Dublin’s walking wounded battle home

Manager Jim Gavin critical of free count

Dublin manager Jim Gavin shakes hands with Mayo manager James Horan after the game. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Dublin manager Jim Gavin shakes hands with Mayo manager James Horan after the game. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho


Twelve Dubliners overcame 14 Galway footballers after Brian Mullins, Kieran Duff and Ray Hazley were sent off during the 1983 All-Ireland final. Instantly a yarn for the grandchildren was created.

Thirty years later the ‘thirteen apostles’ doesn’t really fit as one would need to be deemed the Messiah and that would never be tolerated under Jim Gavin’s stewardship.

Dublin’s substitutions were all made by the 53rd minute so Eoghan O’Gara remained despite a shredded hamstring while Rory O’Carroll’s marbles were fumbling around his brain after his shoulder, deemed a foul by referee Joe McQuillan, on Enda Varley.

Somehow the remaining 13 prevailed.

We were tempted to suggest the first among equals might be Stephen Cluxton but the Dublin captain refused to accept any permanent plaudits.

“I don’t think I’d be in the same boat as the legends that went before me,” said Cluxton. “I was just lucky to lead the troops out this year.”

Why would you say that?

“Because I’m not.”

Of course, he is. Suppose we should be pleased he is talking to us at all. Astonishingly, Gavin, the rookie All-Ireland winning manager, noted that recent weeks preparing for Mayo has put Dublin behind other counties preparations for 2014.

You wanted to scream, ‘STOP JIM! CHRIST, Sam Maguire is in the changing room. LIVE A LITTLE!’ all the while pouring champagne, from the hidden Celtic Tiger stash in Parnell Park, over his Buddha brow.

“We’ve won this year but the minute the referee blew the final whistle that’s the 2013 campaign finished with.

“I know from speaking to other managers they are already setting themselves up for the 2014 season. You know, we are probably already behind that preparation being done behind the scenes.”

There was plenty more to get through and Gavin couldn’t hide his disgust with McQuillan’s 32-12 free count in Mayo’s favour.

‘Can’t understand it’
“Beyond me, I can’t understand it . . . we played Mayo, we played the referee as well.”

But what of the yellow cards for Darren Daly, Kevin McManamon and Ger Brennan for cynical fouls as seconds ticked away?

“They were frustrated with the free count. That’s just not acceptable. Anyone here can ask if Dublin are a cynical team, and we’re not. We play the game with certain values, the way we believe it should be played.

“There’s a double count going against us all the time. We’ve held our council for most of the games but that has been a trend in all of the games.”

Against Kildare they were awarded more frees. Against Kerry it was about level.

“It’s a fight that we have in every game. Opposition players are getting more frees than we are and we work very hard on the art of defending and technical tackle and it is disappointing.”

What about the O’Carroll yellow card – fair shoulder or foul?

“In real time I thought he made contact with the shoulder, did he not?”

He did. Punished for the ferocity of the hit then?

“It’s a physical, contact sport we play so we expect and we all want to see physical contact in the game.”

It was certainly that yesterday (Dublin ran out of crutches afterwards). “The hardest game I have played in my whole life,” said a smiling Paul Flynn.

“They wouldn’t leave us alone but I’d enough belief in my own fitness that if you kept going and kept going they would tire a bit more and indeed they did and we were just that little bit sharper and a bit more clinical. I don’t know what it looked like from the stand but it was the hardest game of football I’ve ever played.”

Flynn, as he did when Kieran Donaghy arrived in the semi-final, took it upon himself to become sentinel in front of the Dublin fullback line for the last quarter. Johnny Cooper was gone off concussed, Jack McCaffrey hauled ashore at half-time.

Holes needed plugging.

That O’Carroll insisted on wandering back to his home on the square’s edge had Cluxton yelling at the sideline, while Philly McMahon argued with Flynn over who should man mark and who should be Sam Hall.

“I was fullback for a while and Philly was trying to say to me, ‘You mark him’. I said ‘you’ll mark him, I’ll sweep’. Ah no, we had to do it because poor old Rory got knocked out so he didn’t have a clue where he was.”

Late high ball
And still O’Carroll broke a crucial late high ball into the danger zone. An instinctive leap. But no legends here. Just a team.

And when asked about the 21 heroes Dublin fielded yesterday, well, Gavin revealed a humility that is frustrating yet equally admirable.

“For me the heroes are the guys like Davy Byrne, Eric Lowndes, Darren Nelson, Emmet O Conghaile, Jason Whelan, Ciaran Reddin, Tomás Brady who didn’t take the field today, who didn’t even get the jersey. They are the real heroes, the guys who set the agenda. They are the souls of the team, the spirit of the team. My hat goes off for them, I’ve so much respect for them, showing up at training day in day out to put their shoulder to the wheel. They set the standard for the rest to follow.

“That’s been the real strength of this group.”