With GAA past, present and future joyously colliding, 2013 will be a hard act to follow
But, beginning with the death of Kevin Heffernan, a year of at times eerie historical resonance belonged to Dublin
Croke Park broke new ground by staging the first floodlit All-Ireland final on an almost magical evening when David Fitzgerald’s Clare hurlers erupted through the twilight to capture a memorable replay victory. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
When it has acquired a bit of sepia in time to come, 2013 will be remembered as an extraordinary year for the GAA. A century after its purchase, Croke Park broke new ground by staging the first floodlit All-Ireland on an almost magical evening when David Fitzgerald’s Clare erupted through the twilight to capture a memorable All-Ireland, whose diptych of draw and replay will surely bear eventual comparison with the 1931 matches between Kilkenny and Cork.
History popped up everywhere during the sort of flaming summer we had all but forgotten existed. Limerick’s hurlers bridged a 17-year gap to win Munster and Dublin tripled that with a first Leinster since 1961, having brought down Kilkenny on the championship field for the first time in even longer.
Yet a year of at times eerie historical resonance belonged to Dublin, both emotionally and in terms of achievement.
The most obvious resonance came very early in the year when after a long illness, Kevin Heffernan passed away at the end of January. In a way he left at an apposite time with both Dublin and the GAA on the cusp of a great year but it was also poignant because he would have so enjoyed the months that followed.
Gaelic games in the capital are in a state of unprecedented good health and that vital presence in the country’s largest population centre is of huge importance to the GAA at national level.
It wasn’t always like that. By the early 1970s when Heffernan fatefully took over the Dublin senior footballers, the initial surge of dynamism from the revolution staged by his club St Vincent’s had waned. What he innovated and developed turned the situation around completely.
Dublin mightn’t accumulate All-Irelands at the remorseless rate Kerry have managed to sustain since the beginning of the last century but in 60 years of fielding native teams, the county has won nine Sam Maguires – a strike rate that over the period maintains its position as the Kingdom’s closest challenger.
Since Heffernan’s personal era ended with the All-Ireland final of 1985, Dublin have stayed for the most part there or thereabouts, sufficiently competitive to make their championship matches big events even when enduring long periods of not being quite good enough to land the ultimate prize.
That profile has helped to keep the flame lit in the city where the status of the GAA is unrecognisable compared to 40 years ago. Back then Gaelic games had virtually no reach on the southside of the city, where the games now have unprecedented penetration and has played such a major role in reviving Dublin hurling.
The important thing to note about the widely publicised agreement between Dalkey club Cuala and Blackrock rugby club isn’t so much the landed gentry are being forced to share their stately homes but that the GAA club, which already uses four other venues in the Dún Laoghaire borough so urgently needs a fifth.