GAA weekend that was: Dublin’s rage comes from within the machine
Jim Gavin’s side lift yet more silverware as Brian Cody keeps recycling with Kilkenny
Stephen Cluxton lifts the league title after Dublin’s win over Galway. Photograph: Brian Keane/Inpho
Dublin’s football rage is within the machine
Pardon the gentle reminder: in his now sixth season of Sundays as Dublin football manager, Jim Gavin has so far contested 16 major trophies - between the league, the Leinster championship, and the All-Ireland. And he’s won 14 of them.
That’s five Leinster titles and four All-Ireland titles, before Sunday’s win over Galway at Croke Park brought him his fifth league title with Dublin in those six years: his only two defeats came in last year’s league final, to Kerry, and in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final, to Donegal.
If as they say every team is only as good as their last match, then what hope is there for everyone else? Not much, it seems, beyond praying Dublin won’t be as good again in their next match. Or indeed the one after.
In some ways Sunday’s football league final was a match Dublin were perfectly entitled to lose: down to 14 men for the last 25 minutes, their slight advantage evened out shortly afterwards, playing into the cold wind, their opposition with a 37-year hunger since their last league title, Dublin suddenly raged against something to close it out on a 0-18 to 0-14 victory.
The sort of rage that can only come from within. Externally this Dublin team has nothing much left to accomplish or indeed to prove, least of all to themselves, which suggests the football machine that they have become is both entirely self-sufficient and sustainable.
Most of the match stats for the teams on Sunday were actually pretty similar: Dublin making 36 attacks compared to Galway’s 32; Dublin making 25 shots at goal compared to Galway’s 21; Dublin winning 45 per cent of overall kick-outs compared to Galway’s 55 per cent.
In the end, the 14 players Dublin had on the pitch contained only eight of the side that started last September’s All-Ireland final. Two of their starters, John Small and Michael Darragh Macauley, retired early with injury; regular top-choice defenders Cian O’Sullivan and Jack McCaffrey were missing (James McCarthy went off injured), and so too were top forwards Paddy Andrews, Eoghan O’Gara, Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly.
And they bring on a player like Con O’Callaghan who just seven days earlier provided the spark that helped Cuala defend their All-Ireland club hurling title, and land him his 10th title in just over a year.
Sometimes the great teams and great players need to be raging against something: their critics, their rivals, the dying of the light. What got this Dublin team over the line again is the belief and desire within the players themselves, something Gavin repeated with a little more emphasis than usual in the immediate aftermath: “They’re an amazing group of Dublin footballers,” Gavin said, “to have determination, drive and ambition, particularly after their phenomenal achievements last year.
“We don’t hand jerseys out, they have to earn it, and those players earned the right to represent Dublin. And to turn up this year with two weeks’ preparation for the National League, get themselves into a final and find themselves in a real dogfight with 25 minutes to go on the clock and a man down, into the wind, against a phenomenal Galway team with fantastic forwards.
“To still produce what they did is remarkable. Myself and the backroom team are just very privileged to work with these players, we really are.”
If anything then Dublin’s last match is perhaps the most telling of any of their recent trophy contests in terms of where Gavin has brought them from, and where they are going: an entirely self-sufficient and sustainable and increasingly unstoppable machine.
Cody keeps recycycling the Kilkenny machine
Brian Cody, meanwhile, doesn’t do reprisal, which is a good thing, because if anyone had the right to seek it out right now it would be him. Instead Cody simply keeps recycling the Kilkenny hurling machine with seemingly unlimited sustainability.
Just six weeks ago some people were questioning Cody’s future as Kilkenny hurling manger, or if indeed he even had one. Kilkenny lost their opening two league games, to Cork and then to Clare, and while Wexford were stealing a significant march at the other end of the league table, it seemed Cody’s team were destined for a relegation play-off.
Only now, having taken out Wexford in Sunday’s semi-final, 1-27 to 2-15 - including an unmerciful 1-11 without reply in the first half - Cody is now back in his 11th league final as Kilkenny manager, having won eight and lost two, the last three titles coming in succession, 2012-2014.
Like Dublin, the rage is coming from within, as this is a very different Kilkenny team to the one that won that last league title: of the team that beat Tipperary in that 2014 final showdown - 2-25 to 1-27 after extra-time -only five started on Sunday: goalkeeper Eoin Murphy, defenders Joey Holden, Padraig Walsh and Cillian Buckley, and forward TJ Reid. Gone but never forgotten are the likes of Henry Shefflin, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Michael Fennelly, Richie Power and Eoin Larkin.
So far this season Cody has used 35 players in the course of the league, enough to field two teams in other words, and while Reid was again central to Sunday’s win (hitting 0-15), Richie Leahy, Martin Keoghan, John Donnelly and Bill Sheehan were among the newer lights to shine. Conor Fogarty also returned after a long lay-off with illness and Cody still has the likes of Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan to come back, but this is a hurling team recycling at its most efficient.
“Not surprised, no,” was Cody’s response. “I’d never presume anything, but that the reality is we lost the first two games by three points, and could have won both or either of those two games. I’ve made it no secret that all times I’ve had huge confidence in my panel, and continue to have. They have to make the decisions on the field, not us on the sideline, and that’s why they’re intercounty players.”
Cody next brings Kilkenny back home to Nowlan Park on Sunday for a league final showdown against Tipperary, the 10th national final between the teams within the last 10 years. Against that backdrop, St Kieran’s College in Kilkenny also won their fourth All-Ireland colleges hurling title in five years, fending off a fightback from Presentation College Athenry, after extra-time, in Thurles on Saturday evening.
After a hurling and to a lesser extent football league that began with revolution in the air, pardon this gentle reminder.