Tuesday 15 October 2019

Roy Curtis: 'Without reaching anything close to maximum fluency, Dublin struck that familiar vein of authority'

Jack McCaffrey of Dublin celebrates after the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Meath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jack McCaffrey of Dublin celebrates after the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Meath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Roy Curtis

JACK McCaffrey, a flashing forest fire propelled by a wild windstorm, blazed luminously up and down the aisles of the old cathedral.

Paul Mannion detonated his thermonuclear left foot, the murderously elegant Footballer of the Year favourite making it 12 points from play in three summer masterclasses.

Dean Rock, his early season thieved by injury, came off the bench with 18 minutes to go and equalled Meath’s total in a devastating cameo, a timely reminder of his enduring class.

Brian Fenton surfed the wave of his own elegance; Con O’Callaghan bagged a trademark goal; Cian O’Sullivan rolled back the years to relocate his Beckenbauer Zen.

And Dublin, untouchable history makers, were record-breaking nine-in-a-row Leinster champions.

Meath, with more yellow cards than points, found themselves brutally evicted from the provincial throne room.

And, contrary to the words of the doomsday prophets, almost 50,000 turned up on a filthy, rain-drenched June Sunday to watch a team chasing the stars.

The lone downside for Jim Gavin was a leg injury to James McCarthy which may have long term implications.

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An absurd narrative has gained currency, deeming Leinster football the terminally sick man of the GAA – one that, cowering beneath Dublin’s cudgel, has lost its public, unable to compete at the box-office with Ulster football or Munster hurling.

So, a little perspective:  There were 47,027 in Croke Park yesterday, more than Limerick can accommodate for Tipp and Limerick, not far off double the attendance in Clones for the novel and attractive pairing of Donegal and Cavan.

Leinster, one of the elite rugby clubs on the planet, draw an average Pro 14 attendance of, maybe, 15,000 to the RDS.

What would the FAI, even with Ireland apparently resurgent under Mick McCarthy, give for yesterday's audience?

Given the apparent hopelessness of the odds – Dublin were 1/50 favourites, the odds-makers happy to give Meath 12 points in the spread – the grim weather and the relentlessly downbeat media coverage, it was a remarkable attendance.

It is undeniably true that Dublin, a study in excellence, are hugely dominant, that this contest lacked the highlight reel moments these old aristocratic houses of the east once served up with such glorious frequency.

Yet here was the biggest attendance at a sporting event in Ireland so far this summer.

Meath and Dublin have delivered so many unforgettable sermons from the verdant pulpit of their old Drumcondra church.

Unimaginably, almost three decades have drifted past since the GAA’s equivalent of the Hundred Years’ War, 1991’s monumental, breathless, four-game, five-hour, epic poem.

The aggregate score at the end of that deathless 320-minute, Homeric sporting Iliad:  Meath 6-44 Dublin 3-52.

Then 1995 unspooled, the Summer of Jayo, a rampant Dessie Farrell guided by Sherlock’s firefly light, the Royals pulverised en route to Dublin’s first All-Ireland in 12 years.

A year later, Sean Boylan’s recast team took brilliant revenge, Trevor Giles and Darren Fay seizing the day as Meath annexed Leinster and the All-Ireland.

In 2010, Meath beat Stephen Cluxton five times, but it was something of an illusion:  The last sting of an ailing wasp.

Dublin would recalibrate, reinforce the defensive wall in front of Cluxton, and win six of the next eight All-Irelands.

They haven’t lost to Meath – or anybody else – in the Leinster championship since that freakish setback on June 27th 2010, a provincial unbeaten run of 3,283 days. 

And yet, Andy McEntee’s team began with the upstart mentality of a team unwilling to bow to the monarchs of Clonliffe Road.

McCarthy – later to suffer a serious looking right leg injury - was blocked down, Johnny Small was pressurised into a passing error, Cormac Costello was undone by Conor McGill.

Might this be Meath reminding us of the fury and intransigence which were once their calling cards?

Perhaps, but you cannot hope to trouble Dublin armed only with blunt spears: Meath did not score until the 33rd minute; they finished the first half with a single point.

There is a pastoral calm hardwired into the circuit boards of Jim Gavin’s Ivy Leaguers.

Inevitably, without reaching anything close to maximum fluency, Dublin struck that familiar vein of authority.

McCaffrey burned Meath with his extraordinary acceleration.

Ciaran Kilkenny kicked a point that seemed to steal away any glint of gold Meath might, momentarily, have spied.

And Dublin, as they do each time they daub on the Sky Blue war paint, put their foot to the pedal.

Meath, if their early one-on-one physicality was brave, had the sort of catastrophically errant radar that might cause a pilot to propel a jetliner into the mountain side.

Eleven wides to go with two more shots against the post in the first 45 minutes amounted to a self-inflicted knee-capping.

Helping this extraordinary Dublin team on their way is not good for the health.

So, Gavin’s godfathers of high achievement become the first county in GAA history – football or hurling – to win nine provincial titles in succession.

And the road toward five-in-a-row All-Ireland immortality shortens.

Online Editors

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