The lack of recognition or appreciation for one of the most successful and skilful teams ever to play Gaelic football is quite remarkable. Dublin have always been the team that many ‘love to hate’ but among some the unprecedented success of recent years has brought a begrudging nastiness to the equation that hasn’t been there before. Sad enough that there is this lack of appreciation and recognition, but it is now too often also accompanied by an attempt to undermine the tremendous achievements of a wonderful team. Population, money, whatever you are having. No acceptance that over the last decade or so we have witnessed, and continue to witness, some of the finest players ever to wear the Dublin jersey.
The term financial doping is not just inconsiderate and disingenuous, but highly insulting and unfair to those involved in an amateur organisation. Are we to believe that Brian Howard is solely the product of financial investment? Did the ‘doping’ almost backfire in making him a rugby player? Perhaps the boy who could also have joined the Leinster academy might just have some genuine natural talent? No doubt he has been coached well at school and club level over the years but his natural talent is also surely there for all to see – and he is not alone. If Brian is the product of ‘financial doping’ how come the other 30 lads in his class or club did not become Dublin players? How come all the children that participate in the wonderful Dublin coaching structures at club and school level are not playing for Dublin? Where are our All Ireland winning hurlers and in all this process? This ‘doping’ system is clearly failing the county.
There are hundreds of thousands of euro expended on coaching in Dublin every year. The county board should not be apologetic about it. This money is not about building a super race of footballers or hurlers – or developing only those who show the greatest potential. It is all-inclusive and caters for each and every level of ability. This money is spent on every boy and every girl in the club and school. It is about the basics, the catch, the kick, the hook, the lift, the block, the solo, the bounce, fielding, tackling, shooting, striking. It is about participation and fun. It is about nurturing a love of the game. It is about developing an awareness of Gaelic games, of the club, of the organisation. In a bustling city where people are often too busy to interact it is about giving people an identity – a sense of purpose, a sense of place.
Con O’Callaghan is a wonderful role model for Dublin GAA. Like hundreds of thousands of kids involved in sport around the country he has been coached since he was a child. He is young, energetic, polite and immensely talented. He is no different to any other young GAA star from any other county. He has worked extremely hard but is also blessed with a prodigious and natural talent and should be celebrated and enjoyed for just that. At the other end of that spectrum in terms of career life is Bernard Brogan. Another prodigious talent – along with his brother Alan. The Brogans too were coached at underage and sometimes by their father – as thousands of children are. They are brilliantly talented and dedicated men. As are Johnny Cooper, Cian O’Sullivan and Ciarán Kilkenny.
Stephen Cluxton is the goalkeeper of a lifetime. A man who’s talent has simply changed the game forever. Hours of work on a training field, hours of kicking and hours of catching, with wonderful self belief and incredible natural talent. Diarmuid Connolly is one of the finest players to ever hold a hurl or put on a pair of boots – possibly the most natural and precocious of all.
There are many, many others. Supremely talented individuals with ferocious determination, will to win and unbreakable spirit. These men also happen to be among the most humble and everyday guys you will meet. They do good things – often – but without any fanfare. And funnily they probably care least about whether they are recognised or appreciated. They are matched with a management that is equally humble, magnanimous and damn it – decent. Maybe stop trying to undermine them and, like Dublin supporters, enjoy them for what they are, while they are among us. We may not see their like again for many years.