All arguments have ended. There’s no doubt about Dublin’s status as the greatest team in Gaelic football history.
They have Mick O’Dwyer’s brilliant Kerry team of the 1970s and ‘80s at their backs, and there is every chance that Jim Gavin’s magnificent creation can now boldly step into next season, and the season after that, calmly and with less pressure on their combined shoulders than 2019 or any season up to this point. That’s the scariest thing of all.
Dublin was not especially magnificent, or even close to it, in becoming the first team in the history of the game to nail down five All-Ireland titles in a row. But they might show themselves to be absolutely untouchable as they make that six, seven or eight titles in even quicker succession. Believe it!
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Dublin has that ability, and after climbing over the one gigantic wall that has proven too great a barrier for great teams before them, they might well become a team that knows greater freedom of expression and execution than ever before.
If Jim Gavin exits stage left (as many observers of the Dublin camp believe) then there will be time for reflection, and a circling of the wagons, as the Dublin County Board goes in search of a worthy successor. Getting someone as cold-bloodedly secure in his management seat as Gavin will be difficult. It might only be a temporary hold up, however.
If Gavin goes, and a man within the camp – such as either of his trustiest assistants, Declan Darcy or Jason Sherlock – smoothly takes himself to the middle of the dressing room floor, then we’re going to see hardly a ripple on the surface of the Dublin team performance in 2020.
Dublin had their slices of luck this summer, that is true, no more than in the drawn final against Kerry. That was a game that Kerry might have won by 4-16 to 2-16, quite easily, but three spurned goal chances by Peter Keane’s team compared to one from Dublin left the game all square, on 1-16 apiece.
Last Saturday evening, back in Croke Park for the most anticipated replay in GAA history, Kerry had only one goal chance and Stephen O’Brien ruined that opportunity after a breathtaking run by driving his shot right at Stephen Cluxton in the Dublin goal.
At the other end, straight after halftime, Eoin Murchin had journeyed on an even more amazing sprint down the center of the Kerry defense and whacked home the only precious goal of the evening. It was the score that broke Kerry’s hearts after they had been so precise in defense in limiting goal chances, and had retired at the interval on level terms, 10 points each.
Count out the number of steps, however, that Murchin made as he evaded the tackle of David Moran and before he let off his shot!
I count nine. You might count 10! Because the Dublin defender easily doubled the number of legitimate steps allowed.
Referee Conor Lane and his officials were dozing, as the game had barely got up and running for that second half. It was a huge slice of good luck, but then again, the greatest teams in all sports known to mankind usually win themselves those things – they slip to one side and avoid vast amounts of bad luck, and win themselves sneaky advantages when they are going.
But this is not a week to deny this Dublin team their rightful place. Personally, I have never seen a team so incredibly well prepared, and then so capable of working things out for itself on the pitch – turning things around, and putting wrongs to right – like this bunch of players. And the team’s hunger? We pair Dublin with the greatest of teams, like the New England Patriots, like the mighty Brazilian World Cup winners we have known, like Brian Cody’s epic Kilkenny of recent vintage, and we are dumbfounded by the source and nature of that hunger.
It never seems to go away. No matter how big the lead. With 64 minutes gone last Saturday evening and Dublin winning by four points, Brian Howard contested a ball in the middle of the field surrounded by three Kerry players. Howard failed to win it at the first attempt. And that was acceptable given the odds against him.
hat was unacceptable, however, was the manner in which after falling to the ground he pounced full length to win the ball at the second attempt. Howard exemplified the heart and soul, and rock-solid concentration, of this Dublin team by knowing nothing else but that the winning of that loose ball was a matter of near life and death. Howard has been the most influential player on the Dublin team these past two years. He’s only around that long, and he’s only 21, but the Raheny man has been the most consistent player on the field for Dublin this season.
Jack McCaffrey won Man of the Match after the drawn final after scoring a scintillating 1-3, and Ciaran Kilkenny took that same honor last Saturday after hitting four decisive points from play. Both men, like Brian Fenton in the middle and Dean Rock up front, are the headline assets on this Dublin team, but the heartbeat has been Howard. And, he’s only going to get better. He’s still two or three years from reaching his peak as a footballer. Long before then, he will be listed among the greatest footballers in Gaelic football history.
The funny thing about this Dublin team that has won seven All-Irelands in total this decade is that there are not all that many men who can be rightfully listed among the greatest we have ever seen.
Cluxton is among them. So too, McCaffrey and James McCarthy. And Kilkenny, but that is about it so far. Less than we might think. Howard will be the next sure thing to take his place at that illustrious table. After him, Fenton and Paul Mannion.
And the greatest manager of all time, who should cast his shadow over this whole gang of the greatest players we have ever seen? That’s Jim Gavin. Easy. We have never seen anyone as meticulously mathematical as the Dublin manager. He has delivered the science of the game to a level most of us never imagined was out there.