Dublin still out there on their own – splendid and fearsome
Gavin’s side absorbed Tyrone’s very best in the first quarter – then duly took control
Dublin’s Philly McMahon lifts the Sam Maguire in front of Hill 16. “Why would we not want to win an All-Ireland? Why would we not want to win six or seven?” Tyrone. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Kevin Heffernan, thou shouldst be living at this hour.
What began as winter conversations up in 1970s Marino about how to revive the city game – how to make something happen in the suburbs – materialised into something magnificent as the sun shone in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day. There was nothing more Tyrone could do here as Dublin retained the cup for the fourth successive year. Never has the sky-blue side looked so strong and imperious.
It was, of course, no surprise, that Dublin swept Tyrone aside to claim their 28th championship. It finished 2-17 to 1-14, the high score a testament to the Ulster team’s decision to have a real cut.
Still, the unblinking way in which Jim Gavin’s team absorbed the very best that Mickey Harte’s young side threw at them in the first 15 minutes of ferocity and poise was frightening to behold.
In the end, this final just removed another grain of comfort; the idea that getting off to a good start against Dublin is crucial. Because for 10 happy minutes, Tyrone were transported to a dream land. Here was a team schooled on Harte’s experience and innovation and bearing the hallmarks of his earlier cloud-busting sides; fearlessness and poise and a wee bit of Northern spite.
Maybe their impetuosity surprised the Dubs. Or maybe Dublin just decided to soak up the early charge. Either way, it all turned in the way an Irish summer day can suddenly vanish.
It was 0-5 to 0-1 on the scoreboard; in most games, for most teams, that is a reliable sign that a team is in trouble. The champions didn’t entertain that notion.
The surge had started even before Paul Mannion’s penalty but reality seemed to crash down on the stadium as soon as his venomous strike hit the net. Dublin seemed to remember who they were and suddenly, the scores came raining down.
In just 13 minutes, Dublin’s blitzing attack had fired 2-4. Their second goal contained everything good about Dublin: the sharpness, the front-foot aggression, slick passing and the unselfishness, with Con O’Callaghan, strong enough to get back to his feet after a late, heavy challenge, slipping a pass for Niall Scully to palm home.
A baritone roar of approval emanated from the Hill end and travelled around the ground and then Dean Rock, after testing the mood for a further goal, hit a point on the run.
Even with their perfect opening, Tyrone trailed 2-6 to 0-6 after just 28 minutes. The impossibility – the near pointlessness – of their mission was beginning to present itself even then. It took courage to the point of bloodymindedness to stay within touching distance, even if the second half seemed to just play itself out in an exchange of points before Peter Harte’s 69th minute penalty.
To get within four points of Dublin was tantalising; just enough to leave Tyrone with a bunch of what-ifs to nurse through the winter. But even after Dublin lost John Small to a second yellow card – after a gruelling tussle with Peter Harte – there was no sense of an upset in the stadium. In came the boys of summer – McManamon, Costello, Macauley – to see them home.
“That mental resolve within the Dublin team is just a pleasure to witness,” Jim Gavin said afterwards.
“And that collective ethos that they have. They see the prize is the collective serving the county, and not the self, and a lot of players there who didn’t even get game time today. And they didn’t show it but they must be disappointed not to play in an All-Ireland final. They just want the team to do well. It’s team team team and they’ve demonstrated that again today.”
So the GAA has a dynasty on its hands. People will carp. As the Sam Maguire is brought along for its customary visit to the Boars Head on Monday and the finality of Dublin’s superiority settles over the country, the debate about Dublin’s resources - the money and the population etc – will become louder over the winter. The subject even found its way into the notes of Stephen Cluxton’s captain’s speech, which is usually a study in politeness.
If the Parnells man sounded faintly resentful, then it is understandable. If this Dublin epoch stretches into the next decade without showing any signs of weakening, then it can be said that the city strength will have engulfed not just the other counties but the All-Ireland contest itself. But to put this day down to ‘resources’ is to be churlish on an exceptional group.
Resources do not account for the two lung-busting covering runs made by Paul Mannion, notionally operating in the full-forward line, to snuff out a looming Tyrone threat on Stephen Cluxton’s goal.
Money doesn’t account for Paddy Christie’s decision, over a decade ago, to try and get a team rolling in Ballymun or the hours he has given to John Small, Philly McMahon and Dean Rock.
It doesn’t really explain what possessed Bernard Brogan to push and harass himself back to fitness just five months after a cruciate injury. Brogan didn’t make the substitutes bench yesterday. Paul Flynn, another of their true-blue attacking talents, didn’t get to leave his seat. And yet both men were genuinely happy and appreciative to share in the glory of their team-mates as the streamers lay scattered across the ground and Bagatelle played on the sound system and the huge blue army scattered across the various villages of the city to celebrate.
Less than an hour after seeing off the last of the challengers, Dublin had the big stadium to themselves. Philly McMahon was among those out on the field. McMahon has been there for all six of Dublin’s All-Ireland titles since 2011: he has borne witness to the revolution. Afterwards, he mentioned the death this year of his father and, some years ago, his brother, when talking about what it is that keeps him wanting to do this, year in and year out.
“And when times are tough and you are sore and tired, they come into your head. That is how they are there spiritually. So for me it is just being grateful. There’s people that this will be the last All-Ireland they will ever see. So why would we not want to win an All-Ireland? Why would we not want to win six or seven? But more importantly why wouldn’t we want to just go out and enjoy it?”
And you could hear, as the gulls circled Croke Park and twilight fell, that the city was gearing up for a party. Maybe the mood was not quite as romantic or innocent as it was back on the night in 2011, when All-Irelands were a once in-a-generation occurrence.
Right now, raising the Sam Maguire has become part of the city calendar. They are out there, splendid and fearsome, all on their own. History beckons.