Are the Dubs even bored of the Dubs?
So went the gist of a tweet I sent in a rare masochistic moment in the aftermath of Dublin’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Galway.
I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten into a discussion with a Dub about the Dubs. It gets hot and heavy pretty quickly. They’re not like Kerry folk, who shrug and yerra while patting their St Bernard-sized pile of All-Irelands in smug satisfaction.
No, the Dub is on the front foot. Question whether their population and money give them advantages in the pursuit of Sam Maguire and you will be shot down with details of various Noughties hidings.
Suggest Jim Gavin’s chloroform policy on media access makes them come across as faceless and boring and you will be presented with Kev Mac on a banjo, Jack Mac pulling faces on the Sunday Game and lots and lots of charity work.
In fact, even if you say that they are brilliant and the best team you’ve ever seen, but that maybe the rest need to pull their socks up, because the football championship is getting a bit predictable and that the attendance at the Galway match suggests even the loyal Dub might be finding it all a bit stale, even then, you still get both barrels.
“Your a thick” tweeted @jamiereidgp in response to my tweet along those lines, summing up the general view from the Hill on the matter.
This sensitivity to criticism might be considered strange for ones enjoying such success. Surely, they should be deaf to the bleating of bitter culchie losers with all those Celtic crosses stacked high around the sky-blue-and-navy camp?
The Dub, though, is different, and for two very good reasons.
Firstly, they think everyone is against them... which they are, so that’s okay. Just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me, and all that.
Secondly, they feel, because of this, that Jim Gavin’s all-conquering side do not get the credit they deserve.
Which is also true.
Not that people who complain about Dublin’s natural advantages don’t have a point. Sure, having a massive population brings its challenges, but don’t say that to Leitrim.
Also, with elite GAA requiring ever more financial resources, being the country’s economic engine room helps too.
Then, there’s the view that the GAA have loved Dublin, not wisely, but too well.
Terrified of losing the capital to rugby and soccer, the association pumped funds into coaching and development in Dublin.
This was a spectacular success, unless you think the imbalance in funding helped to crush all resistance within Leinster and beyond, and left us with this yawnfest football championship.
Hey, that’s just a view.
But in this age, where nuance is as fashionable as bootcut jeans, it is still possible to have those reservations and yet be awestruck at Dublin’s achievements.
To focus on their privilege is to neglect what makes them special, what connects them with all the great sports teams.
Specifically, would we be staring at the seeming inevitability of a four-in-a-row for Dublin if their manager hadn’t decided to bring his extraordinary talents to the job, in between raising a young family and basically running the Irish aviation industry?
Also, would they be heading for six All-Irelands in eight years, after two in the preceding 34, without their captain, the exceptional, driven, inscrutable Stephen Cluxton?
On Gavin’s part, he has managed, like all dynastical coaches, to create a ‘cause’.
Of course, most teams that win things have a cause. Limerick hurlers had a cause this year: Ending 45 years without an All-Ireland, but that will not sustain them next year, just as Galway’s edge was dulled when their own famine ended last September.
Just winning is not enough. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, the All Blacks, Kilkenny hurling, Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United — great teams must mean something more, whether it is a style of play, a sense of place or an expression of some kind of distinct ethos, creating a cause is key. He who has a why to live can bear almost any how, as Nietzsche (he’d have loved the Dubs) said.
Gavin has managed, despite the vast and sprawling cultural patchwork of the city, to create that identity within his panel. Hidden within the seeming nothingness of his press comments are hints at the cause he leads.
“Obviously, we have a lot of players at our disposal, but our job as a management team is to blend them to represent Dublin football,” he said last week in his pre-final media duties.
At the homecoming celebrations after last year’s All-Ireland, I was struck at how Gavin referred in his speech to his team’s style of play and how he hoped it reflected the city’s character.
The crowd roared its approval. This guy gets it, I thought. They’re playing for this thing called Dublin, this thing we outsiders think is just concrete and suburbs and shopping centres. This shit is deep.
Then, there’s Cluxton. I thought of him when reading reviews of The Captain Class, a book by Sam Walker, published last year, which argued that all great sports teams were connected by a similar type of captain.
Not the square-jawed, inspirational speech-making type. Rather, Walker’s rigorous research showed, great teams were led by dogged, single-minded, often sullen and aloof characters, who usually led from the back and allowed others to take the glory, and who had “ironclad emotional control”. Remind you of anyone?
Sport thrives on competition and unpredictability and this team are leaving the rest in their wake, but let’s not forget the things that have transformed their natural advantages into a team for the ages, one that perhaps is about to deliver a truly definitive All-Ireland final performance that even a thick like me couldn’t argue with.
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