Dubs are both hosts and participants, building on a proud history
The media hype, Hill 16 mania and all the fanfare that surrounds the Dublin Gaelic football team began in earnest in the 1950s
Dublin players line up in front of their fans on Hill 16 in 2006. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
They reared a family during the 1970s when the population of Dublin increased by 15 per cent. In the midst of this busier Dublin there was something else new during my early childhood: the phenomenon of “Heffo’s Army”, the band of loud and proud Dublin Gaelic football fans who colonised Hill 16 in Croke Park at the heart of their own city.
Kevin Heffernan’s Dublin team contested six successive all-Ireland finals during the 1970s, winning three of them. There was much less to cheer about in the 1980s, with just one all-Ireland victory in 1983 and then a long wait until 1995. After that, there was another hiatus until 2011.
Hype and pride
During the leaner years, Dublin supporters developed a great nostalgia for the 1970s, when Hill 16 was a spectacle to behold and the Heffernan teams hauled the Sam Maguire to schools around the city and suburbs. It had a galvanising effect on those seeking to build and sustain a GAA infrastructure in Dublin; to capture a large, urban youth support, something the GAA had historically struggled with. I grew up in Goatstown, where I still live, and the Kilmacud Crokes club had a strong presence and confidence that continues to this day; my own daughters are now members of the club.
While the club predates the 1970s victories, those triumphs gave it and others a dynamic that endured.
Growing up, we had Munster blood mixed with our Dublin identity, and were reared by parents who believed that hurling was the purer sport. That was another reason why the victories of the 1970s and 1983 meant something special to us.
Dublin Gaelic football, which had floundered in the national league in the 1960s, had become something sensational and generated hype and a pride that for us could match the hurling magic.
The way those 1970s Dublin teams were managed and the game they played marked something new. In their use of speed, the hand pass, the quick transfer of possession and with a new approach to training, Brian Mullins, Jimmy Keaveney, Tony Hanahoe, Paddy Cullen and their fellow stalwarts changed the game and generated a new atmosphere and colour.
Dubs could also be proud that at a time when League of Ireland soccer was struggling and televised English soccer was becoming so pervasive, its team seemed to be the saviour of the GAA.
In his 1984 classic, Over the Bar, Breandán O’hEithir asserted “it can be fairly said that Kerry and Dublin had been the life support machine of Gaelic football for a decade, earning the big money for the GAA and showing what Gaelic football at its best can be, as a game and a spectacle.”
The Dublin team is also important to the supporters because on big match days when its team is involved the Dubs are both hosts and participants, building on a proud history.
Hill 16 mania
In 1955 the Dublin team, dominated by players from the St Vincent’s Club, products of the primary school leagues, played Kerry in the All-Ireland final. Before it, a white horse ridden by a supporter dressed in Dublin colours led a parade of fellow supporters up O’Connell Street. Dublin lost – they had to wait until 1958 to be triumphant – but the media hype, Hill 16 mania and all the fanfare that went with it had begun.