When I die I want my ashes sprinkled in three places. On Black Mountain, at Dún Chaoin, and on Hill 16.
Standing on the Hill on a Championship Sunday with your family and friends as the Dubs run out is heart bustingly brilliant and never ever gets tired. One of my greatest joys is that all my clan, living in West Belfast, have multiple Dublin jerseys and have fights over who gets the tickets if we can’t get our full house to a match for the sharp end of the Championship.
I still stop in my tracks laughing when I think of my two lads, then aged about 12 and 13 singing “Hill 16 is Dublin only” in their broad Belfast accents. My lifelong friends, who we go to the matches with, stand in the same space, with their kids, and it is like we have never been apart for any length of time. And when the match is over we adjourn to the Fluther hostelry for some refreshments, hot chicken baguettes made by another friend who keeps our seats, and the inevitable sing song. It is like Christmas Eve in how perfect it feels.
So this Dub, in the context of all of that, today feels compelled to write about the retirement of the Gooch. Colm Cooper. The greatest footballer of his generation. Now don’t get me wrong, when Stephen Cluxton put the ball over the Kerry bar in 2011 securing our 11th hour victory over Kerry, I did not give Colm Cooper a passing thought as I hugged everyone all around me. I do have some standards. But that has never prevented me fromrecognising the Gooch’s genius.
Two short summers earlier in the quarter final, Dublin were blitzed by Kerry. Pat Gilroy said the Dubs were like “Startled Earwigs”, as Kerry just brushed them aside. That day I was there with my two sons and after I got over my realisation on that the usual summer hype that accompanied the Dubs was delivering its usual disappointment, I told my lads to watch the Gooch off the ball. It was like watching poetry in motion. He drew out the players, turned them like kippers, made space that should never have existed. And then when he did get the ball he was so soclever and so so skilled. He is a consummate performer.
While the Dubs had spent their winter building their bulk and being scientific about their diets and workouts, none of that could shade his clever brilliance.
The 2014 semi-final between Dublin and Kerry was the finest game of football I have ever watched. All of us on the Hill knew we were watching pure class. The usual singing of Molly Malone and all the rest was replaced with gasps, oohs and aahs. I remember one particular point from that day and it was fromColm Cooper’s boot in front of the Hill, and despite how nip and tuck and do and die the match was, all of us clapped in admiration and said to each other some version of “My God he is brilliant”.