All-Ireland Championship: Dublin can emulate class of 77: Smyth
Armagh may have lost to Dublin in the 1977 All Ireland football final but to this day that game is still bracketed as an “unforgettable experience” in the memory bank of the then orchard county skipper Jimmy Smyth.
And as the Lurgan Clan na gael clubman recalls a match in which 2002 All Ireland winning manager Joe Kernan slammed in two goals from his midfield berth, he believes that the current Dublin side, despite their obvious plus-factors, may encounter difficulty in replicating the panache, flair and cohesion that marked the class of ’77.
“That was a superb side we played against. We were outclassed in the first-half but we hit back after the break. It was just an unforgettable experience for us all,” points out Smyth.
One of Ulster’s leading GAA ambassadors, he is in a better position than most to assess Dublin’s current strengths — but considers that Kerry may still hold the whip hand come Sunday’s All Ireland final.
“I think that this current Dublin side has yet to maximize its potential and while they will get a great chance to achieve this on Sunday, the big question is whether Kerry will allow them to do this or not,” said Smyth.
“Dublin have wonderfully talented players in Bryan Cullen, Stephen Cluxton, Ger Brennan, Ross O’Carroll, Bernard, Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly and others, but this final represents a massive test of their psyche and character.”
Retired teacher Smyth, who has conducted an in-depth analysis of the strategies adopted by the two sides this year, is adamant that Dublin have a not-so-secret weapon in their camp — coach and selector Mickey Whelan.
“While Pat Gilroy is the manager and has been doing a great job, I would credit Mickey Whelan for his tactical input and motivational skills,” states Smyth.
“He is a true blue Dub whose passion for the team is obvious. I think his stamp is on this side — in fact, I will go further and suggest that Kevin Heffernan’s fingerprints might just be in evidence as well.”
Whelan has been an ever-present in the Dublin backroom team for more years than he might care to remember yet he took time out to help Dundalk to success in the League of Ireland in the mid-90’s.
Heffernan of course is the legendary manager who drove Dublin to glory in the late 70’s — an iconic figure who was regarded as having been ahead of his time in management techniques.
Smyth points to the impact that the truly gifted sides have made over the past half-century.
“Ask anyone to name you players from the magnificent Down side of the early 60’s and names like Doherty, O’Neill, Mussen and Murphy will trip off anyone’s tongue,” says Smyth.
“Then ask them to mention Dublin players from the late 70’s and they’ll hit you with Keaveny, Mullins, Moran and the rest.
“That’s because these were great as opposed to merely good sides.”
Yet it’s the current Kerry side, imbued as it is with such supremely skillful performers such as Colm Cooper, Declan O’Sullivan, Tomas O Se and Kieran Donaghy, that is on the trail of greatness right now.
Several of the players already possess a handful of All Ireland medals, the side has been tweaked substantially by manager Jack O’Connor and it merges skill and steel in equal measure.
But Smyth prefers to dwell on what he considers a “beautiful analysis” of O’Connor’s side made recently by former Mayo manager John Maughan.
“John described Kerry’s team play as being like kittens playing with a ball of wool,” smiles Smyth.
“And he’s right, you know. They caress rather than drive the ball, they make every pass count, seldom miss a scoring opportunity and they always keep very busy.
“There are, of course, myths surrounding Kerry, but don’t let this fool you. Kerry are master craftsmen who are well able to look after themselves no matter what course a game might take.
“Having observed the manner in which they have improved as the season has unfolded I think they will add to their considerable collection.”