Seán Moran: Old road maps of drive for five for Dublin to ponder

The history of previous attempts at the five-in-a-row record show how difficult it is

Offaly’s Séamus Darby  fires the vital  last -minute goal past Kerry goalkeeper Charlie Nelligan which denied Kerry five  All-Ireland football titles in a row in the 1982 final at Croke Park. Photograph: Colman Doyle

Offaly’s Séamus Darby fires the vital last -minute goal past Kerry goalkeeper Charlie Nelligan which denied Kerry five All-Ireland football titles in a row in the 1982 final at Croke Park. Photograph: Colman Doyle

 

What makes a landmark year in the GAA?

It’s probably a matter of personal taste. Offaly people will have no difficulty remembering 1981 – or ’82, as recalled by the excellent Players of the Faithful documentary last week – and 1995 will always have resonance for Clare.

But aside from individual county success, what makes one year stand out from the others?

We are however in the early days of a year that may pass into indisputable historical significance. But nothing is certain and the GAA has been to these foothills three times previously.

There will be a great deal of football played in the coming eight months but, as we stand, bookmakers price it as more likely to happen than not. Dublin may become the first county in Gaelic games history to win five successive senior All-Ireland titles.

Although football is of more relevance to the current attempt at making history, it’s interesting of all the counties to have the opportunity, only the most recent – Kerry’s 1982 footballers and Kilkenny’s hurlers nine years ago – have got as far as the All-Ireland final in their pursuit of history.

In the era of the qualifiers, neither Kilkenny nor Dublin needed a second chance on the way to four successive titles. Oddly, it was the Cork hurlers of the 1940s who were the only team not to win all of their provincial titles during an All-Ireland four-in-row.

That was because foot-and-mouth disease disrupted the provincial championships to the point where one of the affected counties Tipperary didn’t get to play Cork in the Munster final until December, after the All-Ireland final.

The first county to achieve four-in-a-row was Wexford in football, 1915-18. The turbulence of the times meant that the fourth title wasn’t contested until 100 years ago this month when they defeated Tipperary in the final.

Later in 1919 their great sequence ended in defeat by Dublin in the Leinster championship. Theirs had been a long, long road though. The first county to reach six successive All-Irelands, Wexford had lost two – including a replay – to Kerry in 1913 and ’14.

Dominic Williams, author of The Wexford Hurling and Football Bible 1887-2008, told Keith Duggan in these pages in 2015 that hardly surprisingly, the players – just 22 started the four All-Ireland final wins, 10 of whom had also played in 1913 and ’14 – were worn out.

Came unstuck

“After they had won the fourth All-Ireland, Seán O’Kennedy (the captain and driving force of the team) said that players were fed up and tired,” he said. “They had won everything they possibly could and just didn’t have the energy to go any further.”

Fatigue was also reckoned to have taken a toll on Kerry’s first bid for five-in-a-row, which came unstuck in August 1933. Unlike Wexford’s unexpected topple in the provincial championship, this happened in an All-Ireland semi-final and was a major event in the build-up.

Cavan were a coming side and had lost that year’s league final against a Meath team that put a stop to Kerry’s record unbeaten run of 34 matches from 1928 to ’33, a run of four years and eight months.

The match was eagerly anticipated.

“There was a large attendance of clergy and several members of the Dáil and others prominent in public and sporting life,” according to the Irish Independent.

In the same newspaper’s preview, the fixing of the match for Breffni Park in Cavan wasn’t considered a decisive advantage for the home side.

“There is such depth in the champions’ make-up that I do not think their day is yet past. They have played well in Cavan of recent years and should again qualify for the final.”

‘Celt’ in the Irish Press was a little more circumspect:

“Can the veterans of a decade of strenuous years, including three American tours, last out another championship? This is the question uppermost in the minds of Kerry Gaeldom at the moment and Breffni Park will give an answer on Sunday next.”

A late goal by Cavan’s Vincent McGovern before a crowd of 17,111 delivered the verdict.

Viewers of RTÉ’s documentary on the 1982 All-Ireland final, Players of the Faithful produced by Loosehorse, will have been reminded that a similar event brought Kerry’s other bid for five to a halt when Séamus Darby’s 69th minute goal turned the match in Offaly’s favour.

Winning manager Eugene McGee made the point in The Irish Times that Offaly had improved steadily. It was a third championship clash between the counties and they had lost an All-Ireland semi-final and final in the previous two years.

Goalkeeper Martin Furlong, whose 52nd-minute penalty save from Mike Sheehy was another crucial intervention, was asked to ‘assess’ his team.  

“We can’t be too bad, can we? After all, Kerry were a super team yesterday. What does that make us?”

Evocative recollection

Some years later, his opposite number Charlie Nelligan supplied RTÉ’s Breaking Ball with an evocative recollection of the decisive goal, saying that he remembered the rush of air over his gloves as Darby’s shot cleared his outstretched hand and knew that it had been a goal when he glanced around and saw raindrops falling from the net.

It’s hard to work out much in the way of lessons from history for Dublin. Coincidentally, last year’s defeated All-Ireland finalists Tyrone have completed the Offaly apprenticeship by losing successively a semi-final and final to the champions. If that appears unlikely, for much of 1982 Kerry’s prospects for five in a row were also considered all but certain.

Maybe fatigue undermined Kerry but after a further year without an All-Ireland, courtesy of another late goal by Cork in the 1983 Munster final, 11 of the players who lost to Offaly kicked off a further three-in-a-row in 1984.

Will Dublin be vulnerable to the demands made by the relentlessness of four years of winning 11 of the 12 major trophies available? Perhaps but the only reliable thread running through the fate of their predecessors is that one day, what you bring to the field isn’t enough. 

email: smoran@irishtimes.com

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