Dublin can do it again
Every reason to believe Blues will stick together to have crack at double
WHAT'S seldom is sensational. The likes of Stephen Cluxton, Alan Brogan, Barry Cahill and Bryan Cullen have been chasing the Holy Grail for almost a decade -- even longer in the case of Cluxton, who made his SFC debut in 2001.
Roche's Point has been waiting even longer -- since 1998, in fact, when this scribbler joined the Evening Herald and Dublin still included a host of All-Ireland winners among their ranks.
In truth, though, the champions of 1995 disintegrated as an All-Ireland force very quickly. Maybe it was because they had spent so long in pursuit of Sam; in each of the previous four seasons they had been close to the benchmark, including '91 when they were first-round losers but only after that never-to-be-repeated four-game epic with Meath.
By the time Dublin crawled past Tyrone to the summit, they had given it their best shot as a team. Maybe Dr Pat O'Neill sensed that too; whatever the reason, he bowed out at the top.
All the indications, right now, are that Pat Gilroy is going nowhere. He's an incredibly busy business man with a young family too, but he's also steeped in the history of Dublin GAA and of their most famous club, St Vincent's.
For the past two years, ever since the quarter-final calamity against Kerry, he's been a man with a plan. Through thick and thin, he's stuck to the plan. Now comes his reward.
The thing is, it doesn't have to end here. Peruse Dublin's All-Ireland pen pictures and you'll see that only two of the starting 15 -- Denis Bastick and Barry Cahill -- have turned 30.
The average age of the team is 25-and-a-half. True, the aforementioned quartet have been through an emotional wringer and now that their career-long ambition has finally been realised, who could blame them if their commitment levels, bordering on the obsessive this year, dip even slightly?
Still, our suspicion is that this entire squad will push on and launch a concerted attempt to retain Sam. They have relative youth and massive momentum on their side; countering that, history repeatedly reminds us that doing back-to-back titles has become almost impossible in the modern era.
Only once in the last 20 years has it happened -- Kerry in '06 and '07. That is the scale of the challenge that awaits Giller's Killers; it should be fun seeing how they embrace their altered status as the team to beat.
In the meantime, while Dublin celebrate, here we divvy out our end-of-season awards. Surprise, surprise, quite a few Dubs feature prominently ...
FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR
1. ALAN BROGAN (Dublin): We already nailed our colours to the mast in yesterday's Herald. Three dazzling displays on the trot in Leinster, and he kept on delivering in the All-Ireland series. Brother Bernard can pass on the green jacket.
2. DARRAN O'SULLIVAN (Kerry): The Kingdom's standout performer all season, a formline maintained in the final when (despite not scoring) he was at the heart of all their best attacking moments.
3. STEPHEN CLUXTON (Dublin): 'Keeper-and-poacher rolled into one. Who knows, the media-shy Cluxton might even afford himself a private smile at a job brilliantly done.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Karl Lacey (Donegal).
YOUNG FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR
(Confined to players eligible for U21)
CILLIAN O'CONNOR (Mayo): Deadball assassin who came of age in the Connacht final, maintained that formline against Cork, and found the net against Kerry too.
GOAL OF THE SEASON
1. DARRAN O'SULLIVAN (Kerry v Limerick): Gianfranco Zola, eat your heart out. A heavenly backheel that showcased a player at the top of his game.
2. KEVIN McMANAMON (Dublin v Kerry): If it was all about impact, this would top our poll. A clinically executed goal that altered the course of All-Ireland history.
3. COLM COOPER (Kerry v Mayo): Few others would have considered going for the jugular; but when the ball broke to Gooch with his back to goal, he only had one thing on his mind.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Darran O'Sullivan (again!) v Cork; Liam McGrath (Tipp minors) v Dublin; Gavin Ivory (Dublin minors) v Tipp.
POINT FROM PLAY OF THE SEASON
1. KEVIN CASSIDY (Donegal v Kildare): A monster at the death to break Lilywhite hearts.
2. JAMES KAVANAGH (Kildare v Donegal): A sublime effort from out wide, during the closing stages of normal time in the above game.
3. KIERAN DONAGHY (Kerry v Dublin): In between trying to referee Sunday's final, the 'Star' was among Kerry's best players and his towering equaliser from under the Cusack Stand looked set to earn a replay.
DEADBALL POINT OF THE SEASON
1. STEPHEN CLUXTON (Dublin v Kerry):
This one was simply no contest. Perfect technique and precision execution to win an All-Ireland with effectively the last kick. What more could you ask for?
2. HUGH LYNCH (Kildare v Laois): An outrageous free from distance, nailed with the outside of his trusty right boot, as the Lilies laid waste to Laois.
SAVE OF THE SEASON
EOIN CULLETON (Laois v Dublin): Take your pick, although his second save to deny Diarmuid Connolly was probably the finest in a series of stellar stops.
INDIVIDUAL DISPLAY OF THE YEAR
1. DIARMUID CONNOLLY (Dublin v Tyrone): Seven of the best from Dublin's mercurial, abundantly gifted full-forward.
2. COLM COOPER (Kerry v Mayo): The performance that had the Sunday Game pundits waxing lyrical about the greatest player ever.
3. KEVIN NOLAN (Dublin v Kerry): The ultimate team performance, perhaps, but Nolan was our pick of the pack last Sunday -- and he got the official 'Man of the Match' gong too.
TEAM DISPLAY OF THE YEAR
1. DUBLIN v Tyrone: The first real sign that Dublin were on the cusp of something huge.
2. DUBLIN v Kerry: Staring into the abyss, they dug deep and pulled off one of the greatest ever All-Ireland comebacks.
3. MAYO v Cork: James Horan's men made a mockery of their 5/1 odds, and all this after giving the All-Ireland champions a six-point start.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Do you really have to ask? Okay, it's obviously a close call between Jim McGuinness and James Horan ... and since we can't decide, we better give it to Pat Gilroy instead!
FROM CHAMPS TO CHUMPS AWARD
Goes to Cork for their meek surrender of Sam, scoring just one second-half point as they imploded to Mayo at the last-eight stage.
THE KEVIN McMANAMON AWARD
(For elevating the impact sub role to that of an art form): Goes to ... eh ... Kevin McManamon!
THE MILLWALL AWARD
(Aka "No one likes us, we don't care"): Goes to Jim McGuinness and his Donegal team, who played one forward against Dublin for most of their All-Ireland semi-final and, against a backdrop of boos, almost pulled it off.
FARCE OF THE YEAR AWARD
The Graham Geraghty saga. This entertaining romp was media manna from heaven -- a 38-year-old back from retirement after three years; two selectors quitting in protest; the manager (Seamus McEnaney) ploughing on regardless; Graham capping his surreal comeback by scoring a goal with his first touch ... only to have it dubiously disallowed; then seeing his summer ended prematurely by injury. You couldn't make it up. But was it worth all the hassle for Banty & Co? We'll let you decide.
THE GEORGE HOOK AWARD
To all those pundits who carp that it wasn't a vintage championship and that Dublin were the best of a bad lot ... go get a life!
HERALD TEAM OF THE YEAR
1 Stephen Cluxton (Dublin)
2 Mick Foley (Kildare)
3 Neil McGee (Donegal)
4 Rory O'Carroll (Dublin)
5 Kevin Nolan (Dublin)
6 Karl Lacey (Donegal)
7 Kevin Cassidy (Donegal)
8 Bryan Sheehan (Kerry)
9 Michael Darragh Macauley (Dublin)
10 Darran O'Sullivan (Kerry)
11 Alan Brogan (Dublin)
12 Paul Flynn (Dublin)
13 Colm Cooper (Kerry)
14 Andy Moran (Mayo)
15 Bernard Brogan (Dublin)
CLOSE CALLS: Marc ó Sé (Kerry) in the full-back line, Donal Vaughan (Mayo) and Emmet Bolton (Kildare) at half-back, John Doyle (Kildare) and Alan O'Connor (Cork) at midfield, Ben Brosnan (Wexford), Michael Murphy (Donegal) and Donncha O'Connor (Cork) in attack.