Vins eager to end special year for Dublin on a magical high
Spirit of heffo will not be far away as Saints chase Leinster club glory, writes Martin Breheny
BACK in the 1950s, two of the biggest brand names ever produced on the GAA club scene used to stage unofficial All-Ireland club football finals.
Such was the dominance they enjoyed in their respective counties that they wanted to test each other in a different environment and, since there were no official provincial or All-Ireland championships, they organised their own showdown on a regular basis.
Hence the intense battles between St Vincent's (Dublin) and Tuam Stars (Galway). St Vincent's won 16 Dublin titles between 1949 and 1967, while Tuam Stars won nine Galway titles between 1952 and 1962.
Successful and progressive in their own environment, they took to playing each other in East versus West battles that drew large crowds. Apart from providing wonderful entertainment, it helped bring the clubs to the attention of a GAA public outside Dublin and Galway.
That was understandable, since among the great rivals were Sean Purcell and Kevin Heffernan, both of whom would later be chosen on the GAA's Centenary and Millennium teams.
Sponsorship wasn't an issue back then, but those battles helped build an aura around St Vincent's and Tuam Stars that helps them to this very day. The Stars have dimmed a lot since those bright days, but the name still remains a special brand which would be attractive to sponsors if the club became a power in Galway again.
St Vincent's continue to be a major force and certainly remain a powerful brand which manifests on and off the pitch. Even in times when other Dublin clubs are going better than St Vincent's, they remain extremely wary of the northsiders.
History, pedigree and tradition combine to bestow a special sense of authority on St Vincent's. But then, this is a club that provided the 14 outfield players of the Dublin team that beat Cavan, the reigning All-Ireland champions, by nine points in the 1953 All-Ireland final.
Among them was Heffernan, a man synonymous with St Vincent's and Dublin success. And while contributing so much to Dublin as a player and manager was enormously important to him, St Vincent's always remained his spiritual retreat.
"In a sense, St Vincent's was always my home. That's how I view it. And, like all homes and all families, you have squabbles and arguments, but it's when some outside influence tries to upset things that you really see unity and purpose," he said in an interview some years ago.
A broadly similar view was expressed by another St Vincent's giant in an interview with Jack Mahon for his book, 'For Love of Town and Village' in 1997.
Tony Hanahoe talked of how proud St Vincent's were to have been such a large part of the Dublin revival in the mid-1970s but also stressed that devotion to club was never allowed to become diluted.
"The club fitted in with the county in a significant way because there was always this thing in St Vincent's – the demand for loyalty.
"A kind of omerta, a loyalty to club that was sacrosanct. Some people outside St Vincent's found this objectionable, feeling that St Vincent's people always gave loyalty first to club and next to county.
"At that time, the people involved, Bobby Doyle, Brian Mullins, Jimmy Keaveney, Gay O'Driscoll and myself, tried very hard to apportion ourselves to both club and county. We always gave 100pc to our club and none of the bunch ever felt special," Hanahoe said.
While nobody would doubt that, there has always been a feeling in Dublin that the St Vincent's club saw itself as the ultimate power. That's understandable since they have won 26 Dublin titles since 1949.
However, the strike rate has reduced dramatically since the mid-1980s, as they have returned only two titles.
The last one (2007) was followed by Leinster and All-Ireland wins, targets which are very much in their sights again.
Tomorrow's test against Portlaoise has a double significance for St Vincent's; a win would take them into joint second place on five titles alongside Eire Og (Carlow) on the Leinster honours table, two behind Portlaoise, whereas a defeat would widen the gap to four.
That's not the sort of terrain with which they are familiar.
Apart from that, they are also in a position to close an already memorable year for Dublin on a magical high.
Dublin have already secured the NFL, Leinster and All-Ireland football titles, plus the Leinster hurling title and had high hopes of adding the club hurling title to the haul, only for Mount Leinster Rangers to short-circuit that ambition by beating Ballyboden-St Enda's in the semi-final.
Now, it's St Vincent's turn to attempt to close out 2013 with a Leinster win and a ticket towards a possible All-Ireland success next March.
It's the sort of challenge the famous club has always relished. No doubt, the current crop will carry that responsibility with as much determination as their predecessors into O'Connor Park, Tullamore tomorrow.