Dublin has only ever seen one other night like it. The night Ireland beat Romania on penalties in Italy and we were in the quarter finals of a World Cup. But this was different. This was ours. This team, who leave so many in their dust. This squad who dig deep when worthy adversaries figure out yeah they might be beatable, but not this year. No not this year. This year the Dublin football team wrote their name on the history books. Five in a row. The best there has ever been. The Dubs.
The tannoys started to play The Rare Aul Times. “Based on Songs and Stories, Heroes of Renown”. Few could sing the words. Singing throats choked after the first few notes. After all those years of singing their hearts out with “Come on you Boys in Blue” and “Molly Malone” grown men and women could do nothing but sway, smile and hug through their tears. So many of those years of singing had been in disappointment, yet constantly encouraging Our Boys, because they believed. They believed in the Dubs. They sang them through the years of seeing the rest of Croke Park change beyond recognition except the Hill. Hill 16 stays the same. “Hill 16 Is Dublin Only”. It isn’t really but on their days it is. Apart from the rascals in other colours who chance their arms if they fancy a slagging and are prepared to take one. On the third Saturday night of September 2019 those singing throats choked with the memories of family, and friends no longer with us who would have loved this.
The sun was setting and had its own fireworks of reds and oranges across the Grand Canal. “Ah Ciarán Kilkenny was just in a different class tonight, did you see him?” “Did you see that pass Conno(lly) sent into him though”, “But Cluxton”, “Yeah Cluxton”. It was like reverence. Each and every player gave it everything. It was 70 minutes of football for the ages by new heroes of renown. But Stephen Cluxton, the captain, the shy, undemonstrative leader is loved beyond words. There were those walking over Luke Kelly’s bridge in Ballybough who think more of that Parnell’s man than they do most of their own families. Universally admired, he has changed football and how it is played. It is his vision that consigned the days of defensive football to a chapter in the GAA’s past tactics handbook. His placing of the ball into whatever pair of hands he picks. His courage in front of those sticks. He deserves player of the year. Feck it, player of the decade. But he won’t get it. That will be reserved for one of those the ego he doesn’t have is sacrificed for.
At my father’s funeral I was told how he played for the Dublin minors. The man, smelling of porter and whiskey, told me of how my da loved the Dubs, how if life had’ve been different he could’ve played for Heffo’s army, the glorious team of the ‘70s. Drink talk. But our house did come down with the paper sky blue and navy peaked caps in the summers of those years. A different era. But connected now to a new team for the ages. The old songs and the new sung together in harmony. Ring a Rosie, the Jacks are back.