Paul Curran on the parallels with Dublin’s relegation in 1995

‘Watching what’s happening underage with Dublin, I think there could be a gradual slide’

Paul Curran is telling the story of Dublin’s first league match in Division 2, after being relegated the season before, and still winning the 1995 All-Ireland in between. It was against Leitrim, in Carrick-on-Shannon, and Dublin lost.

“And we never came back, really,” says Curran. “Whether that was the start of the decline of that team, I don’t know. But it certainly didn’t help losing that game, in Division 2. And we know what happened in the years after that.”

It wasn't a complete loss for Curran, who met his wife to be that same night in Carrick-on-Shannon. Still, Dublin didn't win another Leinster title until 2002 - Curran still plying his brilliantly versatile trade in defence - and had to wait until 2011 until their next All-Ireland. We know what happened in the years after that.

Dublin start their 2022 championship campaign against Wexford on Saturday, also freshly relegated to Division 2 next season, signalling some comparison with Curran’s era. Should they win back the All-Ireland this summer talk of decline will naturally stall, only Curran isn’t so sure: confidence definitely takes a hit after relegation.


“It can work both ways, it will depend on what happens in this year’s championship, then what happens in Division 2 next year.”


Asked which way he thinks it might work, Curran is mildly confident about Dublin’s summer, certainly in Leinster, only not necessarily beyond that.

“I don’t like to sound negative, and I’m not being negative, I’m being realistic. Watching what is happening underage with Dublin, I think there could be a gradual slide here.

“The levels they got to the last number of years was extraordinary, there was always going to be a fall off, a huge change in personnel too over the last five years, losing some incredible footballers, some to retirements, others who decided to opt out for various reasons. That has an effect on the group.

“I don’t think the guys coming through are as good, still have a bit of developing to do, so I would see a difficult time for us. We’re all looking forward to seeing this year’s championship, to see how they get on after last year, but not being successful this year may signal further decline.”

Underage structure

Curran points to Dublin’s underage structure, which as successful as it has been over the years, needs some tweaking: “I think other teams have mobilised in terms of their underage structure, we’ve seen what happened in Meath over the last few years, they’re beating us on a regular basis.

Kildare have had good success as well, and I think we need to have a little look at how we need to do things at underage level and development. I think we’ve stagnated a little bit, and they are looking at it.

“To be involved with minor management, you have to take a team at under-14. That has it’s advantages but also disadvantages, and I think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.”

Incidentally Curran’s own son, Luke, a Dublin minor, opted out of the under-20 panel this season to concentrate on his golf, playing with Castleknock, although he hasn’t ruled out a return to club with Lucan Sarsfields

There are still plenty of positives, not least Con O’Callaghan’s return, who Curran, his manager last season at Cuala, explains was carrying a knee injury throughout last summer: “A key player, no doubt about that. I’ve been lucky enough to manage a couple of clubs, a lot of good players, but Con stands above them all in terms of his football ability. Also in terms of what he brings off the field.

"He's had a break, he hasn't had one in a while, so I do think you'll be looking at a rejuvenated Con O'Callaghan, which is good for us. He really played two club games for us last year on one leg, and on that one leg he scored I think 2-19, or 3-19, in the two games. That shows how important how is for Dublin. He'll be a spark, no doubt."

Curran also worked with newly announced Dublin captain James McCarthy, during his time with Ballymun Kickhams: “A great choice, it’s a surprise he hasn’t filled the role before. What he’ll bring is what he brings to the actual game, going about his business in a very unassuming, under the radar way, and let his football do the talking. I think he’d lead that way too.”

Speaking at the launch of the Leinster GAA Beko Club Competition, which rewards one club from each county for their commitment to club and community, Curran also highlights a few areas Dublin need to improve.

"I don't think it's necessarily a back six problem, or anything like that. We're giving the ball away far too much, something that didn't happen under Jim Gavin. They were always able to keep that ball alive until working into a scoring position.

“We’re watching great players making some mistakes too, which they wouldn’t normally make, and that’s another thing we need to improve. I think that might be mindset thing as well.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics