Dublin getting closer

28 December 2006

Barry Cahill
The Sam Maguire may have eluded them in 2006, but Dublin can still take encouragement from the fact that they are getting closer to achieving their goal according to full back Barry Cahill.

Despite their unexpected championship exit at the hands of Mayo, Dublin will look back on 2006 as another year when further progress was made. After reaching the All-Ireland quarter-final in 2005 and the semi-final in 2006, the next step has to be a first All-Ireland final appearance since 1995.

“That’s the aim,” agrees Barry Cahill, who saw off one of the great full backs of modern times, Paddy Christie, to make the number three jersey his own this year.

“Most of us have been involved for the past four or five years and you can see the improvement every year. We put in a serious amount of work in the gym this year and I think you saw a physically stronger team as a result. But we’re still not the finished article and there are other areas of our game we need to work on.

“We feel we are getting closer and closer to winning an All-Ireland. If we can improve another notch next year, we’ll be there or thereabouts. We’ll keep up the training, keep knocking on the door. We’ve a lot to build on and we’re all looking forward to giving it another crack next year,” the St. Brigid’s man adds.

The high point of Dublin’s year was undoubtedly their retention of the Leinster championship. After receiving a major scare from Longford in the first round, they recorded big wins over Laois and Offaly to become the first team in 11 years to put titles back-to-back.

“Our objective at the start of the year was first and foremost to retain the Delaney Cup and thankfully we managed to do that. It was a big achievement in itself.

“We knew Longford would be a tricky game to begin with. We had an easy win over them last year and that was a big incentive for them, especially as they had us down in Pearse Park. They gave us a bit of a fright, but at no stage during the game did I feel we were going to lose.

“We got a lot of criticism after we played Longford, so the Laois game couldn’t come quick enough for us. We were well up for it, and that was probably our best performance all year. But I felt it was one of those games when everything went right for us and nothing went right for Laois at all.

“Going into the Leinster final against Offaly, all the pressure was on us whereas they had nothing to lose. They played very well in the first half and it was well into the second half before we eventually wore them down.”
Dublin’s National League campaign was completely overshadowed by the infamous ’Battle of Omagh’ which resulted in seven players from Dublin and Tyrone being handed suspensions, only to have them overturned on appeal. Paul Caffrey’s charges defeated the 2005 All-Ireland champions and their All-Ireland semi-final conquerors Mayo too, but a draw with Kerry in their final Division 1A tie put paid to their hopes of reaching the knock-out stages.

Massive underdogs Longford provided the Metropolitans with by far their most searching examination en route to retaining the Leinster championship. In what was a cracking contest played before over 15,000 fans at the new-look midlands venue, a nine-point haul from ace marksman Conal Keaney, plus a rather fortuitous first half goal from Mark Vaughan, were key to Dublin’s 1-12 to 0-13 win.

The visitors led by six points, 1-11 to 0-8, midway through the second half but had to fight a sterling rearguard action to keep their under-rated opponents at bay. Dublin won the corresponding game in 2005 by 19 points, but on this occasion they were relieved just to come away with their Leinster championship ambitions still intact.

Next up for Pillar Caffrey’s crew was a re-run of the last year’s Leinster final against Laois. Another close, hard-fought battle was expected, but instead it turned out to be a stroll in the park for the impressive Dubs who romped to a facile 3-17 to 0-12 victory.

The early exchanges were close and the sides were level on 0-3 each at the end of the first quarter. But a fisted goal by Mossy Quinn in the 22nd minute, coupled with an injury to Laois midfielder Padraic Clancy, tipped the balance firmly in Dublin’s favour. They went on to lead by 1-9 to 0-6 at the break and never let up in the second half with further goals from Ray Cosgrove and Quinn leaving Laois completely demoralised.

The performance saw expectations soar in the capital ahead of the Leinster final against a resurgent Offaly. Watched by over 82,000 spectators at Croke Park, the game was played at a cracking pace in the first half, at the end of which the sides were level on 0-6 apiece.

Dublin had dominated the opening half territorially and they continued to do after the restart, eventually breaking the midlanders’ spirit. The game was already slipping from Offaly’s grasp when midfielder Alan McNamee was sent off on a second yellow card midway through, and a late goal from Jason Sherlock sealed their fate as the Metropolitans eased to a 1-15 to 0-9 success.

Yet another Leinster side, Westmeath, provided the opposition for the high-flying Dubs in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Although firm favourites, Dublin were taking nothing for granted, not forgetting their shock Leinster championship defeat to the Lake County two years ago.

As it transpired, Dublin more than justified their favourites’ tag with another big win – 1-12 to 0-5. The game was as good as over at half-time when Dublin led by 1-7 to 0-2. The most impressive feature of their play was the dominance of their midfielders Ciaran Whelan and Shane Ryan and the control exerted by their backs, and specifically the impressive manner in which they negated the threat of Dessie Dolan.

“We were on our guard going into that game,” Cahill remembers.

“They beat us in 2004 and they had got a great result down in Galway in the previous round. But our dominance around the middle third made it comfortable for us in the end.”
Few, if any, gave Connacht champions Mayo much chance of stopping Dublin’s gallop towards a potential Sam Maguire Cup decider against Kerry. But when the upset was least expected, it came.

After making an important declaration of intent by having their kick-around at the Hill 16 end, Mayo thundered into the game, hitting four unanswered points in the opening 15 minutes. Conal Keaney finally got Dublin off the mark two minutes later and they were back in contention when the same player netted in the 23rd minute. They could have had another goal when Jason Sherlock’s shot came back off the underside of the crossbar and Mayo were fortunate to be 0-9 to 1-5 ahead at half-time.

Dublin restarted in devastating fashion, opening up a seven-point lead within 10 minutes thanks to a Sherlock goal and points from the outstanding Alan Brogan and Keaney. Mayo appeared to be dead and buried, but they produced an astonishing comeback which culminated in Ciaran McDonald firing over the winning point with two minutes remaining.

Heartbreak then for Dublin, who were edged out on a 1-16 to 2-12 scoreline in what was arguably the greatest game of the past decade.

“When you get that far, you want to go further. It’s a terrible feeling to lose, especially when you come that close.

“But fair dues to Mayo – any team that comes from seven points down and wins deserves credit. They got scores at the right time and it was very hard to stop them once they got the momentum behind them.”
Cahill denies that Dublin had been in any way unsettled by Mayo’s decision to head for Hill 16 before the game started.

“I don’t think it had a bearing. I’ve been involved with the Dublin senior team since 2001 and I was surprised that none of our other opponents had done it before now. We do all our warm-ups in Parnell Park and it’s just a case of getting a feel for the place when we get to Croke Park.

“Whereas we stumbled out of the blocks, Mayo got off to a flying start. People have said we got complacent when we went seven points up, but that certainly wasn’t the case. We blitzed them at the start of the second half and I don’t think that any team would have been able to keep that up,” he says.

The 25-year-old also rejects the notion that the huge hype which gripped the capital all summer long played a part in Dublin’s eventual downfall.

“As a group, we’re a fairly mature group and we don’t allow outside pressures get to us. It’s great to have so many people supporting us, but when we go out on the field, we’re just focused on the job in hand.”