Martin Breheny: Heffo's Dubs Vs Gavin's Dubs - who would win?
As Jim Gavin takes his Dublin team to Nowlan Park this evening to open the defence of their All-Ireland football title, comparisons are being made between this squad and Kevin Heffernan’s heroic troops of the 1970s. So how do the two squads compare?
Times have changed but memories don’t wither. Nor will they for as long as there are people around who recall Kevin Heffernan and Dublin’s football revolution of the 1970s. Some of them will, no doubt, reminisce about those far-off days on their way to Kilkenny for this evening’s Dublin v Laois Leinster quarter-final.
It’s a thing of wonder for a whole new generation of Dublin supporters, who will be venturing out of the capital for a Championship game for the first time. So too with the Dublin players, among whom Stephen Cluxton is the only one with any experience of togging out for a Championship game away from Croke Park.
It was precisely 10 years ago today – June 4, 2006 – when Dublin travelled to Pearse Park for a Leinster quarter-final and were stretched to full capacity before nudging past Longford (1-12 to 0-13).
The Leinster Council changed course after that, opting to milk the Dublin cash cows as often as possible by staging all their games in Croke Park. Central Council got in on the act too.
The concluding three rounds of the All-Ireland Championship are always played in Croke Park but Dublin were conveniently located there too for three successive Qualifiers, against Tipperary, Armagh and Louth in 2010 after Pat Gilroy’s squad had been eliminated from Leinster by Meath.
A decade of home comforts has very definitely made Dublin the pampered ones, although in fairness they have never sought such special privileges.
The Dublin players will, no doubt, enjoy the new experience of playing a Championship game outside Croke Park, an assignment undertaken with military precision by a group with a growing sense of destiny.
They have already won three All-Ireland titles in five seasons (under two different managers) and racked up five successive Leinster and four successive Allianz League titles. By any standards, it’s an impressive haul.
And, with a relatively young average age across the squad, there’s a firm conviction in Dublin than a bigger trophy cabinet will be required.
For the first time since the great team of the 1970s made an indelible imprint on Gaelic football, there’s a challenge to Heffo’s Heroes for the right to be regarded as the best team ever to emerge from Dublin.
Since the present story is probably a long way from being completed, only the most basic of assessments can apply.
Still, it’s fun trying to reach them and, for older Dublin supporters at least, will provide some lively entertainment on the way to and from Kilkenny today.
Many of the players of the ’70s will feel a touch nostalgic as they recall their experience in December 1973 when, on their arrival in Nowlan Park for a League game against Kilkenny, they noticed that quite a large crowd had gathered.
They made their way to the dressing-room and, on their return for action, discovered that the place was all but empty, the crowd having dispersed after watching a minor club hurling final.
Kilkenny footballers had few followers and, at the time, Dublin were largely friendless too. Nine months later, they were All-Ireland champions and a whole new era was underway.
Those Dublin players can only chuckle when they hear about how Jim Gavin took his squad to Nowlan Park last weekend for a familiarisation work-out. It’s all the rage among counties nowadays.
The ’70s Dubs didn’t need reconnaissance missions because they played all over Leinster on a regular basis.
Not only that, but there was no direct access to the Leinster quarter-final either. In 1974, Dublin had to play five games (Wexford, Louth, Offaly, Kildare and Meath) to take the Leinster title.
And even when they became the dominant force in the province, they kept on their travels, even playing Leinster semi-finals at provincial venues, with other semi-finals played in Croke Park on different weekends.
It was such a different world to the one inhabited by the current Dublin squad.
In The Book of the Dubs, written in 1976 by John O’Shea, then of the Evening Press and later of GOAL, Gay O’Driscoll was very critical of the training facilities at Parnell Park.
“They were nothing short of stone age. Parnell Park was an insult. Even the smallest squash club in Dublin provides more suitable changing accommodation,” he said.
O’Shea also wrote of how Dublin players received 14 tickets each for All-Ireland finals but had to pay for most of them.
All of that will look beautifully quaint in an era when players are so well looked in every facet of their lives as Dublin footballers.
However, if it weren’t for the pioneering spirit of men like Heffernan, Jimmy Grey, Donal Colfer, Lorcan Redmond and a squad of players who worked so hard at a time when few believed in them, the Dublin scene might be a whole lot different today.
So far at least, the team of the 1970s holds an edge on their current squad, having won successive All-Irelands in 1976 and ’77.
And then there’s the question of how many All-Ireland titles Dublin would have won if they hadn’t been unlucky enough to come up against the best team of all time.
Dublin beat Kerry in ’76 and ’77 and but lost to them in the ’75, ’78 and ’79 finals.
Dublin reached six successive finals (1974-79) so it’s reasonable to assume that if Mick O’Dwyer’s Kingdom Kings had been less powerful, Sam Maguire might have wintered on Liffeyside in all of those years.
The current Dublin team has no such super-power to contend with. Yes, there are good teams around but nothing to match the Kerry outfit that broke all records between 1975 and 1986.
Comparing teams from different eras is the ultimate in inexact sciences but it’s no less interesting for that. So many aspects have undergone a radical overhaul but basic skill will remains the enduring quality that can never be compromised.
So if the current Dublin team were switched back to 1970s mode, where players had to do so much more for themselves and the 1970s team were around today, enjoying the fruits of modern pampering and preparations, which would do better in their new environments?
That question can never be answered definitively but it still makes for a great debate.
And it will become even more intense as the current Dublin squad pursues more glory in this and future seasons.