Donegal's 1992 squad pictured at the Ulster final this year.
Twenty-five years ago, Dublin were odds on favourites to pick up the Sam Maguire. We can all remember what happened. Next Sunday they are 1/3 to lift it once again and make it three titles in-a-row.
Kerry were the last team to achieve the feat in the mid-eighties capturing titles in ‘84, ‘85 and ‘86. Many might argue that three titles won in the modern era would be a greater achievement considering the level of fitness and planning that goes into the game now; not sure I would buy that as the Kerry team that came along in the eighties were, like Dublin, at a different level than those around them.
Great credit has been afforded to Dublin in the way they have got on with their business this summer. They were always going to stroll through Leinster but to be fair they have always kept their court. They have never allowed themselves to be arrogant; they have never taken any team for granted preparing the same for every game; they have become the ultimate professionals in Gaelic football.
Their manager Jim Gavin just gets on with the job, preferring to stay in the background in most matters and heaping praise on the players at every opportunity. The only time he made any noise was to protect the good name of Diarmuid Connolly. Whether you agree or disagree with how he carried out his business in respect to Connolly, he did so, always defending and standing up for his players. He was never at any time going to hang Connolly out to dry but in doing what he did he cemented the commitment for the rest of the squad.
Dublin needed to create a cause, an ‘us against the rest’ scenario. Little did he think a Kerryman would do it for him. Pat Spillane, in attacking Connolly, gave Gavin the opening to create that scenario. Many might suggest that they didn’t need it, but every team needs something. These lads have won all that can be won in the game; desire can often be tainted by the pursuit of other activities. It’s not as if they are getting hundreds of thousands in bonuses.
Just like Cody with Kilkenny, Gavin knows to keep the success coming he needs to create different ideas, have different voices in the dressing room, allow younger players to come through but always making sure it is all about those that do it on the pitch.
What of Mayo: if ever a group of players deserve to get their hands on that bit of gold it is surely them. The likes of Keith Higgins, Andy Moran, Cillian O’Connor, Conor Boyle, Lee Keegan and Aidan O’Shea, to name a few, have gone to the well so many times, suffered disappointment after disappointment and still come back. It says a lot about them, not just as players but as individuals. Like Joe Canning in the hurling, these lads just deserve it as much but sport just doesn’t give it to you because people might think you deserve it, you have to go out and get it, do whatever you can to be the best you can be on the day and hope that’s enough.
The fact that they are playing the finest team to grace any field in the modern era can’t be the reason you didn’t do everything to give yourself that chance. I have no doubt Stephen Rochford and his management team will have done everything in their power to make sure the Mayo lads get that opportunity.
Of course, like 25 years ago, it can blow up in their face. However I don’t foresee Jim Gavin letting any complacency creep into the Dublin players thoughts; they are above that. However Dublin have never been run close this year in any of their championship games. Mayo have the power, strong runners from the back and will go into the game with nothing to lose. Unlike other years when Mayo were expected to finally end their long wait, this year there has been so much made of this Dublin side, very little talk has come from the west, very little is expected.
Unlike Dublin, Mayo have come through a long season, they are battle hardened after playing so many games. They have finally found a game plan that suits them, they attack en masse, they push up on the opposition for the kick outs; their tackling has been immense in the last few games and if they use the same approach against the Dubs it will test their discipline. Their fitness levels could not be faulted and as the summer as gone on they seem to have gotten stronger, but their task is enormous. However if Sunday was to produce a bit of rain or wind and leave underfoot a bit slippery, it would even things up a bit. My only worry would be that Joe McQuillan is not renowned for letting games get too physical, something I feel would help Mayo. If it is half the game the hurling was we are in for a good one. Will the Dubs be celebrating a three in-a-row or could we get another great story like we got 25 years ago.
Sunday will be a special day for the boys of 1992 as they are paraded during the final to mark the 25th anniversary