race for the title | 

Why Dublin are a 'League' of extraordinary gentlemen when it comes to last-day drama

If Kerry win, the cup is theirs. But if they don’t? Then it suddenly becomes a whole lot more interesting

If Kerry win, the cup is theirs. But if they don’t? Then it suddenly becomes a whole lot more interesting

Frank Roche

LONG before Dessie Farrell and his players decamp in Pearse Stadium on Sunday, they will know the score.

Another Allianz Football League title – Dublin’s sixth in eight seasons – could be within tantalising reach.

Or, the more likely alternative, the Division 1 crown will already have taken up residence in the Kingdom.

All depends on Kerry – and Donegal – who meet in Tralee tomorrow afternoon.

If Kerry win, the cup is theirs. But if they don’t? Then it suddenly becomes a whole lot more interesting, and the last-day clash of Galway and Dublin is liable to become a straight shootout for spring glory - in darkening late autumn, if you will.

Galway’s confidence could be on the floor after their Tuam Stadium humiliation against Mayo; Pádraic Joyce craves a defiant response in a hurry, with the clock ticking down towards their Connacht semi-final against Sligo a fortnight later.

Meanwhile, Dublin’s form graph during this stop-start campaign has been precisely that - stop-start - and yet it could conceivably end in silverware for their new manager as he fine-tunes his abundant resources in search of the ultimate All-Ireland goal, six-in-a-row.


Given all the above, even if Kerry have already made it mission accomplished, it would be entirely wrong to dismiss events in Salthill as a dead-rubber.

There is too much at stake, beyond points or even titles ... and each manager will hope to exit the league with a far clearer idea about what constitutes his strongest line-up for a straight knockout championship.

It was different, of course, during the Gavin era. Back then, strange as it may seem, global pandemics weren’t a point of conversation and nor did you have provincial matches literally just around the corner.

But you did have league semi-finals (for Dublin’s four-in-a-row from 2013 to ‘16) before the competition reverted to a straight shootout decider between the top two sides.

This explains how Dublin made it back to the summit in 2018; having finished second to Galway in the regulation campaign, they beat them by four points in the final.

Their overall league record under Gavin - five titles out of seven, and reaching six finals on the spin before last year’s blip - paints a picture of staggering spring consistency.

Which is true, up to a point.

However, a more accurate depiction of that era is that Dublin were often slow out of the blocks - no surprise given their frequently belated return to collective training after a team holiday to celebrate another All-Ireland.

Several times, as a consequence, they would enter round-seven of the league with progress still on the line. More often than not, with the sniff of silverware, Dublin would raise their game.

Never was this more evident than in Omagh back in 2014. Dublin were on seven points after six games, struggling to make the top-four semi-final ‘cut’.

But a slew of unannounced last-minute changes was the precursor to a blitzkrieg start: the Tyrone defence was every bit as bewildered as the press box, leaking two goals (to James McCarthy and Jason Whelan) inside 70 seconds and a third goal (via Michael Darragh Macauley) after 16 minutes.

And yet, after all that, the visitors were dragged back to parity on the stroke of 70 minutes.

If it had remained a draw, Tyrone would have leapfrogged Dublin into the top-four ... instead, Diarmuid Connolly bobbed and weaved before landing a spectacular winning point from distance, one that featured in several highlights reels after his recent retirement.

That crazy afternoon in Omagh wasn’t the only last-day drama involving Gavin and his team.

Back in 2013, they were already guaranteed a semi-final slot heading to Ballybofey.

Yet it was an important barometer for the new boss against reigning All-Ireland champions, and injury-time points from two of his fast-rising rookies, Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion, not alone secured the draw that preserved Dublin’s unbeaten league run ... they relegated Donegal in the process.

Very quickly, the finer details of that game were buried in an avalanche of controversy over ‘Bitegate’.

It was alleged that Donegal’s Paddy McBrearty had been bitten during the game; but the Central Hearings Committee subsequently cleared a Dublin defender cited by the CCCC, having weighed up the evidence and deemed the case “not proven”.

Other day seven highlights include Brian Fenton’s first league start, away to Monaghan in 2015. Within minutes Fenton had already marked his full NFL debut with a goal, and it set the scene for an 11-point cakewalk to seal Dublin’s progress to another semi-final.

A year later, Dublin were in the midst of a winning streak and already through to the semis before travelling to Roscommon on the last day. Except they ended up in Carrick-on-Shannon.

The then-infamously boggy Hyde Park didn’t survive a Sunday morning pitch inspection after an overnight deluge, prompting a late switch to the home of Leitrim GAA.

For members of Hill 16 on Tour, many of whose members were already on the train to Roscommon, that proved a huge logistical challenge.

But they got there in the end ... just as their heroes invariably did too.

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