Dublin hunting down Kerry greatness of the 1970s and 1980s
Challenge is now to catch up with Jim Gavin’s side, says Galway manager Kevin Walsh
Galway manager Kevin Walsh and Dublin manager Jim Gavin shake hands after the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park on Saturday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Ominous Jim Gavin warning: a cohort lies waiting in the shadows.
Dublin in these dwindling twenty-teens hunt down Kerry greatness of the ’70s and ’80s.
And whatever records they set beyond.
Mick O’Dwyer’s eight All-Irelands in 12 seasons is now under real threat, with Dublin on the precipice of six in eight. The secret is revealed: players come (like the dashing Brian Howard) and players go (see Diarmuid Connolly in grainy Boston footage), yet standards remain.
The hulking Eoghan O’Gara can’t get a kick of the ball. Paul Flynn is a break-in-case-of-emergency weapon who looks every inch the four-time All Star whenever Gavin permits him to dance in the light. Two minutes on this Saturday evening was Flynn’s lot.
Gavin is asked whether he contemplates the enormity of what is unfolding. Four in a row beckons. Utter superiority, total control as Brian Fenton remains unbeaten because Dublin have not lost championship football since Jim McGuinness’s Donegal forced Gavin to evolve and alter the route to Sam Maguire.
“The challenge for us is to get that team prepared to represent Dublin,” the 47-year-old responds. “What comes after that and what guys look back on when their careers are finished, that’s up to them. We are very present.”
The public must also wait until it is all over to uncover the characters of these men. Just as we waited for Kilkenny hurlers like Eddie Brennan, Jackie Tyrrell and Tommy Walsh to reveal their personalities.
In the meantime, sermons are offered as questions. The benched heroes are mentioned. How do Kevin McManamon, Michael Darragh MacAuley, Flynn and Bernard Brogan’s remarkable recovery from cruciate surgery motivate younger starters towards perpetual motion?
“They are great leaders. That’s the first thing I’d say about them. Their dedication and determination to play for Dublin is infectious. Leadership is all about influence and that’s what those players do.
“Our squad sessions, our team meetings, and even on the pitch they leave their mark by their actions. We are very fortunate to have them.”
Unknown pleasures are promised. Nameless Dublin footballers we are yet to hear about never mind see wearing the blue and navy. Eoin Murchan is bobbing above the surface now.
“I am happy with the team performance,” Gavin adds. “Not only the guys who finished the game for us but in the shadows there is another cohort of players pushing really hard not only for game time but to get on the match day panel. The culture and environment the players have created for themselves is all about the team.”
Kevin Walsh bears witness to the same dominant force.
Everyone has to push the boat out here with a team like Dublin because everything they have is well structured
“It is up to us and everyone else to close the gap,” says Walsh, repeating the words of Davy Fitzgerald when Waterford manager in 2008.
“I just said to the boys you never know who is in the dressing room this time next year. Things change all the time.”
Sounds like four years might be enough for the All-Ireland-winning midfielder of 1998 and 2001? “Look it, I don’t know who will be here next year. Everyone has to put their shoulder to the wheel to catch up with Dublin – that applies to players, management, county board.
“Everyone has to push the boat out here with a team like Dublin because everything they have is well structured.”
Walsh, when asked directly about managing Galway into a fifth season, stalled.
“To be honest, before I came back last year I reflected very deeply on it in my own time. But if you look at the few milestones the boys have achieved. I was playing the last time we were here in a semi-final. I had black curly hair that time, it’s a while ago.
“Division one for the first time, every game we played this year was a championship match . . . That takes its toll on a young team.”
Gary O’Donnell speaks for Galway players when hoping Walsh’s period of reflection does not last too deep into winter.
“I think it’s very important that he does stay on, he has four years done and I think any of the top managers – Éamonn Fitzmaurice in Kerry had five or six, Jim Gavin in Dublin has six years. Kevin has built us and got us where we are at the moment, so I think it’s very important that he stays on and keeps things going in the right direction.”