Saturday 22 September 2018

dubs lift city blues

Dublin's football style is still lighting up summer for former dual ace Maurice

MAURICE O'CALLAGHAN played football and hurling for Dublin. And for Westmeath too.

He's taking a few days off. He was walking the beach in Kerry when the mobile rang.

Micko's country … in more ways than one.

He agrees with Mick O'Connell, the Kerry maestro, that the blanket should be hung out to dry.

Maurice has always embraced the grace of the Kerry dancers … Mikey Sheehy, Maurice Fitzgerald and The Gooch.

Or indeed the elegance of Noel McCaffrey, the Blue Panther, Barney Rock and Diarmuid Connolly.

Raised on songs and story.

"I have to say that I come from the same school as Mick O'Connell," says Maurice to the gentle hum of the waves.


"Football has gone so tactical. And the sport has really suffered. So many of the games are not that attractive anymore. Excitement can be in very short supply.

"I'd like to see less of the hand-passing. Something needs to be done about that.

"If teams came out to play, it would make the game much more interesting."

Thank goodness for the Dubs.

Jim Gavin's choir likes to cheer up the hall. And the Hill.

To get people out of their seats. To get them dancing in the aisle.

And that has been the way since the days of Heffo's Army.

Summer in Dublin just wouldn't be the same without the dash of the Dubs ... and Bagatelle.

Maurice rates the current side highly.

"Dublin play a lovely brand of football. They have pace and power. They are so well managed by Jim. There's a solid structure there.

"People go on about Dublin winning the Leinster Championship easily, but Dublin can only do what they have to do.

"That's the system - Munster, Ulster, Connacht and Leinster. It's the same for every county."

The Dubs built up handsome harvests against Longford, Kildare and Westmeath.

"Dublin did all that was asked of them. But, in reality, it's all about the August weekend - this Sunday they face Fermanagh.

"Teams get to the August last-eight, and you are three games away from being the All-Ireland champions."

And Maurice contends that is part of the reason why the blinds are pulled down in many counties.

"Each year, you can nearly name five or six teams that will be in the All-Ireland quarter-finals. That leaves a couple of places up for grabs, and certain counties feel they have a very good chance of being in the mix.

"So they aim for that at all costs, setting out their stall accordingly, and if that means playing defensively, so be it.

"Getting the right result is what it is all about.

"In their eyes, the end justifies the means. Reaching the knock-out stages is the big goal."

The quarter-finals mean that all the back doors have been closed. And Maurice declares that the front door is full of possibility.

"It's wide open. These are the matches you have to win. It all comes down to this."

He agrees with most that Kerry and Mayo are prime contenders. And Donegal too, despite their Ulster final loss to an impressive Monaghan.

Donegal play Galway in this Saturday's Qualifier at Croke Park. The Sligo versus Tyrone Qualifier tie is also on the Saturday menu at HQ.

"Last year I don't think Donegal got enough credit for that semi-final win over the Dubs."

Maurice insists it was a Jim McGuinness Master-class.

"Donegal were super on the day. They got it so right.

"But Dublin would have learned from an experience like that. I feel the Dublin defence has improved this season."

And the Blues will be expected to score a hatful again on Sunday in Croker.

Not many were expecting Fermanagh to be in the Big Eight. And not many were expecting Kildare to beat Cork. "Cork should have beaten Kerry the first day. Kerry were happy to get the replay and the second chance back in Killarney again.

"Cork were all the talk going into the Kildare game. Most pundits were saying it was going to be Dublin against Cork in the quarter-final, but obviously Jason Ryan had other ideas."

The Fermanagh fans will turn the big stadium into a green house. They brought colour and banter to Cavan last Saturday. And a bucket of belief.

Pete McGrath possesses one of the sharpest football brains in the country.

And they showed character to overcome Westmeath, the Leinster finalists.

And they also proved their calibre against Roscommon.

It's Fermanagh's first time in the All-Ireland quarter-final since 2004.

Kerry against Kildare will be on the same Croke Park quarter-final bill this Sunday.

"Dublin go into the game after collecting another comfortable Leinster title. "Dublin are so far ahead now in the province, but that can change in time. "You need Leinster to be more competitive. And that would be good for everyone.

"It can be done. Monaghan have proved that In Ulster. It wasn't that long ago since they were playing in Division 3 of the National League.

"Now they have been Ulster champions twice in three years, beating a very strong Donegal side in the process.

"Monaghan have improved so much. Malachy O'Rourke and all the people in the county deserve praise for what they have managed to do.

"And there's no reason why the Leinster teams can't do the same thing."

But that's a debate for another day. Sunday is all about taking another step on the road in trying to arrange a meeting with Sam.

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