These are no ordinary times in Gaelic football and this is no run-of-the-mill five-in-a-row bid.
Not when a former footballer of the year, a two-time All-Star and two multiple All-Ireland winners are praying that they have done enough to tog out on Sunday.
Last year, Bernard Brogan failed to make the match-day panel. It’s a nice gesture that extended panels are permitted to run out and be part of the warm-up but on this occasion Brogan was the only player surplus to requirements that kitted himself out for it and the team photograph.
For a footballer as accomplished as Brogan, wearing the No. 27 jersey must have been a largely redundant feeling. You sense he had to be persuaded. Sure, memories were made and the photographs of him and his twin baby boys on the field afterwards will be cherished but it just wouldn’t have been the same as anything that had come before.
It was nothing like his first final in 2011 or two years later when he hit 2-3 against Mayo.
Not even comparable to the 2016 replay and ’17 finals when he came off the bench.
Last month, David Byrne spoke about how he was given a medal despite not playing a minute of Championship football last year because of injury. “I got a medal,” he said.
I don’t know if, when I reflect on my career, how many All-Irelands I’ll feel I’ll have won. But I have the medal, yeah. The ones you play in are always that bit more special.
At least Brogan did play for about 10 minutes in the dead-rubber game against Roscommon. At least he was provided with a medal too.
In 2004 and with the GAA rulebook then dictating only 30 medals could be distributed, 19-year-old Bryan Sheehan had to give up his to Darragh Ó Sé, who was ruled out of that year’s All-Ireland final against Mayo through injury.
The county board made the call but Ó Sé would have been put out had he not received one. In truth, but for him in the Munster final and replay, Kerry may not have made the final.
Two years later, his brother Tomás was taken off at half-time in the facile win over Mayo in the 2006 All-Ireland final. Ó Sé has spoken openly about how that felt like a defeat to him. It’s a medal that counts but it wouldn’t glitter as much as the other four.
The siblings’ stories appear to contrast but they tell of the individuality at the heart of team sport.
Brogan won’t sulk or slouch. Behind the security cordon in Dublin’s St Clare’s training base — as he did in the game against Tyrone in Omagh earlier this month — he has again contributed.
However, if the semi-final squad remains intact, he faces the same fate 12 months on against Kerry. It wouldn’t be a finale befitting one of Dublin’s greatest footballers but imagine how that frustration is fuelling the group’s preparations.
Rory O’Carroll, Darren Daly, and Eoghan O’Gara find themselves in the same boat.
Having been away for three seasons and experiencing a disappointing afternoon in Healy Park, O’Carroll might be quicker to believe them’s the breaks.
Six-time All-Ireland winner Daly has never started a final, coming on in five of the seven games, while O’Gara has begun just one.
Obviously, Jim Gavin has his resources but it’s a credit to him that there’s more attention being placed on the make-up of his 26 this week — Diarmuid Connolly’s return didn’t have help in that regard — than the 15 who will start.
It’s yet another distraction from the five-in-a-row. Five doesn’t figure for Brogan, Daly, O’Carroll, and O’Gara when their lotto numbers this week are all between 17 and 26.
Look through the Dublin panel and you can question the significance of that number. Having taken 2015 off to go to China, it’s not about the five-in-a-row for Paul Mannion.
Neither is it for Jack McCaffrey when he also stepped away from a season in 2016 to work in Africa.
Does Michael Darragh Macauley consider this a five-in-a-row when he is aiming to start his first final since he was dropped after the drawn 2016 game against Mayo?
Does Paddy Andrews, as he hopes to see some action, his last in a final coming in 2017 when he was benched at half-time?
For the aforementioned Byrne, how could this be five when he is gunning for his fourth in a playing capacity?
How hollow does five in a row sound to Brian Howard and Niall Scully, beginning only their second finals? Con O’Callaghan his third? How does Cormac Costello feel about being a final substitute in all four of his All-Ireland final medals?
E pluribus unum — out of many Dublin are one but if this drive for five is successful, looking after number one will count for plenty.
What can Cats gain contesting Hogan red?
It was reported last week that the Kilkenny County Board were contemplating contesting Richie Hogan’s red card. Such a move wasn’t unexpected. When they have felt suitably indignant, the Cats don’t let sleeping dogs lie.
Six years ago, Henry Shefflin’s red card for two bookable offences in the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Cork was brought to a Central Hearings Committee meeting, where his dismissal was overturned as the body found his first yellow card was rescinded.
There was no material benefit from opposing the sanction — Shefflin was not facing a suspension — but Kilkenny felt their player’s exemplary record was worth defending.
There was also the point of questioning Barry Kelly’s judgement, just as they did the following year when he awarded Tipperary that late free in the drawn All-Ireland final.
At least publicly, Cork took no offence to that course of action, as Tipp are unlikely to do now. Kilkenny’s beef is with neither but officialdom. However, the optics didn’t look good last week, tried as Richie Hogan did to address the issue in a radio interview and Brian Cody insisted he wasn’t “whinging”.
We say so again — in the context of other decisions throughout the summer, Hogan was unfortunate — but there is an implication that Kilkenny could have won had he remained on the field.
“We didn’t get the opportunity to build on a terrific first-half performance, to have a chance to take on the great Tipperary team in the second half, fight it out to the bitter end, 15 on 15,” Cody reportedly told supporters at the Kilkenny homecoming in Nowlan Park. Kilkenny’s anger about Hogan’s red card could turn out to be righteous but if it is true they are to query it, what truly is there to win?
‘Invincible’ Fenton is Moran’s Everest
As is customary, match-up discussions will dominate the pre-match chatter in the coming days.
There is growing speculation that Jack Barry, who has a decent track record against Brian Fenton, will be drafted in to mark the Dublin ‘invincible’.
It’s true that Adrian Spillane’s spot beside David Moran in midfield is under threat but given his fine display when coming on against Tyrone it could be argued that Jack Sherwood’s inclusion would seem more likely than that of Barry.
Besides, Moran has a couple of perceived wrongs to right against the 2018 footballer of the year. As a former team-mate of Moran recently told us (more of his words will appear in the Irish Examiner later this week), Fenton has been on the Kerins O’Rahilly’s man’s radar “from a long way off”.
Before coming up against Fenton in the 2015 All-Ireland final, Moran had looked a cert for an All-Star but on that drenched occasion the Dubliner was the superior, earning the man-of- the-match award. In the following year’s All-Ireland semi-final, Moran opened Kerry’s account with a point from a difficult angle but Fenton again won their duel.
As with four years ago, Moran is in the vicinity of claiming an All-Star but then so too is Fenton, who has 3-8 to his name this summer. Unbeaten as a senior Championship footballer, he is the embodiment of this Dublin team, his form and scoring often directly proportional to his team’s.
This is personal for Moran — Fenton is a sort of Everest for him — but conquer him and Kerry stand a major chance.