Coman Goggins: New age Dubs have set their own higher standards
AS the Dublin machine prepares to crank into championship action this weekend in search of another Leinster title, it's funny to think that a little over ten years ago the Boys in Blue were struggling to make any inroads in the province, never mind on the national All-Ireland SFC scene.
Following a period of four consecutive Leinster titles beginning in 1992, and culminating in Paul Curran and John O'Leary raising the Sam Maguire in 1995, a barren period ensued as Meath (3), Kildare (2) and Offaly secured provincial honours in what was a very competitive era for Leinster football.
From Roy Malone's tour de force in 1997, through to the Ollie Murphy and Trevor Giles double-act in '99 and onwards to Kildare's two-minute goal burst in 2000, the taste of success was filtering through the province as the Leinster Championship served up some truly memorable deciders.
As bridesmaid in four of those finals, three of which were successive, the long summer season that Dublin players and supporters experience so consistently in recent years, seemed a million miles away at the end of 2001 season.
Even allowing for the second chance that the All-Ireland qualifiers provided for the first time that year, Dublin still couldn't seem to claim a big scalp that would open the door to some much sought after silverware.
To confound matters even further, before the year turned, then manager Tommy Carr, who had brought me into the Dublin set-up in late 1999, was controversially relieved of his position following a heated County Board meeting, despite an impassioned plea from our team captain Dessie Farrell.
However, with a new manager at the helm and a quiet remarkable summer scoring spree from Ray Cosgrove the seven-year wait for a title finally came to an end in 2002. The look of pure relief on Ciarán Whelan's face, who having made his debut in 1996 and finally securing a winners medal, probably best captured the mood as we retreated to the dressing room.
While the success was dutifully celebrated, at a team meeting in preparation for an All-Ireland quarter-final with Donegal, a number of the senior squad members spoke about the next phase of the summer, and how over time regardless of the amount of Leinster titles you might amass, that you would swap them all for that one All-Ireland medal.
With a first Leinster medal to your name, I remember feeling at the time that the comments perhaps undermined the achievement of the previous Sunday, and that they were easy to say for those who already tasted provincial success. But as the season came to a shuddering end when Ray Cosgrove's last minute free came back off the upright and secured Armagh's place in the All-Ireland final, the value and sentiment of the words really hit home.
Far from devaluing the winner's medal, those words were carefully constructed to focus our minds and were specifically aimed at seizing the opportunities that come your way.
Seven years without a Leinster title grew to 16 without an All-Ireland, as provincial dominance failed to yield the rewards of a Celtic Cross.
Don't get me wrong, I'm very proud of my successes on the field and I'm sure that Louth's retired midfield general Paddy Keenan would have cherished a Leinster medal that he was so wrongfully denied following the 2010 Leinster final debacle.
Likewise Longford's long-serving stalwart Paul Barden, who retired earlier this year after 16 championship seasons, would have dearly loved to have even had the opportunity to play in a provincial decider, not to mention climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand.
But I guess the sentiments from that meeting and what brought me back to 2002 was a recent interview with Alan Brogan, when he spoke about his decision to play for at least another season, and how his ambition for the season ahead is all geared towards a shot at an All-Ireland winner's medal.
Invariably this points to the massive strides Dublin football has made over the last ten or 12 years, where success is now measured on a national stage. But it also reflects the level of desire, belief and undoubted potential that exists with this current crop of players, where success in Leinster is viewed as a stepping stone to greater achievements, and reflects just how difficult a task it is for Longford this coming Sunday, or indeed the rest of the province, to try and jam a spanner in the well-oiled Dublin machine.
As for me, would I trade my Leinster medals for that Celtic Cross? What do you think!