Thursday 22 August 2019

From 'GUBU' Dubs to Lilies on the rack: Ronan Sweeney savoured 2000 but Sky Blues now reign supreme

Willie McCreery, Kildare, in action against Peadar Andrews, Dublin. Dublin v Kildare, Leinster Senior Football Championship Final in 2000, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit; Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Willie McCreery, Kildare, in action against Peadar Andrews, Dublin. Dublin v Kildare, Leinster Senior Football Championship Final in 2000, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit; Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Frank Roche

IT wasn’t always this way: Sky Blue lords of the Leinster manor, Lilywhites lampooned for their incorrigible inconsistency. The Irish Independent report on the 2000 Leinster SFC final replay began thus: “Grotesque, unprecedented, bizarre, unbelievable.

Charlie Haughey’s immortal words could easily be taken from their political context to describe the remarkable turnaround and in particular the Dublin performance in the second half ... ”

That surreal contest showcased “how fragile that Dublin team was at the time”, reckons Ronan Sweeney, a 19-year-old rookie on the last Kildare team to lift the Delaney Cup.

“I was only a kid and thought these were the days that would be coming every year,” he muses. “Then, all of a sudden ... we haven’t won one since.”

Along the way, Kildare have lost six SFC head-to-heads with Dublin – initially by threadbare margins, latterly by landslides.

Jim Gavin was part of that misfiring Sky Blue attack in 2000; today he is the manager whose team has swatted away these would-be provincial pretenders by 16 points (2013), 19 (2015) and a mere nine (2017).

For ‘Roli’ Sweeney – a Kildare starter in 2000, ‘02, ‘09 and ‘11, a non-playing sub in ‘13, supporter in ‘15, selector in ‘17 – life against the Dubs has been a difficult station.

2000: Kildare 2-11 Dublin 0-12

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That Dublin team’s defining GUBU moment: so beguiling to begin with, they led by 0-11 to 0-5 at half-time. But 90 crazy seconds after the restart delivered Kildare parity via goals from Dermot Earley and Tadhg Fennin. Dublin imploded, shooting one point in riposte, as Mick O’Dwyer sealed a second Leinster title in three seasons.

“It’s amazing, momentum, how it can shift,” recalls Sweeney. “Dublin went completely into their shell and were completely dominated. And it’s such a world away from the Dublin team of now. Even if they conceded two goals now, they’d be just so calm and composed about the bloody thing. They would never let something like that affect them mentally.”

2002: Dublin 2-13 Kildare 2-11

Dublin ended their seven-year Leinster itch the hard way. Fennin’s second goal of the game had Kildare ahead in the fourth quarter, but a rapid-fire brace from Alan Brogan and Ray Cogrove changed everything.

Sweeney can see echoes with 2000. “Something similar happened in reverse,” he says. “Alan Brogan got a goal – he was the difference, I thought, to that team, he was really lively and you knew he was class. A real handful. He got a goal out of nothing, in off the post ... and then Ray Cosgrove got one, he had a dream season as well.

“It was a big setback because Micko left then, and everything changed in Kildare football from that point on. We were in the final in 2003 then, against Laois, and there just wasn’t the same buzz about the thing.”

2009: Dublin 2-15 Kildare 0-18

2011: Dublin 1-12 Kildare 1-11

Heartbreak on the double for Kieran McGeeney’s men. In ‘09, Dublin were down a man for over 50 minutes but edged a Leinster final thriller thanks to Bernard Brogan’s late heroics. Brogan was again their tormentor in the 2011 semi-final, converting a hotly disputed match-winning free after Andriú Mac Lochlainn was adjudged to have fouled him.

“That group of people, everybody was going in the same direction and we’d real quality,” Sweeney reflects.

“I really think, if we had got over the line in ‘09, we could have gone on ... I think it just would have given us confidence if we had got that trophy. That little bit of belief that maybe was lacking, we might have got it.

“Ah, we should have (won). It was completely our own fault: playing against 14 men for two-thirds of the game, there’s no excuse.”

2013: Dublin 4-16 Kildare 1-9

2015: Dublin 5-18 Kildare 0-14

Enter the Gavin era, exit Kildare – the scorelines tell all.

“Ah, they were very damaging,” Sweeney winces. “When you go and get humiliated like that, it just turns everyone against you. There’s good people trying to do good things with Kildare football, but when the support isn’t there or when it’s not ‘sexy’ to play for Kildare any more ... there’s young fellas coming into the squad and whereas five years previously they would have been the kings of their parish, now they were kind of nearly laughed at.”

2017: Dublin 2-23 Kildare 1-17

A passably entertaining Leinster final that contained some defiant cameos of Kildare attacking excellence in the second quarter. Plus one ‘what if?’ third-quarter moment, Kildare trailing by six: Daniel Flynn’s one-on-one goal chance saved by Stephen Cluxton. Yet the bottom line is that they still required a stoppage-time goal to ensure a single-digit outcome.

“It was the first time in a long, long time where the support was actually getting back on board because we’d a couple of good wins coming into that game,” says Sweeney, then a selector.

“Dan Flynn had a goal chance that he’d normally stick. It would have been brilliant just to test Dublin then. I’m not saying we’d have won the game but ...

“It (the performance) got everybody back on board. But then we didn’t back it up. We went out to play Armagh and lost. It just deflated the whole thing again.”

2019: Croke Park, Sunday 4.0

DUBLIN are 1/50 favourites after cruising past Louth. Cian O’Neill’s Kildare have laboured against lowly Wicklow and needed two days to beat Longford. Hence the current fickle relationship between players and supporters in white.

“It’s very hit-and-miss,” Sweeney admits. “It’s quite negative. And then we have one good win and people pop their heads up again and say ‘Maybe we’ll support them.’

“But I think it’s up to the players to put in a huge effort and a huge performance on Sunday.

“To try and get people back on board, simple as that.”

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