Wednesday 18 September 2019

Roy Curtis: 'Dublin's remorseless excellence makes them the ultimate, obdurate opponent'

Con O'Callaghan of Dublin celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final win over Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Con O'Callaghan of Dublin celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final win over Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Roy Curtis

Con O’Callaghan, weightless, a flash of blinding cosmic light, a devastating Dalkey meteorite, took up residency somewhere beyond the gravitational pull of earth.

There he was, a footballer operating in his own zone, beyond the mortal universe.

King Con climbing to new heights, delivering two goals of withering authority, swatting Lee Keegan and Mayo – brave but broken - off the All-Ireland Empire State Building.  

Beside him, Paul Mannion delivered a statement of bloodcurdling authority, like peak-era Phil Taylor, the football a tungsten orb, with which time after time he effortlessly, elegantly split the treble 20.

Michael Darragh Macauley rolled back the years, broadcasting his unbreakable desire to transform the old church into a history maker’s house.

Brian Fenton danced on currents of air, an eagle swallowing its prey in mid-flight, causing Mayo blood to run cold.

In 15 minutes of concentrated fury, as devastating a passage of brilliance as this storied amphitheatre has known, Mayo were engulfed by the greatest force football has known.

Fenton would later add the exclamation point of a third gorgeously executed finish, as Dublin unfurled a new standard, something Croke Park has never before seen.

Brian Fenton of Dublin shoots to score his side's third goal during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Brian Fenton of Dublin shoots to score his side's third goal during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

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Reach down into the glossary of glory and what unspooled will quickly exhaust an entire lexicon.

Dublin were that wondrous, reducing a Mayo team who had been powerfully dominant in the first half, to dust.

In that otherworldly third quarter surge, Dublin fired an unanswered shock and awe 2-6 in a little over ten minutes that might be remembered as this team’s defining moment.

When the hard questions were asked, Dublin, like an unflappable Mastermind contest, settled back into their leather swivel chair and gave a masterclass in their specialist subject:  Touching greatness.

From well before throw-in, even amid the menacing clouds, Croke Park, its vast, soaring bleachers as tightly packed as any sardine tin, was a hothouse of yearning, a furnace of almost unbearable hope.

Full, throbbing with the anticipation of 82,000 souls, overheated with competitive craving, this remains one of the hallowed cathedrals of sporting devotion.

Mayo's great hunger, their elemental desire, after 68 years, to at last cross the Rubicon of great achievement seemed to fill the slate-grey skies above Drumcondra.

It was evident in their ravenous tackling, Fenton, O’Callaghan and James McCarthy and among the A-listers turned over during the opening half by a feral, unrelenting pressure-game led by the towering Aidan O’Shea.

Mayo were bringing extremes of defiance: It was illustrated by Patrick Durcan sluicing forward like a fast-flowing river bursting over a weir; by Colm Boyle’s 50-yard outside-of-the-boot point lasered like a guided weapon between Stephen Cluxton’s posts.

And now, despite 14 failed attempts to bring down Jim Gavin’s Dubs, despite the oddsmakers listing them as 5/1 outsiders, Mayo retreated to the dressing-room daring to believe they could unfurl some of their best shots.

A contest of huge intensity, compelling and taut was unfolding: Here, truly, was the Irish summer.

As their team raced to the dressing-room, eight points to six ahead, the Green and Red anthem rose like dragon fire, a deafening crescendo of desire: MAYO, MAYO, MAYO.

The devastation of last summer, one that died a premature pre Super 8 death in Newbridge, had given way to a refreshed, raucous battle cry under James Horan.

But they had only provoked Dublin’s fury.

And Jim Gavin's team re-emerged to send a wave of energy across the football-obsessed county ordinarily only achieved by nuclear fission.  

Perched at the lip of history, eager to hurry on to untouched five-in-a-row uplands, they lifted the congregants on Hill 16 in a state of transcendent euphoria.

Dublin's remorseless excellence, the fire of their conviction, their ability to inflict their will no matter how searching the examination, make them the ultimate, obdurate opponent.

Natural born champions, from Dean Rock’s metronomic free-taking to Brian Howard’s beyond his years maturity.

Mayo's fury, the fanaticism with which they sought to push open the gate towards the Promised Land, one that has been padlocked for nearly seven decades, had been jolting.

Clearly the dominant force in the first period, the question was whether they could sustain that manic climb towards the football heavens.

The answer was quickly apparent as Dublin re-emerged like uncaged lions.

The fire of O'Callaghan's conviction spoke of a team ready to advance onward to that five-in-a-row wonderland.

Gavin had been unable to find a bench slot for Bernard Brogan, so sharp in Omagh in his first minutes of summer game time.

If that was hardly a surprise, Brogan has not started a championship match of importance in two years, it was still a landmark moment, bringing down the curtain on one of the stellar careers in the city’s football history. 

The champion brilliance that was the 2010 Footballer of the Year’s calling card has not gone away though.

When Dublin desperately required a spark, a trigger to detonate the blue volcano, O’Callaghan rumbled and shook the earth.

Hill 16 came alive: Thunderous detonations of "Come on you Boys in Blue" and "When the Dubs Go Up to lift the Sam Maguire" filled the arena.

Diarmuid Connolly arrived to a lung-busting roar, Cillian O’Connor, departed on a second yellow card to another.

As Brogan, the old emperor of the arena, looked on, a new sovereign claimed the sacred territories.

King Con, a monarch beyond earth's gravitational pull.

Online Editors

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