Plenty of pedigree, ambition, and a genuine tradition shape the Thomas Davis narrative

There is some debate over the ferocity of the challenge though the end result of a red card for Dr Crokes’ Danny Cooper was the upshot.

Plenty of pedigree, ambition, and a genuine tradition shape the Thomas Davis narrative

There is some debate over the ferocity of the challenge though the end result of a red card for Dr Crokes’ Danny Cooper was the upshot.

Paul Curran, months off winning his first All-Star with Dublin, was raiding upfield for Thomas Davis in the 1992 All-Ireland Club final when Cooper — older brother of eight-year-old club mascot Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper — intervened.

“Danny put out the hand to catch him and he couldn’t so he put out his leg and caught him — you’d get life in jail now for it!” recalled Crokes colleague Noel O’Leary in a 2017 conversation with The Kerryman newspaper. Curran himself recalls it a little differently.

“I was centre-back, he was centre-forward. Was it a foot trip he was sent off for? I think it was, I remember it being harmless enough, a second yellow card maybe,” said Curran.

Either way, it left the Killarney men in a sticky situation early in the second-half of a game in which the elements, and now momentum, had swung against them.

“I remember arriving that day with a gale blowing into the Hill end,” said Curran. “We ended up playing against it in the first half. Crokes got a foothold, led by something like eight points at the break. Back in ‘92, a lead like that was virtually game over but we had the wind in the second-half. Then the red card went in our favour but we missed a penalty and we ultimately ended up losing by a point. We were gutted.”

Thomas Davis returned to the Dublin championship in search of a four in a row,optimistic about their chances as back-to-back Leinster champions. But they couldn’t pull it off.

In fact, when the Kiltipper Road outfit cross from south to north Dublin Sunday and return to Parnell Park, it’ll be the Tallaght side’s first county final since 1991.

“An unusual 28 years, that’s for sure,” observed Curran.

MEMORY LANE

It’s Wednesday afternoon and Curran is far from home, sitting in the clubhouse at Ballybunion Golf Club in Kerry. The view is majestic but it looks wild out and high scoring in the Munster Boys’ Amateur Open championship on the Cashen Course confirms as much. The former Dublin defender is secretly glad his son, Luke, a minor with Dublin in this year’s Championship and a two-handicap golfer, is out on the links and not him.

Curran has time to kill and agrees to a trip down memory lane, through the club’s colourful in between years. The 1995 Texaco Footballer of the Year coached the senior team for a while himself, in the mid-2000s, but the Tallaght Stadium issue dominated the local focus at that time.

“I think our focus was lost for a while when Shamrock Rovers showed up, thankfully that’s all behind us,” said Curran referencing the long-running row over the use of Tallaght Stadium, a new publicly-funded ground eventually designed to accommodate soccer and the homeless Rovers club but not Gaelic Games.

Backed by the GAA, Thomas Davis fought a row that went to the very heart of national politics before being defeated in the High Court in early 2008.

According to the club, their reasons for taking the legal route were to ensure “transparency, fairness and parity of treatment with regard to the investment of taxpayers money in sports facilities in Tallaght”.

With the GAA’s support they were, in essence, railing against Rovers, a professional outfit, being given a stadium while, according to Thomas Davis spokesman David Kennedy at the time, ‘For every pound from the public purse we’ve got for our facilities over the years, we’ve had to raise seven or eight ourselves’.

A media report suggested that Thomas Davis was left with a six-figure legal bill afterward and three years on, with the country gripped in recession, news of the ‘current parlous state of the club’s finances’, contained in a 2011 letter to club members, made national headlines.

“I think it’s fair to say it was a difficult few years,” said Curran. “The big thing when you have other stuff going on that’s dominating attention in a club is that the important stuff, the actually playing and coaching, maybe doesn’t get as much energy and time as it should.

"They would have got into trouble financially then but a lot of it was good debt, if there’s such a thing, because we improved the facilities with the all-weather pitch and doing up the clubhouse as well. Thankfully a land deal a couple of years ago out wiped out the club’s debt and its financially sound again.”

Early last year, South Dublin County Council granted planning permission for the construction of 70 dwelling units on a plot of land purchased from Thomas Davis for a reported fee of around €4m.

GREAT MEMORY

Paul Kelly was in charge of the Thomas Davis minor footballers when Paul Curran played for them in the late 1980s. Kelly actually wasn’t a whole pile older than Curran, with only three or four years in the difference, though the players thought nothing of it.

“He brought us to a minor A final against St Vincent’s in ‘87, we lost by a couple of points and I’d say he could have only been 20 or 21-years of age,” said Curran, an All-Ireland winner with Dublin in 1995. “The great memory I have of him is flying around Tallaght on his bike, knocking on doors, getting lads out for training and making sure they were available for games. There were no mobile phones at the time.

“He disappeared out of the club then, ended up in Eadestown in Kildare at some stage in his 20s I’d say. But he kept bringing his young fella, Óisin, back to play with Thomas Davis. He’s a lovely footballer, played for the Dublin minors and will be playing in the county final this weekend.”

The elder Kelly assisted with the coaching and selection of the Eadestown men’s team and enjoyed success with the club’s ladies team before going on to manage the Kildare ladies. He’s back as Thomas Davis now and in his sixth, and by far most successful, season managing the senior team.

“He’s a super lad, he deserves every bit of success he has with them,” said Curran. “He’s put a serious amount of time into the club and a lot of his own resources have gone into it.

“What’s been great to see as well is that fellas from my own era; Paul Nugent, Garry Kilmartin, Dermot Murray, all those guys have put great work back into the club. There’s been a very concerted movement from those guys to help bring the club back up to the level it was at. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that they’ve made the progress they have because the work has gone in.”

LONG BATTLE

It isn’t light reading but there’s a 20-page document on the Disputes Resolution Authority’s website explaining the case put forward by Thomas Davis at a hearing in March, 2018 that’s worth a look.

Chiming with the present mood for change in the All-Ireland championship, the DRA report notes how the Dublin county board circulated an email to clubs in February, 2016 ‘positing the notion of a two-tiered senior (club) championship whereby the 32 teams theretofore contesting the senior championship would be split into two tiers of 16’. Dublin SFC 1 and Dublin SFC 2.

To decide which teams would compete in the upper and lower tiers, a formula based on results in the previous five seasons was applied. Thomas Davis lost their opening game of the Dublin championship in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and, apparently based on this, were selected to play in the new SFC 2, beginning another long battle for the club that ended up at the door of the quasi legal DRA.

The DRA noted that Thomas Davis’ appeal against what they felt amounted to an unwarranted relegation ‘had four fundamental components’ though acknowledged that ‘the meat of this case is the question whether the county committee had the power to make a rule which divided the senior championship into two competitions’.

The intriguing claim of Thomas Davis was that the GAA rulebook says ‘a club shall be a unit eligible to participate in a senior, intermediate or junior championship competition’ — so what of the 16 teams in the SFC 2 competition? Would they ‘cease to be clubs as recognised by the Official Guide’ if not allowed access to the senior Championship proper?

No, was the DRA’s short answer which, had they gone the other way, would have had implications for all the counties that divide their junior ranks into A, B, C and D sections and so on.

In finding that ‘the balance of factors weighs in favour of the allowance of multiple-tier club championships within single grades’, the DRA did acknowledge that the club ‘acquitted itself very well in these proceedings’.

Resigned to life in SFC 2, Thomas Davis began their 2018 campaign a matter of weeks later with an obvious grudge and put 4-16 on the board against St Peregrines, winning by 16 points. They won all six games in the 2018 championship, scoring an average of 23 points per game and securing promotion to SFC 1.

Back in the top flight this year, they navigated a difficult group before beating Castleknock and then dethroned holders Kilmacud Crokes to qualify for Sunday's final. That’s nine championship match wins from 11 since the DRA ruling. Reckon they’re trying to prove a point?

“It’s like anything, all managers and players are looking for that little edge, something to get their teeth into for motivation,” said Curran. “I honestly don’t think it’s something they’ve had pinned to the dressing-room wall, ‘Look how we were wronged!’ But I would say it’s definitely been mentioned at points along the road. To be fair to everyone involved, they ultimately had to roll up their sleeves and say, ‘Right, let’s go, let’s do our talking on the field’.

HISTORY MAKER

Thomas Davis demolished Kilmacud Crokes 3-15 to 2-5 in the Dublin minor A football championship quarter-finals last Sunday week. The seniors overcame the same opposition at the semi-final stage of their championship. “These are results that would have been unheard of a few years ago,” said an upbeat Curran.

The seniors will be underdogs again Sunday, without any established senior county men on board and taking on the 2016 All-Ireland winners but Thomas Davis is clearly a high functioning, ambitious club with its eye on the future now.

They’ve been without their best forward, Paul Hudson, who scored 1-4 for Dublin in the 2012 All-Ireland U21 final win, though it hasn’t blocked their progress.

Ryan Deegan at midfield is a quality performer and is already a history maker, of sorts. It was he who claimed the first ‘Mark’ when that rule came in from kick-outs at the beginning of 2017, making the fetch in the Dublin colours in the annual Dubs Stars challenge on January 1. Hudson lined out for Dublin in that game too as did Ballyboden’s Colm Basquel and Robbie McDaid.

Another Davis man with an interesting back story is Shane McGrath, their corner-forward who played in the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-finals at Croke Park. For Clare, the county of his parents. Two more players, Cian Murphy and Chris Sallier, featured in Dublin’s All-Ireland U21 winning side of 2017.

“I’d love to see them do it,” said Curran. “I went on the road myself I suppose, working with other clubs and teams over the years but your club is still your club and I’d be a proud man if Thomas Davis could pull it off.”

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