Saturday 20 January 2018

Eamonn Sweeney: Is there no barrel too empty to be scraped in the search for another bit of Dubegrudgery?

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Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

Is there no end to Dubegrudgery? It seems that there is no barrel too empty to be scraped and no dirge too dismal to be sounded in an attempt to tarnish the achievement of the All-Ireland football champions.

Two years ago such a fuss was made about a pretty unremarkable altercation between Philly McMahon and Kieran Donaghy you wondered if Kerry expected to get a replay if they banged on about it long enough. Four years ago Mayo fans were calling the referee of the final 'Dublin Joe' as though he had in some way contributed to their defeat, though no-one could actually point to any notable mistake on McQuillan's part. Last year the focus was on 'financial doping', demographic advantage, and the suggestion that Dublin GAA be dismembered to give everyone else a chance.

And this year? The big complaint is that the Dublin team 'have no personality' and lack the light entertainment skills apparently required from All-Ireland champions. I suppose that, five All-Ireland victories in, the critics are running out of stuff to complain about which is why the current chorus of disapproval is the most ludicrous yet.

It's ludicrous for one thing because 'the sports journalists are here, let the sparkling wit and fun times begin' is a sentence never uttered in the history of civilisation. Some of the pundits bemoaning the Dubs' lack of wackiness are not exactly lads you'd want to be stuck with on a long train journey. Their idea of humour is a quote beginning with the word 'yerra' and containing an agricultural metaphor. Give them that and they'll go on about how 'hilarious' it is till the cows come home.

The Dublin players' refusal to play this particular game is actually to their credit. I get the impression that they'd be pretty good company if you knew them. That doesn't mean their dressing room interviews should contain the kind of stuff usually produced by retired footballers on the dinner dance and chat show circuit.

Describing someone you don't really know as 'boring' or 'lacking in character' is spectacularly mean-spirited. It's also foolish and betrays one of the great sports journalism delusions; that you can actually discern someone's true character by conducting an interview with them or even by reading an interview. Face it, half of the time we don't even really know what we're like ourselves.

Nevertheless the 'boring Dubs' bandwagon rolled on through the week and one inveterate jumper of said vehicle, Eamon Dunphy, fumed that some of the Dublin players "really fancy themselves", called one of them "a big-headed prick", complained that they didn't give "candid interviews" and said that the team 'will never be loved". I have a lot of time for Dunphy as a writer but this is terrible nonsense, not least because, 'Do you know what I love about Eamon Dunphy? His modesty' is another one of those sentences which will never be spoken.

Bernard Flynn, previously noted for his devastating analysis of Aidan O'Shea's warm-down routine, attacked Jim Gavin for not showing more emotion after the final and suggested there was something "dangerous" about the way Dublin treat their players. Jesus wept. With laughter probably.

I've been accused of Dubegrudgery myself in the past for suggesting it would be good for Gaelic football if the champions were toppled. But new champions are always healthy for any game which is why I've said the same thing about Kilkenny hurlers and Cork ladies footballers in the past. It would be good for football if Mayo or Kerry defeated the Dubs next year for competitive reasons, not because they'll give better copy.

Great champions always attract some level of begrudgery. There were some notably bitter articles about Kilkenny in their day, suggesting their success was entirely due to lenient refereeing or berating them, as Jim Gavin is berated, for not celebrating victory with sufficient gusto. I can remember too when the dominance of O'Dwyer's Kerry was ascribed to the advent of the handpass and their 'basketball' style. The rules were changed to curb the handpass and they kept winning anyway. And now that Kilkenny's great players are retired, their past critics pretend they loved them all along.

I suppose Dubegrudgery is inevitable. But that doesn't make it alright. The All-Ireland champions are young men doing their best. Bitter old men should give them a break.

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