‘Ring a ring a rosy as the light declines’: Dublin revels in a rare oul’ time

Frank McNally: Kerry supporters not short of confidence before last walk to the grounds

But in the world of GAA, the Dubs own the colours of blue and navy. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

But in the world of GAA, the Dubs own the colours of blue and navy. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

“Ring a ring a rosie, as the light declines,” sang a balladeer on PA as the All-Ireland champions and their fans celebrated a history-making win in Croke Park on Saturday night. And right enough, a sunny September evening had given way to darkness before the stadium finally cleared.

But the song’s lament for the decline of Dublin “in the rare oul’ times” was out of place, for once, because thanks to Jim Gavin’s team, Dubliners were now enjoying the rarest times of all, with the first-ever five-in-a-row champions in a competition that stretched back to the days of Parnell.

Picking up where they left off in the drawn game a fortnight ago, Kerry had done everything they could to avert this disaster and deprive their great rivals of a distinction that a previous Kingdom team got within a minute of, back in 1982, only to be mugged by a late goal.

But this time there was no Seamus Darby on the challengers’ bench, and after completely dominating the second-half, Dublin pulled away to win by six points, in the process ending most arguments about whether they were the greatest Gaelic football team of all time.

Not even the spectacle of Diarmuid Connolly missing an open goal near the end was enough to set their fans’ nerves on edge. A four, five, then six-point lead meant that only the auld triangle went jingle jangle, as usual, along the banks of the Royal Canal.

Final whistle

Then the final whistle blew, and there was other musical sound reverberating there: a series of Dublin victory ballads, blaring from the Croke Park speakers as the team celebrated at length with fans in the stadium.

Kerry supporters had not been short of confidence before the game as they congregated in large numbers outside the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell St for the last walk to the ground.

Standing under the statute of the aforementioned Parnell, who said that no man could fix a boundary to the march of a nation, a group of fans from Keel (the one near Castlemaine) were in no doubt that their team would fix a boundary to the march of Dublin, at least.

Not only were the predicting a comfortable win, one went so far as to suggest that, in stopping the Dublin one, this would be the first instalment of a Kerry five-in-a-row, fed by the county’s all-conquering minor sides of recent years.

Even the nearby Rotunda Hospital might have struggled to cope with that level of expectancy. And when Dublin started the game like an express train, it looked ominous for the Kerry optimists.

But mid-way through the first half, as if somebody with a Tralee accent had announced “Change at Mallow”, things started to turn in Kerry’s direction for a time. Scores were level by the interval, and it was the southerners who were doing most of the shouting as the teams went in.

Carol McGlynn, one many Dublin fans who had gathered outside the Hill 16 pub earlier, would not have been unduly worried. She had foreseen it would be close for a while. Then, as befits a woman who revealed herself to be the PRO of the Dublin Ladies Team, she thought hard before predicting the final score.

The only goal

Dublin by “1-20 to 1-15” she decided eventually, which proved close enough. In fact, the only goal of the game came straight from the second half throw-in when Eoin Murchan hared down the middle of the defence and buried a shot low in the Kerry net. After that, the Dubs never lost control again.

Kerry’s attempts to unsettle the home team had included a sizeable invasion of Hill 16, where a big patch of green and gold jerseys looked like an outbreak of dandelions in a field of irises. Maybe furze bushes would be a better metaphor, because there was some prickliness involved between the rival fans and minor scuffling after the final whistle.

Alas for Kerry, it was a day when even the weather seemed to be on Dublin’s side. On the balmiest of September evenings, the sky over Croker wore light blue throughout the game. By the time the last fans lefts, it had turned to navy. But in GAA, of course, the Dubs have a monopoly on that colour too. Not only had they won the day, they also owned the night.