Hickey's chronicle of All-Ireland foretold

Tue, Sep 20, 2011, 01:00

ALL-IRELAND SFC FINAL FALLOUT:NOT MANY people can put hand on heart and say they firmly believed Dublin would win this All-Ireland. But David Hickey can. So when he says this Dublin team is even better than the golden era boys of the 1970s – when Hickey himself played in four All-Ireland finals, and won three – you’re inclined to believe him.

The image of Hickey racing off the sidelines with Dublin manager Pat Gilroy at the climax of Sunday’s showdown with Kerry, with pace almost reminiscent of his days as Dublin’s most charismatic wing forward, was befitting of the moment.

Gilroy had asked Hickey to come on board as a Dublin selector two years earlier, not long after the 17-point defeat to Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final – and this was the result both men had in mind.

Hickey initially described his role as “iconic former great, who says nothing, so is obviously very wise”, in his typical sardonic tone, but Gilroy was certain Hickey would inject an extra layer of confidence and self-belief into the team.

Hickey always had an intelligent yet reasonable football philosophy, claiming every team was eminently beatable, and imminently to be beaten – preferably with a bit of style.

At the start of this year he boldly predicted this team would make sure the 1970s was no longer the reference point for Dublin football. But then Hickey is used to making bold statements: as the top kidney specialist at the Beaumont Hospital in Dublin (he’s performed over 1,000 kidney transplants since 1983), he says things as he sees them.

“I came on board on the invite of Pat Gilroy because I knew this team had an All-Ireland in them,” he says. “I am on record as saying that, so I am not bullshitting you now.

“This is an incredible group of young men. And Pat and Mickey Whelan have moulded them into a formidable unit. The egos are gone. It is 15 to 35 guys all pulling in the same direction, so I think they got their just reward.”

The obvious question for Hickey is how Sunday compared to his All-Ireland wins with Dublin in 1974, 1976 and 1977.

“We had a great team, but I do believe this team are going to become the reference point for Dublin football. We are now eclipsed as far as I am concerned. This group are better, in every sense. As a football team they are more talented footballers. They are a bigger panel. And I don’t want to say this as a denigration of my own guys.

“I have never seen a Dublin team fight to the last minute with the belief that they would get the break if they kept going at it.

“The amazing thing was we all expected Stephen Cluxton to hit that ball over. I don’t think Jimmy Keaveney would have done it, or Barney Rock or Charlie Redmond – and they are all great figures.

“But that was an unbelievable pressure kick. Clucko – I’ll tell you, we all expected that guy to score that point.

“You can’t say more than that. And the whole team expected him to do it too.

“This team is actually very similar to the 1975 All-Ireland final, where a young Kerry team beat an old Dublin team and then went on to dominate for the next decade.

“We also have a fantastic young minor team that were unlucky to get beaten, and congratulations to Tipperary, for that was a great win for them. If they keep the head and they keep interested, and there are a lot of competing things with the Australian stuff and all that.

“But if we can keep the group together and bring our minor team on and the under-21s, then I think we will be around a long time as a very competitive last-four team.”

Just six months ago this Dublin team was once again labelled as chokers, after failing to close out the league final against Cork.

“We are a different type of choker,” says Hickey, with a smile. “We choke other teams to death. No, they are not chokers. We lost to a great Cork team in an All-Ireland semi-final last year and I would say it could have gone either way.

“The league final this year, a great Cork team that wanted to win it, we lost by a point again so we have been there or thereabouts. The Kerry game two years ago was an aberration.

“However Pat has managed to change the culture of the team. They play for one another, there is no showboating anymore and that really has been the thing. On an athletic front we have a wonderful group of young guys.”

He’s quick then to pay tribute to fellow selector Mickey Whelan, knowing what the moment meant to him, and what it meant for the players to have him there too.

“You have to be with Mickey to understand how inspirational he is. He’s 70 years of age and he finished a PhD this year that most guys in their 20s or 30s wouldn’t dream of doing. Every training session had some little variation, every night, and always with the ball. I have never been involved with such an inspirational personality in my life and that includes Kevin Heffernan, Heffo, Tony Hanahoe – the the whole lot of them. This fella is right up there with the best. He has had tough times and got a lot of abuse in 1996 which was unjustified.

“He always tells it like it is but he’s an inspiration to me and the boys he looks after.”

Then he leaves us, with one last typically thrilling image and prediction for the future.

“There’s a fantastic picture in your papers this morning, a scoreboard in the background, it’s 14 points each, and the ball is sailing towards the goal. There was the same picture last year with Donncha O’Connor doing the same thing. Cork made us what we are.

“They showed us, they had hard times too before they got their win.

“And they aren’t gone away either. Ourselves, Cork and Kerry will be the teams next year again. What more can I say? We’re just so happy to have made it, and we’re so grateful to everyone who has made it.”

Sunday’s final attracted a viewership peaking at 1.4 million viewers in the closing minutes of the match, according to RTÉ.