Hanahoe hopes for capital gain


Gavin Cummiskeytalks to former Dublin player Tony Hanahoe who led his side to victory over Kerry in the 1977 version of this weekend's clash in the  All-Ireland SFC Semi-final

"It was a dull, humid day, there wasn't a breath of wind in Croke Park. Suffocating. Uneasy feeling."

... - Páidí Ó Sé, Kerry midfielder

"It was Manila, Frazier and Muhammad Ali. They slugged each other. Both teams thought they were going to win right to the end. That's what made it so phenomenal."

... - Jim Brogan, Dublin substitute

Tony Hanahoe recounts two stories that put the 1977 All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Kerry into some form of context.

Tony "Two Ton" Galento was more of a late-night brawler than a man known to stay within the confines of Queensberry rules. But on June 28th, 1939, "Two Ton" got his world title shot against the great Joe Lewis, at Yankee Stadium no less.

Despite stunning Lewis in the first and third rounds, the referee was forced to eventually intervene in the fourth to spare Galento further punishment. When asked afterwards what happened, Galento replied: "When I came out for the fifth everyone had gone home."

Dublin hit Kerry for two late, great team goals on August 21st, 1977. When Kerry sought to respond, everyone had gone home.

The Dublin players ended up in Meaghers on Richmond Road later that evening. A normally insightful and vocal disciple was unusually sullen in his opinions on the dramatic end game. When Hanahoe queried why his responses were so curt the man admitted that with 10 minutes to go his nerve went. John Egan had just put Kerry two points clear. He got up from his seat in the Cusack Stand and retreated to the bowels of the stadium, thus, missing game-altering strikes from David Hickey and Bernard Brogan.

Kerry addressed the balance in the coming seasons but that day, and the ensuing All-Ireland final destruction of Armagh, Dublin ruled Gaelic football.

Mick O'Dwyer, among others, has since rejected the idea this was the defining meeting of the era on the premise Kerry were younger and had yet to reach their peak.

"I felt it was the zenith of Dublin's power at that time," says Hanahoe. "We were more or less going to be finished one way or another in '78 because of the age of the team. By '76 a third of the team were all over 30. There was an average age difference of about 10 years between the teams.

"We were involved, up to '79, in six finals in a row. No other team has achieved that. Some of us had been on the go for a long time (Hanahoe and Jimmy Keaveney made their debuts together in 1964). The re-emergence of Dublin in '74 just came in time for people of my vintage."

There are two stock issues to put to Hanahoe: his role as player-manager through 1977 and the subsequent return of Kevin Heffernan halfway through the 1978 season.

The player-manager role was ably assisted from the line by Lorcan Redmond and Donal Colfer. "We had strategies for nearly every eventuality and we had a signal system worked out. Generally speaking, it worked. They wouldn't have to come racing on to the field to ask should we do this, that or the other thing. We had a unique position of understanding of what we had to do. There were contingency plans for every situation and that's the way it worked."

Seeking to readdress the return of Heffernan with Hanahoe, for the umpteenth time, is akin to asking Hendrix to describe the Star Spangled Banner riff at Woodstock.

"He wanted to come back. I felt he was entitled to come back. What the respective roles were will always remain a bit of a mystery. Some people think it was a good idea. Some people think it wasn't a good idea but the point was we were all fairly united at that stage. Unfortunately, it didn't end well in '78 because we got a hammering from Kerry in the final.

"There were other issues involved, extraneous to the obvious position but I don't want to go into those."

Kerry had evolved. Dublin had aged. Some months later Hanahoe gave an interview to Magill magazine (in the Clarence Hotel, just yards from the Hanahoe Solicitors offices, ironically, where yesterday's interview also transpired) where he criticised the All-Ireland final referee Séamus Aldridge.

He was suspended for a month. He played while the case was under appeal and was suspended for six months. That was eventually reduced back to a month.

Players from both sides gather this Saturday evening to reminisce. It's strictly informal. Not for the faint hearted. Not that any of these men could be described as such.

The Kerry contingent will surely remind their former opponents that Dublin have yet to beat them in the championship since - 30 years. Cork patiently await the victors. Dublin are again reaching a peak while Kerry have lost some key figures. Will the axis of power shift to the capital or will Paul Caffrey's team stumble once more with the line in sight?

"They were unfortunate to fall asleep last year in the semi-final and they paid the penalty for it. I think the reason was a little bit of overconfidence and they took their foot off the pedal. When you lose the initiative it is very hard to get it back.

"I don't think that door will be left open. It's well closed at this stage. I don't think there are any psychological weaknesses throughout the team. I wouldn't like to forecast it. If I was pushed I would say Dublin will win by the narrowest of margins."