In the conspicuous absence of Dublin players in the media, it’s been left to Kerry to discuss the five in a row.
There was David Clifford during the week having to fend off the latest question about the old enemy — “I suppose Dublin’s five-in-a-row isn’t exactly top of our agenda at the moment. We’re playing Dublin in the third league game so I think that’s the only time Dublin will come into our focus early on in the year.”
With impressive diplomacy, his team-mate Seán O’Shea had shown the way last month — “They’ve won the four in a row and they’re going for five and every county, not just ourselves, is probably looking to find a way up to their level.”
If it’s not Kerry players, it’s past ones. “I find it very hard to pick somebody out,” Dara Ó Cinnéide recently said of the pretenders to Dublin’s throne, “and I’m not saying the five in a row is inevitable”.
Kieran Donaghy, also last month: “If I was sitting in the Dublin dressing room, I’d be confident we can get the five in a row.”
Just in case Dublin don’t fully know what’s at stake, Kerry are always forthcoming with reminders. In a county where every close-run thing or perceived injustice mentions Seamus Darby, it’s understandable there’s an obsession with denying the Dubs their place in football history.
But one thing’s for sure — Dublin never had it this bad for Kerry in 1982.
“It (five in a row) never came into our minds,” recalls Barney Rock. “Offaly at the time were more in our minds. We didn’t see enough of Kerry to think of stopping them.”
His county and Ballymun club-mate Anto McCaul has similar memories. “We were more interested in getting out of Leinster. In those days, there were probably eight or nine of the 12 Leinster counties who put up a challenge to you on any particular day. It’s different now but you could go down to Wexford or Carlow and get beaten.”
Kerry were undoubtedly the benchmark, yet it was 1984 before the likes of Rock and McCaul faced them in Championship, a full five years after the counties’ previous championship meeting. That time apart and the emphatic nature of Kerry’s final win in 1979 and the year previous had taken the sting out of their rivalry.
Nine weeks after the Darby moment, Dublin travelled to face Kerry in Tralee for their Round 3 Division 1 game. Mick O’Dwyer fielded nine of the team that lost to Offaly and another defeat was to follow as Dublin edged them out 0-8 to 0-7. It was their first win over Kerry in four years, the Kingdom having won their five previous league and Championship meetings. And it meant the world to Dublin, a psychological boon at the outset of their All-Ireland winning season.
“We hadn’t beaten them in a while so to go out and do it in Tralee was huge,” recalls Rock. McCaul remembers the expectation going into the game that Kerry were going to take out their All-Ireland final angst on Dublin.
“We were meant to get the hammering but we beat them. They were a superb team and they were like the Dubs, far superior to the rest of the best. Offaly caught them on the hop, they should have won that game 10 times over.”
All seven of Dublin’s league games are expected to feature live on TV this year but the attention to Kerry’s activity in ‘82 was scant.
“You’re able to scrutinise almost every match now whereas back then, you wouldn’t see a league match if you didn’t go to it,” says Rock.
“It never became something for us other than Kerry being the team to beat. When you consider the All-Ireland semi-finals and final was the only things that were televised, we were relying on newspapers and radio to find out how Kerry were going.”
Of course, there are other areas where Kerry and Dublin’s five-in-a-row tilts differ. Including the 1982 final, it took Kerry 15 games to come within a whisker of five in a row. Should Dublin win on September 1 this year, their journey since 2015 will total 36 games, including the 2015 and ‘16 draws with Mayo.
rom the Kerry team that began their tilt at history against Dublin in 1978, there were 12 survivors in the ‘82 final, 13 if Pat Spillane had been fit to start (Jimmy Deenihan and Mick Spillane being the other odd men out). Fathom a guess at how many from Dublin’s 2015 final will figure this year and you’d say a maximum of nine: Stephen Cluxton, Philly McMahon, Jonny Cooper, James McCarthy, Cian O’Sullivan, Jack McCaffrey, Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny, and Barney’s son Dean.
Rock also believes the five in a row was more on Kerry’s radar in 1982 than it is Dublin’s now. Certainly, the stories of the Kerry County Board debating the 1982 homecoming in December ‘81 would support that idea. “The five-in a row might have been a bigger thing for Kerry. They were unbeatable, winning All-Ireland finals easily. They beat Offaly easily enough in ‘81 and beat Dublin easily in finals before that. The only team that gave them a bit of a run was Roscommon.
“Everybody is going to have a different angle on the five in a row but I’ve no doubt Dublin won’t be looking ahead of themselves. Their immediate aim Championship-wise is to get to the Super 8 and take it from there. Once they’re there, then that’s when the Championship really starts.”
Nothing, though, will rival the expectation and attention Dublin will engender this year — hence how reticent their players have become with the media (the report that an unapproved TV documentary is a reason Jason Sherlock is no longer part of the Dublin management only fuels the theory this tight group are keeping their cards close to their chest). But then there’s only so much of the five-in-a-row hype that be kept out. As Tom Spillane said in Michael Foley’s Kings of September, “you try and hide away from it, but it’s always there.”
McCaul adds: “The only team that can beat Dublin is themselves. It’s the complacency, making sure it’s not there. Look at the Irish rugby team last weekend, Joe Schmidt knew there was a problem and there was no spark in the dressing room but couldn’t resurrect it. I’ve been on teams, ran teams and faced teams wondering if they were up for a game. I expect Kerry and Tyrone and Monaghan to be there, Mayo and Galway too but I don’t think any of those will worry Dublin other than Dublin themselves.”