Dublin. The Dubs. The Jacks. The Hill. The colour sky blue. These are all things that make the blood boil in all right thinking Meath men. As a right thinking Meath man, nothing signifies summer more than a tilt at Dublin. Aside from Meath winning, nothing makes me happier than Dublin getting a good trashing out of the blue. The sight of Ciaran Whelan makes me smile as I remember he never won an All-Ireland.
Before you get all huffy about “The GAA embraces all Gaels” and “That’s not the attitude of a true supporter”, please stop. You don’t have to pretend here. It’s ok, you’re among friends. You can be honest. At its most basic level, the GAA runs on rivalry among clubs. How often have you heard someone say “I don’t mind getting bet, just not by them”? It’s not rational, it’s not real, but it’s true.
Is it right? Is it a juvenile way of embracing sport, and especially GAA, a sport played by amateurs? Should we move beyond this approach? To investigate, I decided to do the one thing I swore I’d never do: be nice about Dublin. Firstly, let me get some bile out of my system
With wall to wall media coverage and a massive success, it would be easy to dismiss and dislike this Dublin team. In ways, it is. Their crowning as the greatest team ever last season after their provincial final success was infuriating, and proved to be wildly presumptuous following Donegal’s mauling of the Dubs in the All-Ireland semi-final. Players how are good but not world beaters are anointed as superstars by the press as soon as they do anything half-decent in a Sky Blue jersey. We all have known and seen the Dublin fan who only knows about the championship, can barely recognise a player, but waxes lyrical about the Premiership.
None of this makes Dublin attractive. It makes them downright detestable. In recent years, however, this Dublin team has been harder and harder to hate, even for me.
One reason for this is the disappearance of the triumphant behaviour of both players and management. The Pillar Caffrey era of The Blue Book, running into Mayo men’s back to prove how tough you are, and celebrating in the face of the opposition is long gone. That team was actively detestable. Pat Gilroy and Jim Gavin have long put paid to that. This Dublin team is polite in the media, never blows their own trumpet, and carries themselves well. They’re almost…likeable.
You have to acknowledge how good this Dublin team is to watch. Strip away everything else, and they’re a breath-taking team. They move at a speed that is remarkable, they make good decisions. Even after the 2010 debacle against Meath, the “five past Cluxton” game, when Pat Gilroy tightened up Dublin defensively and reined in the most excessive parts of their free-wheeling persona, Dublin were still an entertaining team. It’s not drinking the Kool-Aid to suggest that to not appreciate this Dublin team is foolish.
They’re not going anywhere either. For all the talk about splitting Dublin in half and their behemoth-like ability to hoover up advertising revenue, Dublin are now what they should always have been. The Boys in Blue are the greatest under-achievers in the history of the GAA, by far. Dublin’s All-Ireland in 1958, celebrated as the first that Dublin won with an all-Dublin team, did not lead to a golden age of Dublin dominance. Dublin won one in 1963. Their great team of the 70’s won three, before Kerry shut the door. The 1983 All Ireland was down in large part to Kerry suffering a hangover from ’82 and the loss of the five-in-a-row, and a Galway implosion in their inability to break down “The Twelve Angry Men”. The 1995 team won an All-Ireland on a last gasp flop over the line against Tyrone after years of futility. If that game had gone on even another five minutes, in all likelihood Tyrone would have won. Dublin does not have that glorious a GAA history. The Dublin team with all their dominance is only like a colossus stirring himself to use their strength properly.
So, can I like them? I have tried. I really have. I’ve tried to take off my green tinted lenses and see this team for what they are. I can certainly respect them. I can admire their football. I can like the players as individuals. When it comes to that jersey, though, it’s just too much. I can’t bring myself to like them or to want them to do well.The thoughts of another “We’ll see you in Copper’s” speech is making steam come out of my ears even as I write this sentence. If Dublin never win another All-Ireland, that’s not a bad outcome for me. I’m sorry, I really tried.
Ultimately, that’s the essence of GAA fandom. Our passion for our own counties means that we have to give the squinty eye to those near us. We can admire all the great players and all their abilities, as long as it’s not against our team. When I lived in Cork, I would listen to people discuss Henry Shefflin in isolation, and admire his greatness. As soon as he played against Cork? He was an over rated spoofer. This is the fun of following the Championship. It is tribal and one-eyed; that’s why it matters so much to us. There is nothing wrong with actively disliking your rivals. So, ignore the pious ones, embrace the hate, and have no fear in baying for the blood of the men across the county boundary.