blue murder Relegation for Dublin could be the kick in the a*** they need, says former Dublin legend John O'Leary
So far as John O’Leary is a reliable witness, Dublin’s last relegation didn’t cause quite so much fuss.
“Someone actually said it to me last week,” reveals the last man to captain Dublin to a league demotion in 1995, “but I have absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever. I thought he was talking about 1983…”
A quick recap so.
March of ‘95. Dangling precariously below the safety line are Dublin.
They play Derry in Croke Park where anything other than a win would banish them to a winter where they would be paddling the footballing backwaters of Division 2.
The omens for Dublin then, as now, weren’t great.
Pat Gilroy and Brian Barnes were sent off in club matches the Sunday before and were thus unavailable.
Three more players laid low with ‘flu; while Enda Sheehy, Mick Galvin and Paddy Moran – didn’t train the Tuesday before, although the first two ultimately played.
A Dessie Farrell-inspired victory in Newry a week previous relegated Down but they, at least, had an excuse – they were defending All-Ireland champions.
So Dublin needed a win in Croke Park against Derry, but only manage a draw.
Henry Downey hits the equaliser that sinks Dublin, but a different man, described in one newspaper report as “scoring sensation, Joe Brolly”, does much of the damage for Derry.
O’Leary laughs as these details are relayed to him like a recently woken coma patient having his memory jogged.
Maybe it was because of what came next. But league relegation in 1995 doesn’t score highly on O’Leary’s list of memorable career moments.
“It obviously didn’t register as being any sort of a big deal,” he says. “I don’t have memory of any anxiety or panic or anything, like there is at the moment. There’s a lot of anxiety around Dublin at the moment – a lot of doom and gloom.”
“That’s probably because of the relative standings of the two teams,” O’Leary adds.
“While we were All-Ireland finalists, we weren’t All-Ireland winners at that stage. So there would have still been a bit of a doubt about us.
“Which is probably why there is so much doom and gloom around the place now and why relegation is being talked about as a disaster.
“This is probably a bit of a reset. And maybe they need a reset. It might not do them any harm.
“A couple of those fixtures went against them and the next couple of fixtures will probably go against them as well, given the way the league has worked out.”
Point of clarification here: Dublin actually played Division 2 football as recently as 2008.
That often-used picture of the eight players suspended from the brawl with Meath in Parnell Park, standing on the terrace in Navan, bedecked in flared jeans and colourful hoodies, is from a Division 2 final where Pillar Caffrey’s team lost to Westmeath.
But Dublin had been put there a year before, when the league changed from a 1A/1B/2A/2B format back to Divisions 1 to 4.
So they never suffered the trauma of actually being relegated.
“It’s not the end of the world,” says O’Leary who, though he may not remember the day Dublin made the plunge, can recall traversing the unfamiliar pitches of Division 2 over the following two years.
“It becomes part of the character building of the team in future. You say, ‘we got relegated. That’s what we deserved. Maybe this is the kick in the a*** we need’
“It will be a chance to play some new counties, rather than the same ones they always play. It will be an experience to go to Roscommon or Clare or wherever.”
O’Leary suspects that Dublin will go down. Not necessarily on Sunday. But relegation now seems more probable than possible, and there has been nothing particularly unlucky about that.
“So they have to decide what they want from the league now,” he says. “Which is to accept it and blood new players in and get ready for the championship.
“Things haven’t gone well for them in the league. They’re not playing as well as they have in the past. They’re probably going through a bit of a changing of the guard.
“They still have to find a new way and a new rhythm.”
It should be noted that O’Leary’s amnesia is at least partly caused by Dublin going on to win the All-Ireland for the first time in 12 years, six months after being relegated.
And if Farrell is the sort of manager to believe in omens, he can draw on his own personal experience of that year if and when Dublin’s fate is confirmed.
“The disappointment of ’91, ’92, ’93, ’94 – that’s part of his DNA,” O’Leary notes.
“We needed to show huge resilience in those five years up to ’95 and I’m sure that’s something he can draw on.
“It’s not the end of the world and 1994/’95 is probably the best analogy you can have…even though I’ve forgotten it.”
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