Sunday 8 December 2019

Rare old times to rumble on as story of this Dublin team is nowhere near finished


Stephen Cluxton takes the acclaim from Dublin supporters after his team’s victory. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Stephen Cluxton takes the acclaim from Dublin supporters after his team’s victory. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

When the full-time whistle went yesterday, the Dublin captain looked down and unpeeled his gloves. Stephen Cluxton then walked to the back of the goal to pick up his kit bag. He had just won his sixth Celtic Cross, but stuck to his usual routine.

He went over to the two players closest to him - to console Colm Cavanagh and congratulate James McCarthy. Cluxton walked up the pitch to hug the rest of his team-mates and management team.

As he walked over to the Hogan Stand he was handed a page for his victory speech, which lasted just over 180 seconds, but Cluxton and his team had answered every question asked of them in the previous 80 minutes.

Over two hours earlier, Rag'n'Bone Man's 'Human' rang out in the speakers around Croke Park during the warm-up. You know how this tune goes: "You're only human after all, you're only human after all."

However, because of the occasion it took on a foreboding riff and was like a warning to both teams.

The build-up was dominated by what Tyrone needed to do. But the closer we got to throw-in, the closer came the nagging question of whether the hand of history could unnerve the Dubs.

When Dublin didn't come out of their dressing-room at their allotted time of 2.59pm, Tyrone weren't in a mood to hang around. Maybe they were sick of all the doubts about them because they tore into the Dubs.

For the past few weeks we were told by the Tyrone faithful that Mickey Harte will have a curveball. It turned out that the surprise algorithm Harte and his team concocted were those old reliables of work-rate and belief.

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When Connor McAliskey's point pushed Tyrone into a four-point lead in the 16th minute it blew the lid off all the popular preconceptions that this final was a foregone conclusion.

The champions almost took on a look last seen in Pat Gilroy's "startled earwigs" days of 2009. Dean Rock missed two frees; Cluxton kicked restarts into the sideline. Dublin rattled, Tyrone hummed. Were the Dubs human after all?

And were we about to witness something very few saw coming? An upset? The biggest ever? Hope ran wild among the Tyrone support.

Sometimes turning points can be hard to decipher, but the one yesterday came in high definition.

Conor Lane's decision to award a penalty to Dublin after 18 minutes jackknifed this final. Paul Mannion converted, but it was the two follow-up points from Rock that saw Dublin establish a lead they didn't relinquish for the rest of the game.

Even though it wasn't until the 50th minute that the first major rendition of 'Come On You Boys in Blue' got a run-out, this final had long descended into a rescue mission for Tyrone.

The substitution of Niall Sludden in the 46th minute was a horrible reminder of how the big days can also be cruel ones. Operation 'Go For Broke' was unleashed in the last 10 minutes when Cavanagh was moved to the square. And just when it looked like that wasn't paying dividends, Cavanagh was brought down for a penalty. It got Tyrone back to five.

But that only served to show us one of the greatest assets of this Dublin team: game management.

After the Dubs made that glorious run towards the Hill with their old mate Sam Maguire, Cluxton stayed back and began to walk around by himself. Long gone is the rush down the tunnel to escape celebrations.

He's human after all and as he soaked up the appreciation of the Dublin supporters he looked like a man determined to savour every last drop.

'D4' was written on a poster in the Davin, but Dublin will need a new postcode next year because their story isn't done yet.

The Kerry minors might have got there before them with their own five-in-a-row, but this Dublin team now has a chance to do what no senior men's team has ever done.

The present, the future and history are now in their hands.

Rare old times, indeed.

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