followers isn't there anymore".

Tommy jeers.JPG
6 June 2004; Angry Dublin supporters voice thier opinions to Dublin manager Tommy Lyons , bottom of picture, as he leaves the pitch after defeat to Westmeath. Bank of Ireland Leinster Senior Football Championship, Dublin v Westmeath, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit; David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Rehabilitation for both the team and their supporters was required, and required quickly, and it arrived to a degree against the unfamiliar presence of London in their round 1 qualifier just six days later.

Senan Connell starred in a comprehensive 3-24 to 0-6 win in Parnell Park. And fortune favoured Dublin in the next round as they were pitted against Leitrim, albeit away. The Blues did enough to prevail by 0-13 to 1-4 by the end on the weekend that the Luas Green line was made open to the public.

Their Round 3 qualifier with Longford at the neutral venue of O'Moore Park saw Ian Robertson find the net in the final quarter as Dublin pulled away to a 1-17 to 0-11 win.

Croke Park was the venue for Round 4 as Roscommon got a chance to test Dublin on their supposed 'home turf'.

Stephen Cluxton spared Dublin's defensive blushes on a number of occasions while at the opposite end of the field, Sherlock was the key man once again, kicking 1-4, while the input of Alan Brogan and Robertson ensured a hard-earned 1-14 to 0-13 win.

However, Dublin's failings finally caught up with them in their subsequent All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry with Dublin wasting chance after chance.

Kerry were little better but took the lucky bounce that came their way as Dara Ó Cinnéide fired home after a point attempt had rebounded off the upright, leaving the Kingdom to pull away by 1-15 to 1-8.

With that, the summer, and Lyons tenure was as good as over, while it's fair to say that his three years in charge offered the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Alan Brogan's comments in the Evening Herald, as it was at the time, offered a more considered view of the period.

"Ultimately, he (Lyons) paid the price but what people don't appreciate is how well Tommy looked after his players.

"Everything was sorted with regard to training. There was no question in my mind that Tommy always had the right intention."

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