Friday 20 July 2018

Legacy of Hanahoe lives on as rare auld times are reborn for Dubs new generation

Legendary Dublin captain Tony Hanahoe lifts the Sam Maguire in 1976.
Photo: NPA/Independent collection
Legendary Dublin captain Tony Hanahoe lifts the Sam Maguire in 1976. Photo: NPA/Independent collection
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

So tomorrow the GAA will celebrate 'The Rising' with a big after-match pageant in Croke Park. I'm told by an insider there will be pyrotechnics and battles.

The Allianz National League final between Dublin and Kerry promises to be every bit as dramatic. There's history there too of sporting conflict, ancient rivalries, culture clashes and football revolutions.

If ever a team needed a rising it's Kerry as Dublin have beaten us so often in recent times, and the really sad part of it all is they don't even bother to slag us any more. Pity is harder to bear than punishment.

For the first time ever, Dublin are every bit as skilful as Kerry. Except for 'The Gooch' and Marc Ó Sé, who played against older brothers in tight corners and as a result could turn an ocean-liner in a kiddies' paddling pool.

This Dublin of 2016 are, and will be for some time to come, one of the greatest teams of all-time. They are natural footballers who look as if they learned the game not by drills but by playing in all-out games against their pals from Junior Infants on.

And I must apologise to my Dublin friends for the delay in acknowledging same. Here is the brief analysis of the anatomy of a feeble excuse.

I have much in common with my fellow romantic William Wordsworth who wrote "for oft when on my couch I lie" and he went on to praise daffodils.

My guess is there weren't many daffodils about back then as the poet got a huge surprise when he met the flowers. Nowadays, there isn't a garden bed without a duvet of golden daffodils.

But I'm not being paid to write about daffodils. Indeed I'm no use at gardening. I could hardly change a bulb. But, there is no doubt that Wordsworth and I do all our best work on the couch.

Wordsworth wrote with what he described as "emotion recollected in tranquility" - ie, he took his time. I'll bet Wordsworth didn't have anyone telling him to "get up outa dat couch and put out the bins. And you there working and watching matches!" And neither did he have to meet strict deadlines so soon after the match that the referee's final long note was still whistling time up.

I'm not a trained journalist. It was all learned on the job or in the pub. There was no college education in a school of journalism. So, I find it hard to control my emotions after big games. To modernise Eamon Dunphy's well-worn phrase, I'm a fan with a laptop.

But now that I've had months to cool down, it has to be said this Dublin team are exceptional in terms of skill, courage and the way they have been managed by Jim Gavin.

Are Dublin the best team of all time? The latter-day Dubs need to win more All-Irelands and they are well capable of stringing three or four together. It's only then that they can be considered as the greatest team ever. Maybe 'not yet' is the answer.

Are they better than the team of the seventies and eighties? Possibly. I know Jimmy Keaveney can hardly contain himself as he reads this piece. Jimmy, you had it all. Looks, brains and wit. But I remember you most for your kicking. I often think you were a changeling, robbed from a Kerry pram.

But the man I admired most from that team was Tony Hanahoe. He was the most intelligent footballer I ever saw and he needed to be. He played against the best and wickedest defences in places like Wexford Park, Tullamore, Navan and Portlaoise. Hanahoe took more punishment than a galley slave. And like Oliver Twist his response was to ask for more.

For the youngsters, I had better explain that the television didn't do him justice. Hanahoe took centre-backs to parts of the field where only the groundsman ever visited. And for a polite man off the pitch he was as tough as any street fighter. The great Tim Kennelly with whom he had several ferocious battles summed it up best. "I was never sorer all over my body than after a day marking Tony."

The farmer's son from Kerry and the urbane solicitors from Dublin were blood brothers. I met Tony when he arrived in Listowel for Tim's funeral. He was unable to speak with the emotion of it all. The thing was neither team played each other when they were both in their prime. Kerry were still developing in 1977 when Dublin won an epic. Yet only a year later the Dubs were gone past their best and Kerry won well.

A year is a long time in football. Dublin are still the best team in the country but Kerry could catch them today. We are hurting badly and sometimes the pain of defeat can drive teams to improbable victories.

But Dublin in full flow are as impossible to stop as a sneeze after snuff. Their athleticism and hardness, their speed and skill are a template for how the game should be played.


The organic exuberance of this Dublin team bears testimony to their upbringing in a city that never weeps. They play with joy in their hearts and genuinely seem to be having fun on the field but there's a ruthlessness, too, that can border on the unscrupulous.

Today's Dubs have brought hundreds of thousands of their own people together as one. Some achievement in a city that has become international and multicultural. Pete St John lamented the making of a town into a city by money men who cared little for history.

These young Dublin men of 2016 have made a town out of their city.

Irish Independent

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