Growing up in Blue

1976 is when it started for me. Sure, I was around in ’74 and ’75, but I was more interested in Fisher Price and Weebles than 15 men in blue and navy.

1976 I watched in the front room of Granny and Grandad’s house on Rathdrum Road in Crumlin. My mother was nervous about Kerry, “they’re always tough”, “why do we have to play Kerry then”, I enquired innocently. I could have asked it many times again in the years that followed.

Tony Hanahoe lifting the cup, the crowd of blue cheering. Don’t remember much of the match itself.

1977 and Armagh, and perhaps when the hubris began. An easy win. This is what Dublin do. The Sam Maguire visiting our school and the littlest guy in the class sitting in it.

1978. Ah, seventy eight. The year of nightmares that I’m sure haunts every Dub of a certain age. There was a cockiness about us that day. Keaveney’s red card. (“Stupid” said my mother) Paddy Cullen protesting with the referee, Mikey Sheehy’s quick free-kick, the ball looping over the great goalkeeper’s panic-striken face as he dashed back to his line. An unmerciful thrashing.

And so began the years of the Kerry ascendancy, when the Summer would end in the inevitable beating in September. And then came Offaly, as the 70s team began to fade away and even Leinster was beyond us.

Listening to the radio in the kitchen in Tallaght as Brian Mullins retaliated and lost a free only to win the thrown ball and score a goal. Was that 1983? That was my first trip to Croke Park. Standing in the Hogan with my Dad and Uncle Louis, straining to see the last few seconds of the drawn game with Cork. Somehow we had tickets for he final. On the Canal Terrace with my Dad as the massed crowds swayed up and down the terrace, feet barley touching the ground. Thinking back on that afternoon in the aftermath of Hillsborough still causes shivers. Galway, the twelve apostles, and Dublin scrape over the line.

Kerry back and again and Dublin back to losing. The arrival of Cork and Meath as the Dublin-Kerry rivalry is eclipsed.

1991. Meath. Then Meath again. Then Meath again. Then Meath again. How could we not beat them? 1992 and the shock of Donegal. I wasn’t there that day (don’t know why) but it stung. The Ulster hex had arrived. Summer Sundays in Croke Park as we trooped through Leinster only to run into the ground when it mattered. Standing on the Hill in dismay as we were played off the park by Derry in the 1993 semi. Delaying a holiday in 1994 to go to the final and standing, sodden in the rain, with my friend from Meath, on Hill 16 as Down ground us down and Charlie missed a penalty.

And then came 1995 and with it came Jayo. It had changed. The Hogan Stand for the final. Tyrone coming so close. The disallowed point at the end, but Sam was back after 12 long years and we were on the pitch and John O’Leary had the cup. And of course all of that was overshadowed later that day as myself and my lovely Mar began our twenty-years-and-counting adventure.

The football didn’t go so well for a while.

The ball crashing against the crossbar against Meath the next year. And we’re gone.

Years of hope and despair. Losing to Meath. Losing to Kildare! (That second half collapse,was it 1998?) To Laois, to Westmeath. Rays of hope. The game against Kerry in Semple and that point by Maurice Fitzgerald. Finally winning Leinster again. But, but, but. Always the team to cough up a lead. Questions about our mindset, our discipline. And the years went by we got used to the Summers ending on the first weekend in August.

Almosts. Armagh in the semifinal. Deafened by the roaring orange hordes as they pushed us out of their path to the final. That goal by Owen Mulligan. The dummy, the shimmy, the net bulging. Sat right above it as it went in.

The great players: Sherlock, Whelan, Farrell, Murphy, so many more.

The worst was 2006, the year I lost my mother. Hoping against hope that this could be it. Sitting alone in the Upper Davin against Mayo in the semi-final. Seven points up and the Hill starts singing Dublin in the Rare Auld Times. No! No! Too soon! Watching as the team freezes and Mayo flash past us and into the final. I never felt so bad as that day. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to care quite as much again.

More of the same for the next few years. Easy, heavy beatings by Cork and Kerry. I’d almost resigned myself to it. Then came the surprise of 2010, and almost nicking it from Cork in the semi-final. A great, great goal from Bernard Brogan that day.

2011. The year of redemption. I can still feel the old ground shaking when McManamon scored that goal. And Cluxton’s long walk up for that final point. 16 long, long years of pain put behind us. The Jacks were back.

2012 really was a hangover year. Understandably I suppose. 2013. That amazing game against Kerry, perhaps the best I’ve ever seen. When we beat Mayo in the final my friend said we’d “just killed Bambi”.

We seemed invincible in 2014, until we weren’t. The stunned silence in the stands as we waited for the end, knowing there was no way back.

And here we are again. Dublin versus Kerry on the third Sunday of September. Our ‘El Classico’. As I write, a couple of hundred yards from the old ground on Jones’ Road, I can feel the excitement and the atmosphere build. The bunting is out, the jerseys are on. These are rare, special days, and ones I will never take for granted. There have been to many fallow years, too many heartbreaks to ever think we’ll always have these days. I treasure them.

I do sometimes wonder what all the excitement is about. Why we invest so much in a game of football. But come 3.30, when 82,000 people are standing and shouting and screaming and the flags are waving and 30 players from Dingle and Donnycarney and Kilmacud and Killarney run out on that pitch and the noise becomes unbelieveable. Then. Then it all makes sense. #upthedubs.

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