Dublin-Kerry final is first since game-changing season of 1987

Barney Rock recalls some very colourful moments from National League 29 years ago

Dublin’s Barney Rock tackles Kerry’s Tom Spillane in the 1987 National Football League final: the Dubs beat a much-fancied Kingdom team. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Dublin’s Barney Rock tackles Kerry’s Tom Spillane in the 1987 National Football League final: the Dubs beat a much-fancied Kingdom team. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

It is curious that Dublin and Kerry who hold the record for GAA All-Ireland championship meetings with 28 have such a sparse history in league finals: this year’s is the first since 1987 and only the third in all.

The last meeting 29 years ago came as a turning point in the game’s modern history but not as many would have imagined at the time. Twenty-nine years ago Kerry had won the previous three All-Ireland’s in the second flourishing of Mick O’Dwyer’s team.

Dublin had been their opponents in two of those but in 1986 had slipped up in Leinster, losing the final against Meath. With new manager Gerry McCaul and some new players to complement those who had won the 1983 All-Ireland, Dublin looked to be on the move again.

Controversy

Dublin’s progress had been notable for the quarter-final against Cork. A late penalty had given Cork the lead, but inattention to John O’Leary’s kick-out saw the ball fall for Barney Rock on the left wing and he calmly kicked the equaliser.

Controversy erupted when Cork declined to play extra time. Dublin took the field on their own and referee – and future Ulster Council chair – Michael Greenan started play with just one team on the pitch.

“We went into the dressing-room. We came back out; Cork had gone back in and we were wondering what was going on. All of a sudden then, for some reason, I had gone in and started full-forward, the ball was kicked in so you take every goal that comes,” Rock says.

Cork county secretary Frank Murphy says he was aware Dublin were willing to play extra time. “But we are not. We have played a hard match on a heavy pitch and we are now off to catch our train. We expect a replay in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.”

A meeting of the old Games Administration Committee the following night went on for 3½ hours and accepted the referee’s report that Dublin had won 1-10 to 1-7.

Dublin beat Galway in the semi-final to set up a final with Kerry for the first time since the Heffernan heyday of 1977 and a crowd of 35,181 was in attendance.

Dublin started so well that Kerry never managed to catch them despite reviving after falling behind 0-1 to 1-5 in the first quarter.

“Ciarán Duff got a goal that really propelled it,” says Rock. “Goals win matches and on that particular day, that goal did win the match. Dully was fantastic for getting in and getting scores. I think he might have scored 1-2 or 1-3, something like that in the final.

“Kerry had come off, what, three All-Ireland finals? They’d won three All-Irelands and everyone was expecting Kerry to win it.”

In the jubilant winners’ dressing-room afterwards the then lord mayor of Dublin extended an invitation. “You are all welcome to Mansion House whenever you want to come,” said Bertie Ahern. “In the meantime I think we might have a couple of pints in Meagher’s.”

There was genuine optimism in the city that Dublin had staked a new claim as championship contenders but the counties that went on to dominate the All-Irelands were not as expected.

Unprecedented record

“We would like to think that we brought them down that little bit. Having said that, we just walked in to Meath after that and Meath just kept beating us for the next two years.

“At that stage a lot of the Kerry lads would have been in their 30s, some in their mid-30s. I suppose at that stage they had already won eight All-Irelands and Cork and Larry Tompkins were just coming at that stage.”

This year the roles are somewhat reversed. Dublin have won three of the last five All-Irelands and in doing so have established an unprecedented record against Kerry by winning the counties’ three most recent championship encounters. It’s now seven years since Kerry beat Dublin at Croke Park and these are sequences that Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s team would like to redress, particularly after a disappointing display in last year’s All-Ireland final.

“They will look at it as a bit of redemption,” says Rock, whose son Dean maintains the family link with Dublin as David Moran does for Kerry following in the footsteps of his father Denis, who played in the 1987 match.

It’s unusual to get a chance like this: a league final featuring the previous year’s All-Ireland finalists hasn’t happened for 23 years when coincidentally Dublin were also involved, defeating Donegal after a replay.

“One thing about it is that it’s the ideal final,” Rock says. “It’s the two best teams in the league.”

Greatest Dublin team

“I think they might be remembered as the greatest Dublin team. Let’s be honest: in the 1970s, we had a great team. They won three All-Irelands. If this current Dublin team actually go on and win another, you would expect that they would be considered the greatest.”

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