Subscriber OnlyGaelic GamesThe Weekend That Was

Light finally goes out on Dublin’s remarkable era

Without the outsized prompts of last year, odds were always against further achievement

Galway's Séan Mulkerrin and Con O’Callaghan during the All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park. Photograph: Leah Scholes/Inpho

Sometimes when the light fades, it goes as quickly as a bulb being switched off. Champions don’t usually see the day coming, however much they might fret about its general imminence.

Dublin in many ways had been through this before when their long running domination was stretching into a seventh year, in 2021. That year’s semi-final against perennially suffering opponents Mayo strangely foreshadowed what happened at the weekend.

An almost effortlessly efficient first half and a six-point lead, actually bigger than Saturday’s, gave little hint that a collapse was on the cards. But once Mayo resisted, Dublin’s composure dissolved, as running out of answers gave way to the indignity of indiscipline and three black cards.

At least that wasn’t replicated at the weekend but failings on the part of those depended on to make decisive interventions ran like a thread through the closing minutes.


Brian Fenton, whose steadying scores have anchored Dublin in many a maelstrom, made the familiar break but shot wide, as did Cormac Costello from a free and Con O’Callaghan with a late shot at saving the match, although his manager did point out that the Cuala forward had been all but carrying the effort himself at that stage.

Exceptional Galway second-half showing brings curtain down on Dublin’s golden generationOpens in new window ]

“Yeah, and Con was heroic in the last couple of minutes,” said Dessie Farrell. “You could really see him trying to do whatever he could to eke something out of that. He kicked a great score just before that. It was a very tired kick but it was credit to him because he wanted to take on responsibility and you’d back him every day of the week. It just wasn’t to be today.”

And that was it in a nutshell. “It just wasn’t to be today.”

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that 2021 wasn’t the end of the road for the team but it took extraordinary developments to regain the All-Ireland two years later.

Dejected Dublin veterans James McCarthy and Michael Fitzsimons following the defeat to Galway at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

The intervening year ended with an All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry that nobody had foreseen them winning – in fact, that it took a last-minute free from Seán O’Shea to nail down the result was seen as to Dublin’s credit.

Within weeks began an unexpected series of reappearances that seemed to come out of nowhere for 2023.

O’Callaghan, having recovered from injury, was just one of three All Stars coming back after it was announced that Paul Mannion, consistently the best forward in the Dublin championship, and former FOTY Jack McCaffrey had reconsidered their early retirements.

Dessie Farrell expects some ‘brilliant warriors’ may have played their final games for DublinOpens in new window ]

As the new year dawned and unfolded, more followed. Pat Gilroy, the pioneering 2011 All-Ireland winning manager, who had masterminded a first title in 16 years – the second longest wait in the county’s history – also returned in an advisory capacity, as in March did Stephen Cluxton, who apparently just turned up in the same unheralded way Kevin Heffernan is reputed to have done in 1978 after being out for a year.

Winning last year’s All-Ireland was less an achievement than Paradise Regained after the emptiness of the previous two years. Widespread references to ‘the old gang getting back together for one last job’ became almost self-fulfilling.

Dublin’s Michael Fitzsimons and Séan Mulkerrin of Galway following the All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

That it proved successful made it one of Dublin’s most treasured championship wins. The final showcased the virtues of all the prodigals and culminated in James McCarthy lifting Sam Maguire and, with Michael Fitzsimons and Cluxton, winning a record ninth All-Ireland medal.

It was hardly surprising that so many people misheard the mood music and assumed that, having reliberated the city, all of those players would return to the Bat Cave.

Instead, they stuck around presumably on the basis that there might be more silverware available. That wasn’t an implausible ambition but having thrown the kitchen sink at 2023 and won by two points in injury-time it was questionable how they might perform without any of those outsize prompts.

It was appropriate that when it came time for the final battle, everyone was on board, starting the All-Ireland quarter-final after a summer of bench impacting. In that sense, Farrell’s reference to the team “dying with its boots on” was well founded.

They had had a curious season;: becoming for a long time the only team to lose to Monaghan this year at the start of the league, eventually recovering to put in a storming run in the regulation matches when they were devastating opponents, including in what now stands as their last engagement with Kerry.

Dublin’s John Small shows his dejection following the quarter-final defeat by Galway. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Losing to Derry on penalties in the league final created a couple of expectations, that the winners would be strong All-Ireland contenders and the losers fired up and motivated for the championship to come.

Both projections crumbled over the weekend although the first had already been fatally weakened by then.

Surely this time around the mood music is unmistakable? Farrell talked about the “warriors” in his dressingroom, and how “it might be the last time that we see them play for Dublin”.

Galway had looked a formidable team all championship against top-shelf opposition from Mayo and Derry to Armagh. They forcefully wrested the second half away from the champions. They have the drive of disappointment after losing the All-Ireland final two years ago, which might explain the ultimate differential – hunger.

No matter that most people envisaged Kerry being the ones to finish Dublin’s story, the champions were finally seen off by an accomplished and motivated team.

All things come to an end and they will always have last year as a gilded postscript to the massive achievement of previous years.

In the 50th anniversary of Dublin’s rise to modern prominence, a cadre of players who brought unprecedented and unimaginable celebration to the city will begin a process of slipping into the realm of commemorating important anniversaries to remember what they did as part of an extraordinary collective.

We move on.