Roy Curtis: Jim Gavin's Dubs are the greatest Sky Blue force of all

Jim Gavin
Jim Gavin

MAYBE Kevin Heffernan’s appointment to lead Dublin towards a land of milk and honey came not from a burning bush.

Yet, in the city, the story of the figure who led the 1970s migration to a sporting Canaan, who reawakened a downtrodden tribe, long ago assumed such a biblical narrative.

Heffo’s miraculous journey is the most recited passage from Hill 16’s Book of Exodus. 

Jim Gavin is always careful to defer to his storied predecessor, to declare Heffernan the pathfinder, the seed from which every subsequent harvest originated.

In the aftermath of September’s All-Ireland, he galloped away from any suggestions of equality between the two eras.

“Nothing will ever match Kevin Heffernan’s team and what he did for Dublin GAA, his spark and genius. We just stand on his shoulders, really.

“Dublin football wouldn’t be what it is today but for those teams, they got the city alive to Gaelic football, so I don’t think we’ll ever compare to those giants of the game.”

Gavin’s respect for those pioneers – Heffernan inherited a rabble upon which the city had turned its back and within months made them kings of the world – is genuine.

Yet Jim’s remarkable team are undoing his own heartfelt thesis.

The sense, with the long days poised to unspool and Dublin’s boys of summer revving an engine at once muscular and sleek, is of a team pursuing a new line on the horizon. 

Unless Mayo can at last conquer historic demons, or Kerry can restock with youth, or Tyrone and Donegal relocate old certainties, the summer’s story appears pre-written.

Gavin – 22 games unbeaten, nine big-fish hooked from a possible 10, one foe after another broken –  is chasing not just a glorious future, but a gilded past.

With each cultured step, each pushing out of the boundaries, Stephen Cluxton, Bernard Brogan, and James McCarthy are challenging old certainties.

Dublin, with their contemporaries looking increasingly impotent in their attempts to land any kind of sustained flurry of punches, are now pursuing old ghosts.

Not just Heffo’s Dublin, but, just maybe, even Micko’s Kerry.

Brian Cody’s Kilkenny are a team apart, indisputably the most voraciously accomplished side hurling has known.

Could it be that the title deeds to another summer will be seized by a team on their way to becoming football’s equivalent last word, the all-time transcendent force?

Ciaran Kilkenny (22), Brian Fenton (23), McCarthy (26), are still approaching their peak.  Jack McCaffrey could extend his sabbatical to two years and still return before his 25th birthday.

Of the certain outfield starters, only Brogan has entered his 30s.

The gradient to catch Kerry is steep, but time is on Dublin’s side as they pursue the greatest of the greats.

In terms of All-Irelands, this Dubs team (with three to Kerry’s otherworldly eight) are not remotely on the same page as Mick O’Dwyer’s 1975-86 galacticos. 

Yet a recent fourth league title, and the manner in which they cuffed aside their nearest rivals as if brushing a mote of dust from their jacket, carried the same superior DNA.

Dublin, at once swashbuckling and clinical, individually electric while collectively forbidding, beautifully athletic, operating at a vast remove from all those about them, appear untouchable.

Of course, as the story of Leicester illustrates, the sporting world can, almost overnight, spin on to a new and wild axis.

True, too, that Dublin’s three All-Irelands since 2011 were all won by a margin (one, two and three points) that could have been wiped out by a single kick from their opponent.

In contrast, Micko’s first managerial three – in 1975, ’78 and ’79 – were won by a combined total of 35.

But if this is not already the greatest Sky Blue force of all time (and the view here is that it is) then another summer of conquest will surely seal the deal.

Certainly, the 2011 forecast of Heffernan’s great forward, David Hickey, that here was the team to surpass the old soldiers, seems less outrageous with each passing hour. 

If the Sky Blues are the sure thing the odds-makers imagine – again Claudio Ranieri offers a cautionary tale against such certainty – then come September Gavin will eclipse Heffo. 

Another All-Ireland would make it three in four years for the current incumbent, an unprecedented rush of glory for any Dublin coach.

Though it was still his team, Heffernan had officially handed the reins to player-manager, Tony Hanahoe by the time Dublin last landed three in four back in 1977.

Of that team, Anton O’Toole and Brian Mullins, made it to four All-Ireland medals.

Cluxton, Brogan, McCarthy, Paul Flynn, Cian O’Sullivan, Philly McMahon, Diarmuid Connolly, Michael Darragh Macauley and Kevin McManamon are among a multitude who could join that revered pair come September.

In the promised land, the milk has never tasted creamier, the honey never assailed the senses with such delicious sweetness.