Tuesday 17 September 2019

Crowds at training and five-in-a-row T-shirts... how hype can lose a final

Gavin's Dublin preparations unlikely to follow Kerry and Kilkenny models of '82 and '10

Five-in-a-row hype: Kilkenny supporters (left) turned out in large numbers to watch training sessions ahead of the 2010 All-Ireland SHC final
Five-in-a-row hype: Kilkenny supporters (left) turned out in large numbers to watch training sessions ahead of the 2010 All-Ireland SHC final

Frank Roche

Here are two surreal circumstances that, we can safely presume, won't cloud Dublin's tunnel-vision focus at any point over the next nine days.

Scenario No 1: One of Dublin's injured stars makes his return to training... watched by 8,000 giddy onlookers.

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Dublin boss Jim Gavin (p) will learn plenty from the experiences of both Brian Cody and Mick O’Dwyer. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Dublin boss Jim Gavin (p) will learn plenty from the experiences of both Brian Cody and Mick O’Dwyer. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Scenario No 2: Jim Gavin and his players have just finished one of their final training sessions before facing Kerry and are leaving St Clare's when they spot a hawker on the road outside... and he's selling five-in-a-row T-shirts.

The first case study hints at the circus that enveloped Kilkenny's Drive for Five in 2010. More specifically, the 'will he or won't he?' intrigue surrounding Henry Shefflin's capacity to defy medical convention and play in that historic All-Ireland hurling final against Tipperary, just four weeks after tearing his cruciate ligament against Cork.

The second example harks back decades earlier, to 1982, and the frenzy of hype that consumed the countdown to the most famous All-Ireland football final of them all - Kerry's five-in-a-row quest against Offaly.

As it transpired, Shefflin hobbled off after just 13 minutes of that final. It would be much later in the 1982 football decider when Séamus Darby entered off the Offaly bench to alter history.

Thus, both five-in-a-rows went up in smoke. It's a moot point whether Kilkenny lost because of the psychological sledgehammer of Shefflin's exit, or because Tipp's time had come, or because of five-in-a-row hype, or all of the above. Equally, maybe Kerry simply lost because the Gods conspired against them.

What's abundantly clear, however, is that Dublin won't be training in front of thousands next week; and you'll be promptly evicted from St Clare's if you turn up with a box of T-shirts.

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It won't happen, partly because proximity to your inter-county heroes has changed in these micro-managed times, but even more so because Jim Gavin simply wouldn't allow it.

*****

On the night Shefflin made his miracle comeback, 11 days out from the 2010 final, Brian Hogan's All-Ireland dream was shattered: the centre-back's finger was broken so badly that he was quickly ruled out of the Tipperary showdown.

As training continued, Hogan was whisked away to the local St Luke's Hospital.

"I was on the way back to Nowlan Park when the crowd was leaving," he recalled. "Sure look, there was about 10,000 at the training session. It took us about 40-45 minutes to get from the hospital back across to the park... I had the seat in the car reclined, but obviously people could see in the window."

For Hogan, this was the demoralising denouement to a rotten run: he had broken the same finger on the Wednesday before the Cork game, played with the aid of an injection, then damaged his AC shoulder joint.

He returned to mark Shefflin in that fateful training session when his previously damaged digit got caught in another player's jersey: a freak incident with devastating consequences.

His own misfortune apart, the symbolism of a player getting stuck in 'training' traffic tells you something about a time that Hogan recalls as a "pretty crazy couple of weeks."

"The whole focus at the time was nearly as much about Henry as it was about the five-in-a-row... it fed into the whole machine," he reflects.

"The hype was building in the lead-up to the final... and then the fact that Henry was injured, and 'would he or wouldn't he?' kind of thing. Not that there needed to be any more oxygen added to the hype.

"We would have had a policy of open door sessions and I think, in general, players didn't have an issue with that," Hogan adds. "But in hindsight, to have had even two closed-door sessions (before the final) would have helped to give a bit of space to the whole thing."

Kilkenny would cease their policy of open sessions in 2012.

For all that, the seven-time All-Ireland winner concludes: "I don't think the hype affected us. I certainly wouldn't be blaming the hype myself. Maybe different players would have a different outlook on it.

"There was very little between ourselves and Tipp anyway," he expands. "From a psychological perspective, you've got Tipperary looking on and you see one of the best players having to leave the field... I think that probably had as much of an impact, just the loss of Henry, in what was going to be such a tight game."

*****

Whatever about 2010, it was certainly a more innocent time in 1982. Social media wasn't around to feed the five-in-a-row monster. But there was another enemy, lurking closer to Killarney for Mick O'Dwyer.

"On the Thursday night (before the final) Micko lost the plot," Mikey Sheehy recalled in an interview with The Herald last May. "Coming out the gates of Fitzgerald Stadium, there was a guy selling five-in-a-row T-shirts. 'Twas the last thing you want to see, and Micko got very cranky anyway - but sure he had no control over it either, your man was outside the grounds of the pitch."

Sheehy would see his second-half penalty saved by Martin Furlong. Long beforehand, he had sensed it might be one of those days: "Ten minutes into the game and I was marking Mick Fitzgerald. A very good, tight corner-back. 'Jesus Christ,' I was saying to myself. Coming into the game I felt in great condition, felt very strong in training… my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth, everything that I did was lethargic. It might have been down to the five-in-a-row, I don't know, the pressure that was on it.

"In the dressing-room that day there was that extra little bit more pressure. Micko did everything in his power to not even mention five-in-a-row. It was another All-Ireland in his eyes. But, deep down, he knew too. This team had a huge chance to make history, and it certainly had an effect."

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