Dublin the shining light of 2016 but sense of brighter GAA days ahead

Tipperary hurlers had their thunder shadowed by an unusual agency – the footballers

It’s hard to categorise years until there’s a decent filter of hindsight but in its dying days 2016 has the feel of an ante-room. It’s not that nothing of significance happened during the last 12 months but rather that the immediate future promises more.

The big achievement of the year belongs to Dublin. Only once in the past 26 years has a county secured back-to-back football All-Irelands and Jim Gavin’s team managed to do it by going through the entire season of league and championship unbeaten.

This took place in a context of two outstanding players being unavailable: Rory O’Carroll’s decision to travel was announced in the chill of a January O’Byrne Cup aftermath whereas it wasn’t until March that footballer of the year Jack McCaffrey, after he had led UCD to a Sigerson Cup, told management he wanted the summer to himself.

In the circumstances the county’s progress was reflective of an exceptional group of players and extraordinary management.


Yet for all the history of retaining the championship for the first time in 39 years – and only the second time in a century – Dublin will now be focused on an even greater landmark, the three-in-a-row, last passed in 1921-23.

Gavin will be able to fit new strings: McCaffrey will be back, Cormac Costello may finally have arrived in the forefront of the first team and young Con O'Callaghan's main inhibitor will be the loss of league opportunity, as he assists Cuala's quest to become the first Dublin club to win the senior All-Ireland hurling title.

That the run-in to last September's All-Ireland was so taut – three points covering the last three matches – adds to its lustre. For all the talk of the county being far ahead of its rivals, the football championship remains fiercely contested at the top and weathering that environment makes the Sam Maguire hard earned.

Zero return



that statement may be greeted by hollow laughter, as no county has ever laboured so mightily for zero return. The last 10 journeys down Jones’s Road in September – and this year, October – over 28 years have yielded nothing.

For comparison, Kerry’s last 10 – in 17 years – have produced six titles and Dublin’s a similar number over 34 years. Meath are five in 50 years whereas Galway are also five for slightly longer, 52 years.

The upside for Stephen Rochford is that apart from 1996 the county has never been so close to actually winning. The passage of another year and the further evolution of Mayo's Under-21 All-Ireland winners make 2017 an attainable target, 101 years after Mayo first made that trip down Jones's Road.

In hurling Tipperary triumphantly resurrected themselves six years after stopping Kilkenny's bid for five-in-a-row and in the minds of their over-optimistic supporters – always a large percentile in the county – launching their own.

Instead the five intervening years produced nothing better than three fruitless All-Ireland finals, bearing a draw and two defeats, and two semi-final losses. Michael Ryan’s low-key management built a steelier challenge but without sacrificing all of the exuberance fostered by his predecessor Eamon O’Shea.

The resulting crystal and gunpowder display of pattern and finishing in the All-Ireland final was too much for a Kilkenny side left having to plug so many holes as the roll-call of the departed continued to grow in the county.

Already though, eyes are trained forwards amidst conjecture that maybe at last Tipp might retain the Liam MacCarthy. It’s now all of 51 years since that was achieved. In the meantime the trophy has been successfully reclaimed on 13 different occasions – mostly Kilkenny but that hardly makes it more palatable across the border.

Tipperary footballers

In the here and now of 2016, the Tipperary hurlers had their thunder faintly occluded by an unusual agency – the county footballers. Manager

Liam Kearns

had brought about enough near misses with


10 years ago to cause coronaries in Shannon air traffic control but this was a singular achievement.

That Tipperary had plenty of good football material that had been shipped off in a number of different directions – county hurlers, the AFL, etc, etc – was emphasised early in the year when Clonmel Commercials, the first club from the county to win the Munster title, nearly did for eventual champions Ballyboden St Enda's in the All-Ireland semi-finals before being forced to extra-time.

Kearns’s deployment of the county team that in June beat Cork for the first time in 72 championships and overwhelmed Connacht champions Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final to reach the last four for the first time since 1935 was one of the managerial feats of the year.

Another milestone in the year came in early July. There was a poignant irony about how Wexford achieved the historic result of beating Cork for the first time since before the second highest attendance at any All-Ireland hurling final, 60 years previously.

That the sequence was ended not at a packed Croke Park but in a largely deserted Thurles qualifier didn’t diminish the sense of history being made.

Another potentially significant departure in 2017 is GAA director general Páraic Duffy’s proposal to turn the All-Ireland quarter-final stages into a round-robin format, which is due before congress with at the time of writing a fair prospect of success.

Like some magic bullet, it ties in the stipulation that the intercounty season must be condensed to allow greater space in the schedules for club activity, increased use of provincial grounds and an antidote to falling attendances.

Even in the season of fantasy and wish fulfilment can we really hope for that? I suppose in the ante-room of 2017 we can try.

email: smoran@irishtimes.com