Saturday 22 October 2016

Eamon Carr: Gavin's magnificent men and Hill 16's passion blew Kerry away

Jonny Cooper, Stephen Cluxton and Davy Byrne with Sam
Jonny Cooper, Stephen Cluxton and Davy Byrne with Sam

At about seven minutes past five yesterday afternoon, I could swear I saw a determined Molly Malone pushing her wheelbarrow through the slanting rain.

Although her cart was empty, there was no stopping her. Gone for the occasion were the cockles and mussels. Instead, the spirit of old Dublin had one thing on her mind. And that was collecting a precious cargo.

A priceless piece of silverwear.

On the Hogan Stand an official was tying ribbons on Sam Maguire in readiness. Blue ribbons.

The final whistle had blown on a match that had held our attention to the end and another chapter in a unique love story began.

One that means more to Dubliners than that of even James Joyce and Nora Barnacle. Certainly the combined creative talents of Fair City and Love/Hate couldn't come up with anything to compete with this latest episode of the ongoing saga of Molly Malone and Sam Maguire.

In yesterday's cliffhanger, Sam got back with Molly. And everyone painted the town blue. On the Croke Park pitch, Dublin players and mentors huddled in riotous joy. Their year was complete.

They'd beaten the best to prove they are the best. They'd clinched a third All-Ireland championship victory in five years. This one by beating Kerry, the old enemy. It rarely comes sweeter than this.


A teammate grabbed Alan Brogan, recently a dad for the second time, and hoisted him aloft. Other players embraced each other. Some stood, like gladiators, with arms aloft. It was a giddy end to a glorious campaign.

By contrast, as the players turned their attention to the Krakatoa of emotion that was flowing down from Hill 16, figures in green and gold stood motionless like pillars of salt. Calcified statues rooted in disappointment and private despair.

Kerry had been confident coming to Jones' Road. And their supporters were in good voice. But they must have sensed something early in the gaiety of the Dublin fans.

The pre-match parade was greeted with blue smoke from Hill 16 as flares lit up the murky afternoon light. During the first half, a large multi-coloured beach ball could be seen bobbing over the heads of those on the most famous terrace in sport. (Sorry, Anfield, Hill 16 has the edge.)

Despite the gloomy predictions of those pundits who reckoned Kerry wouldn't be defeated by Dublin on a third meeting in a row, no one must have told the parade of die-hard supporters on horse and carriages, bedecked in flags and banners, that came out of Cook Street and turned left onto Winetavern Street around 1 o'clock.

The communal chants of "C'mon ye boys in blue" must have been heard in Drumcondra.

The more cautious, and even downright superstitious, were taking nothing for granted.

Dublin supporters had learned the hard way over the decades that Kerry posed a threat until the deal was sealed.

And even then the men from the Kingdom might just wipe your eye.


But yesterday, to a man, the Dublin players were magnificent. They stuck to their task and, although Kerry always remained with a couple of scores of outstripping Dublin, Jim Gavin's squad remained unaccountably calm and unflustered.

Even those times during the second half when Kerry trailed by just two points and hinted they might switch up a gear, Dublin displayed a maturity that comes with self-assurance, experience and discipline.

The backs mopped up Kerry attacks. The forwards kept the Dublin scoreboard ticking over. And the midfielders gave their all. Even in atrocious conditions, with the ball squirting about like an eel covered in baby oil and players skidding into collisions like rogue dodgem cars, Dublin kept cool. Actually, they did much more.

As Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice acknowledged afterwards, "They out-worked us. They out-thought us. And they out-fought us. And the better team won."

This is a golden age for Dublin football. And yesterday's All-Ireland triumph is one to savour. A third in five years, it comes with Dublin both National League (three in a row) and Leinster (five in a row) champions. Wisely, Dublin manager Jim Gavin refuses to allow his team's achievements be measured against the heady days of Kevin Heffernan's Super Dubs.

"They're different eras," he shrugged. "Certainly they've achieved a lot. They've enjoyed these moments but honours are to be looked back at when they've finished their careers.

"Nothing can ever match what Kevin Heffernan's team did for GAA. His spark and genius, we just stand on his shoulders."

"Dublin, you're deserving champions," said GAA boss Aogán Ó Fearghail as he handed over Sam Maguire.

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