Semple Stadium, August 2001: Dublin supporters helicoptered into Thurles

As the Celtic Tiger roared, Dublin and Kerry met in the All-Ireland quarter-finals

Dara O’Se of Kerry and Ciaran Whelan of Dublin battle for the ball  in the 2001 All-Ireland quarter-final replay in Semple Stadium, Thurles on August 11th, 2001. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Dara O’Se of Kerry and Ciaran Whelan of Dublin battle for the ball in the 2001 All-Ireland quarter-final replay in Semple Stadium, Thurles on August 11th, 2001. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

In a few weeks it will be the 20th anniversary of the first appearance of the All-Ireland qualifiers, which filled the championship with exotic possibilities. It signalled the death of strict knockout competition, on which we can only reflect fondly going into a second year of binary outcomes: dead or alive.

As well as an abundance of fixtures that had never previously seen the light of day in a summer’s championship, there was the prospect of the first year’s All-Ireland quarter-finals. Pubs went silent as the draw was made on the television for the last eight.

It was GAA liberation, the right of same-province counties to pair off if they wished, in defiance of the disapproving gaze of traditionalists. As the latter might have warned, it all went “too far” and three of the four matches ended up as re-runs of fixtures that had already taken place in the provinces.

The scale of the leaking got to the point where local radio stations knew who they were playing before the county manager did

The thrill of Dublin being drawn against All-Ireland champions Kerry was dulled by the emergence of Tyrone-Derry, Meath-Westmeath and Roscommon-Galway.

The permanently outraged swung from accusations that box-office quarter-finals had been contrived to suggestions that Croke Park had deliberately thrown together three provincial repeats so that crowds wouldn’t have as far to travel and bumper attendances would be guaranteed.

There’s actually a yarn about the draw and the grave disappointment that it proved to be for, well, everyone. When the loose assembly of GAA officials looked at the three underwhelming matches, a bright spark suggested that they could go with the earlier “rehearsal” draw, which at least had a bit more variety.

At the time it was all done in a pre-recording and screened later in the evening, until the scale of the leaking got to the point where local radio stations knew who they were playing before the county manager did.

Zero possibility

More sober voices pointed out that there was zero possibility of keeping that one under wraps should they attempt the switch. So, on they went, for better or for worse.

It did leave Dublin-Kerry unaltered. This was the first meeting of the old rivals since the 1985 final and it was to be held in Thurles. When the qualifiers were accepted by special congress the previous October, the late Noel Walsh proposed that, to “reward” provincial champions, they should have home advantage for All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Delegates, in their reforming zeal, turned that one down; otherwise Dublin would have been travelling to Killarney.

A fight breaks out during the All-Ireland quarter-final replay between Dublin and in Semple Stadium, Thurles on August 8th, 2001. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
A fight breaks out during the All-Ireland quarter-final replay between Dublin and in Semple Stadium, Thurles on August 8th, 2001. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Maybe it was just as well. Faced with a first championship voyage beyond the boundaries of Leinster, the Dublin supporters got confused and didn’t allow enough time to negotiate the clogged-up roads – and certainly, judging by the numbers piling out of minibuses to answer the call of nature, they hadn’t calculated adequate intervals for the relief of their bladders.

With the Celtic Tiger roaring, some supporters opted to hire helicopters to chopper them in to the greyhound track across the road from Semple Stadium in relays, like a Mid-Tipperary Apocalypse Now.

Dublin’s claim to fame that year is that they became the only beaten provincial finalists for ages to come to win a fourth-round qualifier – a week after losing to Meath. They weren’t really expected to trouble Kerry. It was manager Tom Carr’s fourth year and they had been beaten each year by the county that won Leinster.

Taken aback

On the way into Liberty Square, the Dublin team bus had to inch its way through Hill 16 On Tour and players were taken aback by the scale of the whole thing compared to the city where support is more thinly distributed on match days.

Dublin missed from everywhere that day and current manager Dessie Farrell contrived from point-blank range – surprised to have possession so close – to hit the crossbar and when he turned provider, Collie Moran put wide an open goal.

That’s how it was going for them and, with just over 10 minutes left, they trailed by eight. What happened next ultimately raised questions about Kerry that crystallised a few weeks later.

In nine minutes Dublin scored 2-3 without reply – and without any warning. Goals by replacement Vinnie Murphy and Darren Homan left them in front in the 69th minute back in the days when one or two minutes of injury-time was generally deemed sufficient.

Dublin arrive under a slight cloud, having lost home advantage in the fixture after their inexplicable breach of the training ban in April

There followed Maurice Fitzgerald’s work of art from a lineball, conceded when David Byrne put his kick-out out of play.

Something of the post-match reactions told the story. Dublin celebrated. Kerry fumed. So it played out in the replay. Johnny Crowley got in behind Dublin for two goals and, although they again rallied, their best shot didn’t swing far enough and Kerry won by a goal.

The counties roll back into town this weekend, roles reversed. Dublin are champions and if Kerry are more than no-hopers, they are now six matches away from the last championship win over their rival – the same gap as existed when the teams left Thurles 20 years ago.

Dublin arrive under a slight cloud, having lost home advantage in the fixture after their inexplicable breach of the training ban in April. There will be no crowds and therefore no opportunity for supporters to lose their way or give up on being able to get there on time.

One similarity will be that, like Carr, whose screaming confrontation with referee Mick Curley moved the players to appreciate his passionate intensity – and the old GAC to stick him in the stand for the replay – current Dublin manager Dessie Farrell will also be suspended.

That means he won’t even be in Semple Stadium. Even though he did win a match there as manager of the Dublin minors, it’s not the happiest of hunting grounds.

smoran@irishtimes.com

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