Barry Cahill: League lesson led us to Sam
Dublin defender recalls collapse of 2011 NFL final which helped forge bond to win All-Ireland
TIME was, Dublin qualifying for a League final actually generated something akin to a buzz around the city.
"I remember at the time, when we got there in 2011, it was a big deal for that group of players," recalls Barry Cahill of the preamble to Dublin's meeting with Cork that Easter Sunday.
"Dublin hadn't got to a final since '99 and a few of us were there since 2001 and it was our first final.
"And we were playing very well that year. We beat Cork in the group stages earlier in Croke Park in February so we were pretty confident going into the game."
What followed was the most spectacular collapse imaginable for a team who had, to that point, won six meaningful League matches on the spin (they lost to Galway in a dead rubber on the final day after a final spot had been secured).
A team who were, for the first time since the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final disaster, forcing themselves back into the pre-summer conversation for the All-Ireland with a growing portfolio of solid, secure wins over football's then prevailing forces.
Fully eight points up and coasting to a first League title since 1993, Dublin contrived to lose by a point.
"They got an incredible run then and as we've seen in a number of games, when you lose momentum like that and a team builds of a head of steam, it is difficult to claw back," Cahill recalls.
"They hit nine points on the run and we weren't able to do anything about it. We weren't able to get the ball into the opposition half.
"And the rare time that we did, it was coming straight back in at us.
"There was a lot of dejection after the game when we managed to lose it by a point."
Cork, then reigning League and All-Ireland champions, had the experience and intelligence not to go blasting for goal.
Instead, they tested for depth in Dublin's newly-established resolve and what they found, as point after point looped over Stephen Cluxton's crossbar, was a worryingly shallow reservoir.
Pat Gilroy's team missed three good chances at the other end and the Dublin manager admitted afterwards "what we had on the field at the end of the game today wasn't strong enough.
"We learned a lot about our resources today."
"We seem to like to learn lessons but I'll be glad if this is the last one."
The forward line with which Dublin finished contained Paddy Andrews, Kevin McManamon, Paul Flynn, Pat Burke, Dean Kelly and Tomás Quinn, only one of whom - Flynn, would start come that year's All-Ireland final.
And if nothing else, the 2011 League final was at least responsible for the most stirring post-match press conference performance from a Dublin manager in verifiable memory.
Asked whether his team suffered from some mental block, Gilroy went a different shade of red, grimaced and let out the frustration of a truly disheartening day.
"Do you think I'm going to say yes to that now, in fairness?," he bit back.
"No. If I really believe that then I should walk out the door here and never be in front of this team again.
"This team have more character and more guts to put up with the kind of stuff that surrounds them every day. And they get back out there and they train and they work. They're the most honest guys.
"They'll get stick for this. We had an eight-point lead and we lost.
"People will say what you just said and we'll deal with that. And we'll have to deal with it because that's our job. We are the Dublin team and we have to listen to that.
"And when we have the All-Ireland, some day, that's when we'll stop hearing that.
"Anyone who would question it…well, might get a surprise, someday."
It was a momentary slip of the mask from an otherwise polished media performer but one that, according to Cahill, helped gel the team that would win that year's All-Ireland title.
"Those type of comments, they do filter back to the team," he admits.
"And he would have emphasised the same thing at the team meeting the next evening.
"Having your manager backing you publicly is a good thing and certainly, lads would have bought into it.
"But if things hadn't worked out later on that year, it would have been an added disappointment, losing the League final in the manner we did."
Cahill concludes: "But possibly, it was that final lesson that we needed to learn to get where we needed to go in the summer and win the All-Ireland."