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comment Why all-conquering Dublin highlight the need for the strongest of squads

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Dublin's Kevin McManamon lifts the Sam Maguire cup

Dublin's Kevin McManamon lifts the Sam Maguire cup

SPORTSFILE

Dublin's Kevin McManamon lifts the Sam Maguire cup

We may never see the likes of this Dublin football team again.

Their achievements are well known: the first team to win five All-Ireland titles in a row, the first to win seven titles in the same decade, the first to win nine Leinster titles on the spin and the first to win 14 provincial crowns in 15 seasons.

Seventy-seven Dublin players have won 243 All-Ireland medals in the last nine years. And though the 2020 championship hangs by a thread - or at least the prospect of it being finished this year does - the odds are that when normal life resumes, Dublin will continue to be the dominant team in the series until at least 2025.

There are unique features about Dublin's decade of dominance.

Only five players - Stephen Cluxton, James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey, Ciaran Kilkenny and Paul Mannion - started both the 2013 All-Ireland final and the 2019 final replay.

By contrast, the Kerry team that came within touching distance of completing the five in a row in 1982 featured 12 starters in that fateful decider against Offaly who were also in the first 15 for the 1978 All-Ireland decider.

But for injuries to Jimmy Deenihan and Pat Spillane - he was introduced for the second half - there would almost certainly have been 14 starting survivors from 1978.

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Darren Daly of Dublin is presented with his GAA Football medal

Darren Daly of Dublin is presented with his GAA Football medal

SPORTSFILE

Darren Daly of Dublin is presented with his GAA Football medal

Jim Gavin embraced change. Mick O'Dwyer rewarded loyalty.

However, what's more fascinating about Dublin's decade of dominance is the role journeymen footballers played over the years.

Since the GAA changed the rule to allow five substitutes, the importance of the overall strength of a squad is paramount. And here Dublin have excelled.

Never in the history of the GAA have there been so many footballers walking around with Celtic Crosses, even though they have not alone never started an All-Ireland final - but never actually played a single second of one.

Between them Darren Daly, Cormac Costello, Eric Lowndes and Conor McHugh have secured 23 All-Ireland medals, yet none of them has ever started a final.

Daly, who retired last month, has been involved in all of Dublin's All-Ireland wins since 2011.

He is one of ten Dublin players who have won seven All-Ireland medals - one short of the record eight held by the Kerry quintet of Pat Spillane, Páidí Ó Sé, Ger Power, Ogie Moran and Mikey Sheehy.

But Daly never marched around behind the Artane Band on All-Ireland final day - but he did come off the bench in four (2013, 2015, 2016 and 2018) of Dublin's seven winning final performances.

Likewise, Cormac Costello has been another of Dublin's perennial substitutes, coming off the bench in four of their wins. And Eric Lowndes has had to be content with two appearances off the bench in finals.

Then there's the case of Na Fianna's Conor McHugh. Even though he has four medals - more than any non-Dublin footballer who is still playing county football - he has yet to actually play one second of a final.

Kevin McManamon's career has centred on being an impact substitute.

He did start one final - the 2016 replay. He didn't finish the game - he was replaced by Cormac Costello. But in Dublin's six other final wins he came off the bench and made significant contributions in the majority of them.

Thirteen minutes after his introduction in the 2011 final his 64th-minute goal changed the course of not just of that game against Kerry; there is an argument that McManamon changed not just the future of this Dublin team - which was seeking their first All-Ireland success for sixteen years- but the future path of Gaelic Football.

St Olaf's defender David Byrne served a long apprenticeship before establishing himself as a first team regular in 2019.

He was an unused substitute in two All-Ireland finals; then the Minor winning captain of 2012 came off the bench in three other deciders before finally nailing down the number two jersey last summer.

Further down the food chain there are a plethora of players who have picked up All-Ireland medals but never kicked a ball in anger on the biggest day of the season.

Stephen Cluxton has played every second of the seven wins - and the two drawn finals - so in terms of championship game time there has been slim pickings for Dublin's replacements goalkeepers in their golden era.

Michael Savage (3), Evan Comerford (3), Shane Supple (1),Andrew Bunyan (1) and Michael Shiel (1) have all picked up medals in their roles as sub-goalkeepers, though none have ever featured in a final.

There was a gap of two years between Dublin's first All-Ireland win of the decade and their next in 2013, and a change of manager with Gavin replacing Pat Gilroy in the autumn of 2012.

The new boss made significant changes with key figures from the 2011 final gone by the time Dublin beat Mayo in the final two years later.

Kevin Nolan, who won the Man of the Match award for his performance in the 2011 decider, ended his career with just the single All-Ireland medal. Injuries and illness meant he lost his place on the squad.

Likewise, Eamon Fennell - who made a crucial play after coming off the bench in the move which led to Dublin being awarded the famous free which Cluxton converted at the death in the 2011 final - and Barry Cahill ended their careers with one Celtic Cross.

Other one-hit wonders included David Henry, Ross McConnell. Tomás Quinn, Craig Dias - though he featured in one of Dublin's league matches this season.

A fresh batch of wannabes including Andrew McGowan, Darren Gavin, Sean Bugler, Cian O'Connor, Peadar Ó Cofaigh-Byrne and Michael Shiel picked up medals up their first medals as part of the extended squad last year.

Not all newcomers have to serve an apprenticeship, however. Brian Fenton has started the five finals in which he medalled in.

The Dubs' John Small also has five medals - he started four finals and came on as a substitute in the 2015 decider.


Three of Con O'Callaghan's four medals have been won as a starter and he came on as a substitute in the other final.

Sport is a cruel mistress. Mayo footballer Andy Moran played in five All-Ireland finals - six if the 2016 replay is included - but ended his career without a Celtic Cross.

But then success in Gaelic football is largely an accident of birth.

Players have multiple Celtic Crossses but have never played in final


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