VIKTOR Frankl said, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.” Dublin have forgotten that. The striving. The struggling. The glory. It is all gone. Now, they are just bores. Tensionless, dull, risk-free bores.
They looked okay during the warm-up to be fair. They appear to have good fitness levels. Well scuplted physiques. Most of the players are multi decorated All-Ireland winners. But they are an illusion. And their opponents are starting to see through them.
In the All-Ireland semi-final in 2021, they were seven points up at half time against a mediocre Mayo team. At the start of the second half, Mayo decided to hell with them and got stuck in. As Eamonn Coleman used to say, “Go out and see what they’re made of boys.” What the Dubs were made of quickly became clear: a group going through the motions, a ghost team. No spirit. No drive. Nothing. They collapsed and Mayo galloped into an All-Ireland final where a ferocious Tyrone gleefully ripped them apart.
Boring Boring Dublin. I was in Croke Park for their league game against Kildare. Yawn. They did nothing of note that day. We chatted among ourselves. They put nothing into it and just about won. It was an awful waste of a Saturday evening except for the pints. Against Clare they were six points down and came back to win by a point. That level was okay against those teams, but not against us. Behind by five points at half time in Celtic Park, Derry suddenly realised they had no need to be in awe of Dublin. The Dubs had spent the first half using their post Jim Gavin ‘pass the parcel’ system. Sideways. Backwards. Handpass. Half hearted runs. Standing off the opposition. Puny tackling. No togetherness. No excitement. No adventure.
Like Mayo in 2021, as soon as Derry got stuck into them, they quit. It was delightful for us but humiliating for the Dubs. Only, they didn’t look as if they felt humiliated. Worse, they looked as though they didn’t care at all. Robotic. Lacking any emotion. The thought in my head watching them was “pointless.” As in, what is the point? Why are they turning up at all? They are not tackling. Not running hard. Not competing. Not kicking the ball. They resemble nothing more than a middling Donegal team.
With the score at 0-11 to 1-7, Ciaran Kilkenny was put through on goal and Derry were suddenly wide open. As Kilkenny came in from the right hand side, Cormac Costello, unnoticed and unmarked, took up a perfect position at the far post to palm the ball to the empty net. Only the pass never came. Kilkenny instead ignored him and fisted it over the bar. I looked across at Kieran McKeever and we both made a “wtf?’ expression. WTF indeed.
Costello shrugged and went back to his position.
I was reminded of the story Owen Mulligan told me about the All-Ireland quarter-final against Fermanagh in 2003. With the scoreline at 1-20 to 0-5, and a few minutes left, Mulligan was charging through the middle with the goal at his mercy. Peter Canavan took up position at the far post to palm to the empty net. Mulligan, feeling merciful, opted to fist the ball over the bar. Peter, on the other hand, was not feeling merciful. “What the **** are you playing at?” he roared at Mulligan. “ If the goal is on, give the ball. Don’t ever ****ing do that again.” Mulligan didn’t. Tyrone went on to win the All-Ireland. “I never forgot it Joe” said Mulligan. “He was ****ing raging. Got right up into my face. When I said we were 18 points up Peter, he went mental.”
On the road home, I wondered what happened in the Dublin changing room after the game. Did Con O’Callaghan go mental? Did John Small read the riot act? Did Dessie lose his temper and tell them the truth, man by man? Or did they repeat a few comforting cliches, shower, get on the bus, eat their meal in the hotel and go home as if nothing had happened at all? As if this was acceptable? The way they have been playing over the past three years suggests the latter.
The team that once embodied everything that is good, now embodies nothing at all. It would be a great pity if this is how it ends.