Monday 11 December 2017

'Nobody can touch Dublin, they are just unstoppable' - Paddy Cullen

Meath and Dublin managers from the four-match Leinster SFC epic in 1991, Sean Boylan (left) and Paddy Cullen, renewed acquaintances in Croke Park yesterday to mark the 25th anniversary of the saga (SPORTSFILE)
Meath and Dublin managers from the four-match Leinster SFC epic in 1991, Sean Boylan (left) and Paddy Cullen, renewed acquaintances in Croke Park yesterday to mark the 25th anniversary of the saga (SPORTSFILE)

Michael Verney

It may be 25 years ago but to Paddy Cullen and Sean Boylan, it seems like just yesterday when they were duking it out on the sidelines during Meath and Dublin's epic four-game Leinster saga.

The sides couldn't be separated on three occasions and the clarity with which Boylan and Cullen recall every minute detail is extraordinary. The epic four-parter which played out before their eyes has been played in their minds thousands of times since.

They remember it all. From the key personnel involved like David Beggy and Kevin Foley to the rollercoaster of emotions experienced to every breaking ball to the many incidents which will be recalled in GAA folklore forever.

With 105 scores in 340 minutes witnessed by 237,000 spectators on the edge of their seats, one of the great sporting rivalries was given a new lease of life, and Cullen believes similar events "will never happen again".

The recent dominance of the Dubs in Leinster, and the buzz of Ireland's qualification to the last 16 of the Euros, however, make Sunday's Leinster semi-final one of the pair's most low-key meetings.

Croke Park's atmosphere is likely to be strange, with a 6.30 throw-in, and Cullen isn't expecting any of the same drama from a quarter of a century ago. The Dubs are simply too good.

"If everybody just admits it, a lot people just kind of kick to touch, I'll say there's nobody to touch Dublin at the moment. Fellas that I played with will say 'ah, you shouldn't be saying things like that'," says the legendary goalkeeper.

"But the fact of the matter is the Dublin squad - you can't say a team because it's a squad - if they pull one, another one goes in like Kevin McManamon and nothing changes."

While drawing short of making comparisons with the late great Kevin Heffernan, Cullen admires Jim Gavin's work and feels the Dubs are "unbeatable".

"It's a military-style operation. Everybody knows their job and everybody knows what to do. He's a cool dude, that's the way he operates," he says. "But he is a bit of enigma. I don't know Jim that well but what he's doing, keep doing it, whatever it is. They're just unbeatable."

The three-time All-Ireland winner believes Dublin are "unstoppable" but isn't a fan of the way the game has changed and feels the entertainment value is no longer there.

"I just don't like it. I don't find it exciting, I find a lot of the games are boring. It's not because Dublin are dominant, I'm talking about other games and I just find them boring," he says.

"This 11 or 12 behind the ball or 13 and then an attack. . . it's very soccer-like, it's a build-up thing, I'm not mad about it. It's mostly a handpassing game and going backwards I don't like."

Despite playing 10 Championship games in '91, Boylan and the Royals didn't lift Sam Maguire that year; they won the title in '96 and '99, but recent years haven't been at all fruitful.

Meath are the last team to beat Dublin in Leinster but all has changed since that 5-9 to 0-13 semi-final victory six years ago and Mick O'Dowd's side are 14/1 underdogs this weekend. A "developing" Meath are from no-hopers in Boylan's experienced eyes, however.

"When they're going well, they're really exciting. The problem that they seem to have had is when things go wrong like what happened last year and that seemed to cause them difficulties," Boylan says.

"Do I think Dublin are beatable? Of course. Every team is beatable. To be without Rory O'Carroll and Jack McCaffrey, it doesn't seem to matter. But I think in the heat of Championship, it might show up something."

Irish Independent

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