Dublin fast overtaking Kerry in football’s generation game
Four Dublin players in line to feature in final have surpassed their previous generation
Dublin’s James McCarthy has six All-Ireland final winning medals, three more than his father, John, who won them in in 1974, 1976 and 1977. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
It doesn’t seem that long ago since David Moran was talking about his hopes of winning another All-Ireland football medal and maybe closing that gap on the previous generation. No one expected the Dublin footballers would get there first.
On the eve of the 2015 championship, still fresh from winning All-Ireland medal number two the season before, Moran also joked about “The Kerry Parents Association”, a little nod to his father Denis “Ogie” Moran and being the son of their eight-time All-Ireland medal winner.
Moran’s team-mate and also best mate is still Tommy Walsh (son of Seán), and he also grew up playing alongside the likes of Aidan O’Shea (son of Jack) and Eoin Liston (son of “Bomber”). All their old men won seven All-Irelands.
“I think in Kerry if you’re any good, then you’re better than any of they were,” Moran said in an interview with this newspaper. “Or if you’re not as good, then you’re way worse. You’re never just as good as. I’d say all the Ó Sé’s always felt something similar, after Páidí [their uncle].
“There was never any pressure though. He [“Ogie”] was always very encouraging, and the likes of Jack O’Shea is, as well. But it was always my dream as a youngster to play with Kerry. And when you’re young like that you always think you’re going to make it.”
Four seasons on, and after captaining the Kerry team in the rain-soaked 2015 final that lost to Dublin, 0-12 to 0-9, Moran is still searching for All-Ireland medal number three – still some way off his father. This not helped by the fact he tore the same cruciate on the same left knee not once but twice and in quick succession, missing the 2011 and 2012 championships.
Not that Moran didn’t appreciate those already won (“there’s no comparison, I know, between the two All-Ireland medals I’ve won, in 2009, and 2014, although I won’t be throwing out the first one, either,” he said); it’s just few people expected Dublin footballers to have now won the last four All-Irelands in succession.
With that the generation game has moved on in other ways too. Moran and Walsh will both feature in Sunday’s final showdown against Dublin, while the Spillane brothers from Templenoe, Killian and Adrian, are seeking their first All-Ireland winning medal. Their father, Tom Spillane, has four All-Ireland medals to his name, while their uncle Pat has eight (and not forgetting their other uncle Mick, who has seven). They’ve a very long way to go, but as in most sports your best chance of winning your first is usually your next chance.
Four Dublin players in contention to feature on Sunday have already surpassed their previous generation and by some distance, and they’re not all finished yet either. Whether he features or not, Bernard Brogan is in line to collect his seventh All-Ireland winning medal, should Dublin prevail, or four more than his father Bernard snr, who won his three medals with Dublin in 1974, 1976 and 1977.
James McCarthy is also on the hunt for All-Ireland medal number seven, like Brogan, winning in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. That comfortably eclipses the three All-Ireland medals won by his father John, also in 1974, 1976 and 1977 (and not forgetting the three finals All-Ireland he also played in and lost, all to Kerry, in 1975, 1978 and 1979).
Not far behind McCarthy at this point is Dean Rock, whose father Barney did win an All-Ireland medal with Dublin in 1983, before losing two consecutive finals to Kerry in 1984 and 1985, is looking for his winning medal number six on Sunday, since winning his first title in 2013.
Then there’s Jack McCaffrey, who is seeking to win his fifth All-Ireland medal since 2013 (he missed the 2016 championships having opted for work experience overseas); his father Noel also seasoned with Dublin in the late 1980s and although he didn’t win an All-Ireland medal was an All Star defender in 1988.
The endgame of last year’s All-Ireland final win over Tyrone was clearly special for McCaffrey, the moment captured not long after when he embraced his father Noel under the Hogan Stand. It was the first time McCaffrey was on the field at the end of an All-Ireland final; he was taken off in 2013 and 2015 (when he was feeling ill), and limping off early with a cruciate ligament tear in 2017.
That generation game spreads beyond father and son too, as Noel also played a role in coaching at minor and under-21 level with not just Jack, but also Ciarán Kilkenny, Brian Fenton, John Small and Paul Mannion. Between those five, there are 21 All-Ireland medals won already, leaving most Kerry players with a very long way to go.
There is further connection with the Dublin team of the 1980s: seeking his fourth winning medal on Sunday is Con O’Callaghan, whose father Maurice came on as a second-half substitute in the 1984 All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry, replacing Joe McNally. O’Callaghan senior was also part of the Dublin panel at the start of the 1983 season, but was gone by the time Dublin beat Galway in that final, and later played both football and hurling with Westmeath, the county of his birth.