The boys in blue bring the right amount of spice

By Cormac McConnell- The Examiner

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


DUBLIN may be heaven with coffee at 11 and a stroll round Stephen’s Green but I recall walking down Grafton Street, off the Green, five steps behind Dublin football star Tony Hanahoe when he was in his playing heyday.

Incredibly nobody seemed to recognise him. He walked down the premier street of his capital and county and nobody spoke to him, nobody seemed to recognise him, no hand clapped him on the back.

Granted, he was the dapper city gent with his bespoke pinstripe suit and briefcase, in his legal mode rather than stripped for action before the Hill, but it was surprising all the same. Dublin is different and Dublin football is different. Gooch Cooper would not be able to walk through any hamlet in Kerry without being stopped 10 times. Likewise for any of the big stars in any of the provinces. But Dublin is different, and that is both a positive and a negative for its stars.

It has to be good for the GAA that a good Dublin side are involved again in the final stages of the football championship.

The Dubs always bring a special spice and a garnish of uncertainty too when they are still strutting their blue stuff in August and September. They were hammered by Tyrone and Kerry at the quarter-final stages of recent seasons. They were trounced out of their provincial title this year. But they have come on strongly despite all the odds. That defeat of Tyrone a few weeks ago must have been the kind of sweet revenge which also empowers and motivates. They have renewed the perennial rivalry between the Culchies and the Jackeens with some style. The strut is back, the team is infused with gallons of new blood.

For the good of the game, we need them like a poacher needs cartridges or a gaff. They are the tabasco in the GAA stew at their best.

Some learned sports sociologist should study the "genetics" of Dublin football and footballers sometime soon. The results would make fascinating reading. Few sides have the capacity to self-destruct as quickly as Dublin teams.

The provincial final recently proved the point. Dublin can burst like a blue paper bag without warning.

And Dublin, as against Tyrone in the quarter-final, can also dramatically dig deeper than any on their day to rip the wheels and axles off opponents’ applecarts.

Remember those mighty games against Kerry in the heydays of that great rivalry? The Dubs lose games that they should win. And they also win games they should have lost. What will happen next weekend? There is no way of knowing.

That is the beauty of it. It depends on which Dublin team shows up. It depends too, in this view, on what happens afield in the first quarter of the game. The Dubs, above any other outfit, need goals, lust for goals.

Their forwards will have a crack at a goal and scorn the point that is there for the taking and that more pragmatic forwards take. That Eoghan O’Gara goal that tested the Tyrone net was the clincher last time out, beyond any doubt.

A goal, especially an early goal, is spiritually worth far more than three points to the metropolitans. A goal tempers and reinforces their frequently brittle temperament and resolve. A goal puts an extra spring in that strut they gain when they are going well. When that happens they play some of the best football you will ever see in Croke Park. Dublin football is different.

And so is its stewpot. My locally resident brother Sean brought me for a drink last year in the well-appointed clubhouse of the Saint John’s club in Ballinteer. It was like being in a good hotel with the function rooms crowded with various parties and the bar full. I recall that the men sitting at the bar were countrymen from all the provinces. They loved football and hurling, supporters of both their home counties and their adopted Dubs. Great company. There was a party of young men, late teens and early 20s, some of them players, sitting in the corner.

The inevitable singsong started at the bar and we all sang the old ballads and comeallyes. The young lads from the corner chimed in quickly. They outsang us in five minutes and they knew every verse of the old ballads and sporting songs. They were in the tradition if you like.

Outside in the suburbs the reality is there were tens of thousands of Dubliners who have never been to Croke Park, who know nothing about Hill 16 or Sam Maguire and care less, who would guess that Heffo’s Heroes were a rock band if they were asked. Because this is the metropolitan reality it is accordingly vital for the GAA that Dublin teams feature prominently in the championships when summer turns towards the tinted leaves of the first and last Sundays of September.

Cork will start favourites.

They are big – damn it, they are giants – ! and they can be counted upon to pragmatically deliver a focused and power-packed performance. There is little element of uncertainty about them and they will close ranks around the iconic absence of Graham Canty their talisman and do what they have to do. They will not shun points and go for goals that are but half-chances. We know what to expect from them.

But with the Dubs one never knows. That is the beauty of it. Bernard Brogan on his day is lethal and there is maybe more scoring power in the Dublin attack than in the Cork sextet. The blue paper bag, though, has apparently been discarded by shrewd Pat Gilroy and he knows how much tabasco to sprinkle in his stew. Eoghan O’Gara will probably shoot two or three dreadful wides. But he could also score the kind of net-ripping goal out of the blue that could turn the game on its head and result in many more Dubliners knowing that evening exactly where Hill 16 is.

It’s a fascinating prospect.