That’s it folks. Tayto crisps, stuff hang sangiches, decease flashks of tae, football special and cheaper pints. These were a few of my favourite things about being from the countryside or being a culchie. But no more. Instead, I’m going to have to train myself into liking coddle, Mr. Brennan’s bread, wurly burgers and singing about how I apparently remember Dublin city in the rare auld times. Why? I feel as though I must give up any claim to being a culchie from this point forth. I have broken what must surely be one of the first commandments in being a culchie. I want Dublin to win an All-Ireland final.
The 1995 All-Ireland football final is the first which I can recall with any clear memories. Charlie Redmond got sent off for Dublin and initially wouldn’t go off, Tyrone had an perfectly legitimate late equaliser disallowed and Dublin cheated their way to an All-Ireland for the first time since 1983 (where, incidentally, they ended up with thirteen players after battering Galway into submission). There is a slight possibility that I never actually saw the ’95 final live, and it was actually part of an instructional video shown to culchie kids at the time as to why they’re never to wish success on Dublin. I’ll never know.
The noughties was a glorious decade for the Dublin-hating countryside folk. Tommy Lyons almost took Dublin to the holy grail in 2002, only for a last-minute Ray Cosgrove free kick to rebound off the post and gift Armagh a one-point victory in the semi-final. Paul Caffrey then stepped in, and two more semi-final defeats followed in 2006 to Mayo and 2007 to Kerry. The loss to Mayo was particularly hilarious for anyone outside of the M50 as Dublin choked to the greatest county of chokers this country has by giving up a seven-point lead with twenty minutes remaining to lose by a point.
Under Pat Gilroy though, it’s been a bit different though. There’s been a lot less bravado and a lot more humility from the Dublin players and management. Members of the 2002 Armagh side who defeated Dublin spoke of how the ludicrously over-the-top reaction that followed Dublin’s quarter-final victory over Donegal acted as further motivation for the semi-final. Paul Caffrey’s reign saw Leinster title after Leinster title staying in the capital, however, this all became more irrelevant with each passing year as Sam Maguire failed to make a reappearance during this time. Gilroy’s first two years saw two humbling defeats – a seventeen point defeat to Kerry in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter final and an eleven point defeat to Meath in the 2010 Leinster semi-final. All changed, changed utterly, and a terrible beauty was born.
The Dublin football side didn’t so much get a facelift last summer; it was completely dismantled and then rapidly reassembled to face an Armagh side in decline. Dublin overcame their hoodoo with Ulster teams by firstly beating Armagh in the qualifiers, and then crucially defeating a fancied Tyrone in the quarter-final. Both were tight matches, and both victories showed a bit of steel in the Dublin team in August for the first time since the mid-90s. Cork, somewhat undeservedly it could be argued, put an end to this dramatic transformation with a victory in the semi-final, however, there genuinely seemed to be something different about this Dublin side.
This steely determination reappeared in the semi-final against Donegal three weeks ago. An absolute mess for fifty minutes due to the ferocity of the defence they faced, Dublin still managed to get through in the end despite playing with fourteen men for the last ten minutes. As Alan Brogan noted in the dressing room after, this simply would not have happened a few years ago. Suddenly the buzz that has always surrounded a Dublin side in August seems to be backed up with something substantial on the field.
I’ll finish with a word of caution. If Dublin are to lift the Sam Maguire this Sunday, they’ll have to have overcome their greatest obstacle, their arch nemesis, their old foe – Kerry. Or are they? It must be noted in the middle of all the nonsense that you’ll probably be hearing this week about a Dublin-Kerry rivalry that no such rivalry exists. Dublin have beaten Kerry twice since 1934 (1976 and 1977) and have lost to the Kingdom eight times in championship football since 1977 alone. Think of Dublin as part of a Kerry procession towards All-Ireland glory perhaps, but not rivals.
Dublin will have to pull out all the stops on Sunday to prevent this happening again. I think they will.
Prediction: Dublin by 2.