Roy Curtis: The 35 reasons why the Dublin footballers are so good
Here, to celebrate their record-breaking achievement, are 35 factors that have facilitated the Sky Blues’ march to uncharted football heights.
It all starts here. With the fleet of immaculately tuned Gulfstream jets that sit in the Sky Blue hangar. The greatest vein of skilled footballers the city has ever known.
Since 2011, 16 city boys have been decorated with All Stars. The panel includes three Footballers of the Year. Dublin’s skyscraping accomplishment has, at its foundation, the deepest bedrock of authentic brilliance.
The father of the revolution, leader of a stylistic coup d’état that overthrew the traditional ways. The most influential GAA figure of the past 20 years.
His lasered kick-outs transformed the game, introduced a fresh language of communication; here, at last, was the enriched uranium that gave the Dubs nuclear capability.
3. Growing strong in broken places
The summer of 2014 was a pivotal crossroads on the route to immortality: Dublin were All-Ireland champions, but, in a dizzying ambush, Donegal illustrated that their basic defensive architecture was in need of urgent redesign.
Jim Gavin – wedded until then to a gunslinging doctrine – assimilated the brutal lesson and made the critical philosophical adjustment of his coaching career.
4. Cian O’Sullivan
And so began O’Sullivan’s second life; sweeper, doorman, praetorian. In 35 games, Dublin have never leaked three goals.
Dublin are a fantastically-tooled Swat team, a Swiss army knife of endless hyper-serrated edges: Connolly, Rock, McManamon, Kilkenny, Brogan, Andrews, Flynn, Mannion, O’Gara and Costello are among those happy to fire the killshot. And here comes Con O’Callaghan…
6. Stamping on the Startled Earwigs
In The Great Recession – the 28-year wilderness bookended by 1983 and 2011 during which they won just one All-Ireland – Dublin’s default response to crisis was that of deer to a crack of buckshot: Panic attacks. Meath, Kerry, Tyrone, Kildare, and, on Black Sunday in 2006, Mayo, availed.
In crisis Dublin’s swagger dissolved, a soft centre spilled out. The humiliation by Kerry in 2009 emphasised to Pat Gilroy that talent without mental sinew was doomed to fail.
7. Mental Metamorphosis
Compare then to now. The defining quality of Gavin’s Dublin is their refusal to bow, their inner-calm, the cold, methodical, unflinching response when the fever is running highest.
Think Kerry last Saturday, Tyrone three weeks ago, Kerry or Mayo last summer. No matter how pressing the emergency, Dublin decline to press alarm bells. In close games, they find a way. Immune to panic, armed with an unbreakable inner-certainty.
8. Diarmuid Connolly
The purest fruit from the orchard of genius.
9. Pat Gilroy
Reseeded a fallow field. The 2011 breakthrough All-Ireland he oversaw was a mental damburst, allowing all the neuroses which had held Dublin back to cascade out to sea.
10, 11, 12 and 13. The Ballymun Towers
James McCarthy, Philly McMahon, Dean Rock (above), John Small. Paddy Christie has done the city some service.
14. Knocking Kerry off their perch
Maybe it was the quick-fire rat-tat-tat of Kevin McManamon’s goal and Cluxton’s killing point in 2011, or those soaring summer arias of 2013 or 2015. Even the injury-time revival in Tralee a week ago.
What is evident is that Dublin, for so long a broken force when the Old Firm collided (34 years without a championship victory over Kerry), have mastered the art of pulling down the pillars of the Kingdom temple.
15. The Wizard of Oz
Even from a distance of 12,000 miles, even with a hugely rewarding career as a professional sportsman in the AFL beckoning, Ciarán Kilkenny felt the irresistible pull of home.
And as he surrendered to that elemental, vocational calling, Dublin had their quarterback, their shaper of dreams.
16. The Hill
Dublin’s summer furnace. An accelerant over dry timber. An azure-hot forest fire. An elite 16th man.
17. Brian Fenton
A perfectly engineered good-luck charm: Dublin have never lost a game he has started. Feed all the analytic requirements for the complete midfielder into a computer mainframe and the figure it would suggest would be a facsimile of the cerebral and athletic Raheny titan.
18. John Costello
Dublin’s CEO – and Cormac’s father – offered visionary leadership, oversaw an underage coaching revolution in the county which identified and marshalled elite talent.
The elder Brogan’s likeness is carved on to Dublin’s Mount Rushmore: Great before greatness was everyday in the city.
His final act in Sky Blue – the point that broke Kerry in the 2015 All-Ireland – was singed with trademark class.
20. Bernard (below)
His predatory skills suggest he would have been as comfortable on the Serengeti as the killing fields of Croke Park. How often did his 21-188 tally fish Dublin from the dangerous waters of ebbing confidence?
21. Strength in depth
Dublin won the O’Byrne Cup without 40 potential starters. They fired the following silver bullets from the bench in Tralee last Saturday: Cian O’Sullivan, Kevin McManamon, Paul Flynn, Paul Mannion, and Eoghan O’Gara. None from James McCarthy, Diarmuid Connolly, Johnny Cooper, Jack McCaffrey or Cormac Costello featured. Frightening.
Talent is only part of the story. Dublin are propelled by a rare hunger, an understanding of their opportunity to author history, a ravenous desire to be the very best they can be. Ambition acts as a firewall against complacency or self-congratulation.
23. It’s in the genes
Dean, son of Barney; James, son of John; Bernard, son of Bernard; Jack, son of Noel. A football Coolmore.
24. Hunger Games
Dublin are lethal in a shoot-out, resilient in crisis, upholders of the highest standards even on those unfashionable, low-key off-Broadway nights. A remorseless, relentlessly driven force of nature.
25. Cooper Man
When Rory O’Carroll’s wanderlust took him away, it seemed Achilles’ weak spot at the heel of defence might have been exposed. Johnny Cooper – a triumph of efficiency, a no-fuss, player’s player – stepped into the breach. And Achilles never looked as invincible.
Some see only the city chutzpah, the cheeky strut and ignore the depth: Here is a self-made man, an advocate, an inspiration and figurehead for Ballymun. Fearless, defiant, forever striving, the qualities that have carried this team made flesh.
27. The shot heard around the world
Stephen Cluxton. A ball. A free. A September Sunday. 82,000 people. A suffocating coliseum. A perfect strike. Nirvana. The sire of all that followed for Dublin football.
28. The Dean of the dead-ball
Dean Rock is Dublin’s superior professor of geometry, converter of 38/41 (93 per cent) frees before a rare All-Ireland final blip. His emphatic and potent response in the replay revealed unbreakable resolve and refrigerated veins.
Rock’s presence in summer’s highest court ensures opposition offenders can expect no clemency when the verdicts are handed down.
The Himalayan summit, the final frontier that proved beyond even Kevin Heffernan’s leviathans of the 1970s.
30. Jack Mac
A thoroughbred gambolling down a verdant highway, a stripe of speed. Born to run.
31. James McCarthy
A study in grace: Effortless power, hovering over the ground looking like he might not leave footprints in the snow. A giant in moments of crisis.
32. The Aura
Dublin’s run of invincibility has become self-perpetuating, planting doubt in their rivals’ minds, undermining their last strides for glory. Exhibit A: Mayo in the All-Ireland final. Exhibit B: Kerry, time and time again. Exhibit C: Tyrone, three weeks ago.
33. The League
Even as they chase five titles in a row, it’s Dublin’s finishing school. This spring it is Eric Lowndes, Niall Scully and Conor McHugh seeking a place in the passing out parade, looking to become Jim Gavin’s latest made men.
From the Ground Zero of a Leinster loss to Meath in 2010, Dublin are pursuing a fifth straight league title, a fifth All-Ireland in seven seasons, a seventh Leinster in a row. And awakening a debate about football’s greatest ever team.
35. Heffo and Jim Gavin: twins in achievement
The elder is, eternally, the city’s commander-in-chief. The inspiration, the touchstone for the younger man.
Dublin could not have a better ringmaster than Gavin. Calm, erudite, demanding, loyal. A facilitator and a superintendent, forever placing the needs of the team above any individual, propelled by a keen sense of a place and a care of duty to the Sky Blue soul.