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'That was the year we should have done it'

Pain of Cork defeat still stings for those who played in what was one of the great All-Ireland semi-finals

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EPIC CONTEST: Dublin’s Danny Sutcliffe in action against Cork’s Tom Kenny, during the All-Ireland SHC semi-final in August 2013. Pic: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile

EPIC CONTEST: Dublin’s Danny Sutcliffe in action against Cork’s Tom Kenny, during the All-Ireland SHC semi-final in August 2013. Pic: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

EPIC CONTEST: Dublin’s Danny Sutcliffe in action against Cork’s Tom Kenny, during the All-Ireland SHC semi-final in August 2013. Pic: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile

Christmas DVD box-set idea: 'The Greatest All-Ireland hurling semi-finals of the 2010s'.

Because one thing the last decade didn't lack for was classic All-Ireland semi-finals.

You'd have a fair job on your hands if tasked with ranking them.

Kilkenny and Limerick played out two gripping, if utterly juxtaposed, semis in 2014 (amid Old Testament rain) and last July.

Clare and Galway produced a pair of thrillers played out on consecutive weekends across two provinces in 2018.

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ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Cork manager Jimmy Barry Murphy shakes hands with Dublin manager Anthony Daly after the game. Pic: Sportsfile

ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Cork manager Jimmy Barry Murphy shakes hands with Dublin manager Anthony Daly after the game. Pic: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Cork manager Jimmy Barry Murphy shakes hands with Dublin manager Anthony Daly after the game. Pic: Sportsfile

There was Cork and Limerick in 2018, Kilkenny and Waterford (x 2) in Croke Park and Semple Stadium in '16 and perhaps most celebrated of all, the Tipperary/Galway All-Ireland trilogy of '15, '16 and '18.

Dublin v Cork from 2013 compares well with any of them.

It meets all the criteria required for classic status.

An old-style shoot-out with staccato bursts of scoring - 45 in 70 minutes, the highest-scoring in a runaway summer - teams level on 15 occasions, a game-changing sending off, timely goals, missed opportunities.

Hurling at its breathless, thrilling best.

"I'd say it was one of the best shoot-outs of all time," says Maurice O'Brien, part of the Dublin squad that afternoon for the last time.

"If anything, it was probably an error on our part to get into a shoot-out with Cork.

"We were just about to completely strangle them when the sending-off happened.

"We were going back to what we would have expected to do earlier in the game - to really just close them out, bunch them up around the middle and physically beat them up.

"We were really beginning to do that with them. But we went toe-to-toe, score-for-score with them in a hurling sense. And we were in a strong position, even having done that.

"Probably one the best hurling performances from us over the whole lifetime of that team for 45 minutes.

"But the sending off…Jesus, it had a huge bearing on the game."

It's far from Stillorgan/Rathfarnham Rugby Football Club Ryan O'Dwyer was rared, but that's where he indulges some of his competitive instincts these days.

"The team is mostly culchies," he says, fully self-aware. "Most of the Southside Dubs go to the bigger rugby clubs in the area."

He's not oblivious to the irony.

There are hurling referees who'd swear O'Dwyer has been playing rugby with a hurley in his hand for the past decade.

He has the scars, the stitches and the concussion count of someone who'd been scrumming down at a competitive level for at least decade.

O'Dwyer's point is this: at least in rugby you know what you can get away with.

"The refs come to you before the game and tell you what they're going to be looking for," he says of life in Division 5 of the Metro League.

"And you know going out exactly what you're supposed to be doing and what you're not supposed to do. And then," O'Dwyer adds, "you can have no excuses."

He admits now he "had a bit of history," with James Owens prior to the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final.

"We didn't get on. But for no particular reason."

Championship hurling isn't exactly lawless but much of the physical interaction takes place in the grey areas around the game's rules, some of which are wilfully ignored by referees entirely.

And that was undefined space in which O'Dwyer did much of his most valuable work with Dublin. But it had risks.

"It is so frustrating. It's impossible," he says.

"You've no idea what you can and can't do. So you just have to guess. Because if you don't go in hard, the opposition will and they'll get away with it.

"So it just depends on which ref is there and how he decides to ref the game on the day."

After two minutes of the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final, Owens booked O'Dwyer for a foul on Luke O'Farrell, an undeniably harsh punishment for a minor crime.

"Maybe he was trying to be setting a tone or something," O'Dwyer says. "It was harmless. It was shoulder to shoulder, or it was slightly in front of his shoulder.

"But if I fell and he stayed going, it wouldn't even have been a free. I think it was because I was physically stronger than him.

"There was no maliciousness in it. It wasn't even deliberate.

"For the second one, if he'd (Lorcán McLoughlin) caught the ball, I'd have just stood him up. But because the ball bounced out of his hand, he turned his body.

"An inter-county ref texted me after the match, he said 'absolute disgrace'.

"And inter-county manager texted me after the match, saying 'typical of that ref'.

"It was horrible. I wanted to the world to just swallow me. It was very hard."

In the end Dublin couldn't survive the 66th-minute goal that quadrupled their deficit to 1-19 to 1-23.

Patrick Horgan, swift as a viper, flicked out his stick to dispossess Gary Maguire and score the winning goal.

"Usually after you get knocked out of the Championship, you'd go out that night, have a proper night out and then get together the following day and go again," says Johnny McCaffrey, Dublin's captain that season.

"That was the one time I couldn't face it. The night of the match, I had one or two pints and I just went home. I felt so sick. Not from drink. But from losing the match.

"I couldn't get going again. I never went out the following day. It was just too hard to take. We were so close. And we'd played so well.

"Knowing how hard it is to get there and how hard it would be to get back there, it was by far the hardest defeat to take."

There were 62,092 in Croke Park that day and it felt for those of a Dublin persuasion that their hurling team, finally, had arrived.

Little did they know they wouldn't have it so good again for the rest of the decade.

"It was an absolute utter sickener," says O'Brien.

"The other semi-final wasn't as good. We'd beaten Limerick and Clare before. There was no fear factor with what was left out there.

"To beat Galway and Kilkenny in the same year…we'd become real contenders. That was the year. I think we were even favourites for the All-Ireland before the semi-finals were played.

"This isn't me looking back in hindsight. At the time, I felt it. That that was the All-Ireland we should have won."

O'Dwyer qualifies his view of the final-that-never-was against Clare with the observation that Dublin had been lucky to beat Wexford in the first round of the Leinster championship.

Only the most devoted or deluded were talking about them as All-Ireland contenders at that stage.

But for whatever reason, that was the summer they peaked as a group under Anthony Daly.

"If you look at that run, there were day when fellas didn't play well - but everyone around them rose their game," he recalls.

"We had different fellas performing on different days. But we were nearly all in form by the semi-final.

"If we got through to the final, there would have been no pressure on us. It would have been all about Davy and Dalo. It would have been all about the Clare players and the history of Clare.

"We would have been relaxed. I think we would have won it."

"I've been in enough dressing rooms to know when the vibe is wrong or the atmosphere is a bit toxic. But that year, it was perfect.

"That was the year we should have done it."

SCORERS - Cork: P Horgan 1-7 (0-5f), A Nash (3f), L McLoughlin, C Lehane 0-3 each, S Harnedy, L O'Farrell 0-2 each, D Kearney, P Cronin, J Coughlan, S Moylan 0-1 each.

Dublin: P Ryan 0-6 (5f, 1 '65), D Sutcliffe 0-4, D Treacy 1-1, D O'Callaghan, C Keaney 0-2, J McCaffrey, J Boland, R O'Dwyer, S Durkin 0-1 each.

CORK: A Nash, S McDonnelly, S O'Neill, C O'Sullivan; T Kenny, C Joyce,W Egan; L McLoughlin, D Kearney; S Harnedy, P Cronin, J Coughlan; C Lehane, P Horgan, L O'Farrell. Subs: S White for Kenny (44), C Naughton for Coughlan (64), S Moylan for Lehane (69).

DUBLIN: G Maguire; N Corcoran, P Kelly, P Schutte; S Hiney, L Rushe, M Carton; J McCaffrey, J Boland; C Keaney, R O'Dwyer, D Sutcliffe; P Ryan, D O'Callaghan, D Treacy. Subs: S Durkin for Hiney (23), S Lambert for Carton (50), M Schutte (51), E Dillon for O'Callaghan (61), R Trainer for P Schutte (72).

REF: J Owens (Wexford)