Posted by Christy O'Connor
Friday 7 October 2016
Not long after Dublin won the 2013 All-Ireland title, former player David Hickey was convinced that the current Dublin team were on the cusp of greatness. Dublin had just completed a first National League and All-Ireland double since 1976 when Hickey made the comparison between the current crew and his decorated generation of the 1970s. "They are better than us," said Hickey. "I hate to say it but they are better athletes, more all-round. We had some superhuman guys. But this is a team that can bring five guys on and there is no blip in the performance. A seamless transition. We can't back off now from creating a dynasty."
At the time, everyone associated with Dublin had those dynastic aspirations and ambitions. "When you haven't won one, it's all about getting over the line," said Bernard Brogan after the 2013 success. "When you have it, then it's a case of, 'Can we join the elite who have won more?' There is loads left in this team. There is real hunger there."
That 1970s team contested six successive All-Ireland finals and, along with Kerry, reinvented football and changed the way everyone looked at the sport. Yet when the current crew recently secured their fourth All-Ireland title in six years, Hickey’s claim seemed more valid than ever.
Their league crusade confirms as much. The Dublin team of the 1970s contested three league finals in a row, winning two in 1976 and 1978. Back in April, Dublin won a historic fourth successive league title, an achievement only Kerry and Mayo have managed.
It's impossible to compare teams from past and present but such comparisons are at the heart of sporting discourse. Football is far more competitive now but the current generation also has the potential to win more, and enjoy Dublin's most sustained period of dominance since the outset of the last century. Some players have huge mileage on the clock but their potential for more is further underlined considering that Dublin won this All-Ireland without two of their best defenders – Jack McCaffrey and Rory O’Carroll.
The current group are the natural heirs to the team of the 1970s in so many ways because that generation ignited the revolution, setting the standard for every other generation to follow. Dublin have now won 11 of the last 12 Leinster titles. The 1970s team didn't have that platform to build from.
From 1966 to 1973, Dublin's record in Leinster was disastrous. The selection committee was a mess, riven by politics and apathy. Good footballers came and went. Supporters stayed at home. Then Kevin Heffernan arrived and changed everything.
The 1970s team will always be immortal because they did more than just win All-Irelands; they transformed a sport, and spawned a new culture. Heffernan breathed life into the decaying body of the GAA in Dublin. He produced something new and sensational. With colour TV just beginning to take hold in a decade scarred by recession and emigration, Dublin’s story was deeply intertwined with Kerry but it helped fill a vacuum not just in the sporting arena but in the imagination of a nation.
When it was put to Jim Gavin after last year’s All-Ireland final win that Dublin now had a better winning record than Heffernan’s teams, Gavin didn’t see it in just those terms of numbers and statistics “Nothing will ever match Kevin Heffernan’s team and what he did for Dublin GAA,” said Gavin. “His spark and genius, we just stand on their shoulders really. Dublin football wouldn’t be what it is today but for those teams. They got the city alive to Gaelic Football so I don’t think we’ll ever compare to those giants to the game.”
Yet does a fourth All-Ireland in six years now place the current Dublin team ahead of that side? In his newspaper column on the day after the final replay, Kevin Moran said that it does. On the same page, Charlie Redmond said that this was “the greatest team Dublin have ever produced”.
This side has certainly already carved their own unique identity. What’s more, Dublin have the talent, resources, financial backing, development squad model and playing numbers to aim for the kind of domination and dynasty building that only Kerry can strive for. Talk of dynasties is easier to make with the current group's lineage to the past; Bernard Brogan is the son of Bernard Snr; James McCarthy's father, John, won three All-Irelands between 1974 and '77. Barney Rock, Dean's father, won an All-Ireland in 1983. Jack McCaffrey's father, Noel, played in the 1985 All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry.
It’s difficult to know how much more this group can be expected to give before being properly accepted, and acknowledged, within that company of their predecessors but they have already given everything. The All-Ireland final replay success was Dublin’s 29th game unbeaten across league and championship stretching back to March 2015. That’s a record unheard off before, five games ahead of what the great Kerry team between 1930-’33 managed. In chasing more success now again next season, how far can this Dublin team take this unbeaten run?
One of the most significant advantages the current team also have over their illustrious predecessors is their record against Kerry in the championship. In that era-defining period, Dublin and Kerry competed as equals between 1974 and '78, with two wins each. Last year’s All-Ireland success though, was the first time that Dublin beat Kerry in three successive championship matches. In August, Dublin stretched that streak to four, in what was the best game of the championship. Some critics described it as one of the greatest games of all time.
The Kerry team of the 1970s and 1980s may have been better than the current Kerry team but being able to keep their foot pressed on their historic rival’s throat, along with winning a historic fourth successive league title, and a fourth All-Ireland, does separate this Dublin team from the 1970s side. Yet as time goes by, the current team’s crusade also only enhances the legend of those who set the standard before them.
That was always Heffernan's aim; that the philosophy he instilled would endure, that the movement he spearheaded would continue to drive on to new heights. In this era, it has.
They have made their own history. This Dublin team will keep going but, as they do, the current group are still tracing the steps of their predecessors.
The legacy endures. The legacy continues.
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