Revolution needs some accent on Northside
Locker room: A FEW YEARS ago myself and a friend were sitting in our usual premium-level splendour in Parnell Park, enjoying the excellent hot dogs (where, oh where, is the Michelin Star?) exchanging bon mots and watching a club championship game featuring Kilmacud Crokes.
Don't recall who Crokes were playing. Call them The Defendants. I do recall our thinly suppressed smirks as we listened to the accents of a group of Kilmacud Crokes devotees sitting in the row behind us. They sounded like young men who had seen action inside of The Wes. They either went to Rock or had consorted with people who did. They were well spoken in that Dortish way and Kilmacud Crokes were losing. "Aw, goys," they roared, "get it together. C'mawwwn!"
We salts of the earth glanced at each other and glanced back at the field. Give the goys some more timber. Hee hee.
Ah, the good old days. We knew what would happen most years. Crokes or Ballyboden, generally Boden, would throw some mesmerising shapes early in the county championship, fielding teams brimful of fellas who used to be great when they were younger. Then Craobh Ciarán or O'Toole's or possibly even St Vincent's would give them an unsympathetic beating and some splinters.
All would be well with the world.
There weren't many people sporting Dublin colours in Dr Cullen Park in Carlow this Saturday afternoon. A couple of mothers with sky-blue-and-navy flags and Dublin umbrellas were the flamboyant wedge of the scant travelling support.
The long, slow march of Dublin hurling doesn't advertise itself well to the summer-on-the-Hill set. No percussive beat. No easy hooklines. Still, to be in Carlow on Saturday as Dublin hurling added the Leinster Colleges title to the provincial, minor and under-21 baubles already held was to realise (again) that the revolution is coming - and that the voice of the revolution will be dortish and no less competent or welcome for that.
Times have changed. Dublin's revolution has sprung from an unlikely geographic base. Back in 1983, the last time Dublin played in a minor All-Ireland final, the team had a more traditional look to it. A couple of boys from Cuala, two from Crumlin and Niall Quinn from nearby Robert Emmets. One apiece, goalie and corner back, for Boden and Crokes, a couple of hardy men from Good Counsel, one from Erin's Isle, a Parnells man, Barry Gavin from Round Towers and four from Vincent's.
When Hollywood would assemble stereotypes to become a platoon to suffer in celluloid under the barkings of a sadistic drill sergeant there were necessary components every time: a wisecracking Italian from Brooklyn, a broad-shouldered farm boy from Indiana, a drinking, fighting Paddy from anywhere, and a bookish Jewish guy who had to earn the others' trust. Dublin teams had the same stereotypes. Kilkenny were the drills sergeants of Leinster. Ballyboden and Crokes sent a bookish Jewish type to every audition.
With Dublin's last All-Ireland under-21 final appearance before last year you could see the pattern. It was Galway who broke Dublin on both occasions, but it was 1972 and a very young Mick Holden was shoved into the goal while his brothers PJ and Vinny played out the field. Again it was Crumlin men, some Vins, Craobh Ciarán, etc, that made up the balance.
And when Dublin made two Leinster senior finals in a row in the early 90s Brian Kelleher of Boden was the only representative from that neck of the woods in teams Lar Foley filled out with men from the old strongholds.
When the revolution comes though it will be led by men with Southside accents. When Dublin Colleges split into North Dublin and South Dublin it is South Dublin who will thrive. North Dublin will depend on St Declan's CBS, while the old strongholds such as Joeys in Fairview and O'Connells (both of whom won hurling titles on their own) have ceased to be relevant to the debate.
When young David Treacy stood up to accept the Leinster Colleges hurling trophy on Saturday afternoon he didn't sound quite like Ross O'Carroll Kelly, but you could tell what side of the city he came from. Beside him on the podium, Finn McGarry, the talented Boden keeper, stood grinning. Finn wears his hair with a bleach in it and looks like he just stepped off a surfboard (when Finn warms up with Boden though the flowing ginger locks of Brian Kennedy ensure the prize for most flamboyant hurler of the day go elsewhere).
You looked at the pair of them, successful Dublin minors last year, and realised these are serious young hurlers and ooze cool and star quality. Treacy in particular impressed on Saturday. Not for the first time in Dr Cullen Park (he was majestic there against Wexford last year) he gave an exhibition of hurling and was by a clear head the best player on the field.
Of the 33 players on the Dublin Colleges panel on Saturday, 23 came from south of the Liffey (and one from Castleknock, which like Clontarf is really a franchise of the Southside.) Na Fianna made up half the Northside representation. The figures are replicated to a slightly more modest extent in last year's successful minor and under-21 sides.
It was interesting to look through the names and see little hurling dynasties emerging from the Southside. The O'Carrolls, who gave Ross to the schools set-up a couple of years ago, had Rory at full back and Bill on the subs (the first of Crokes' 2005 All-Ireland Féile-winning side beginning to draw attention) as they drew level with the O'Rorkes (young Oisín yet to arrive of course) in contributions to the cause. The Lamberts had Mark there (Simon has just broken through at senior for Dublin). Conor Gough scored a fine goal; his brother Oisín was corner back for Dublin's minors last year. A couple of O'Loughlins were in evidence.
For the GAA in Dublin the emergence of places like Ballyboden and Stillorgan and Dalkey as the heartlands of hurling represents an interesting but welcome challenge. Those places have, remarkably, developed their own culture of hurling. Boden are county senior champions, Crokes the minor champions.
One or other, but probably both, will win an All-Ireland club championship within 10 years. Cuala won't be far off that either.
Across the river, in the absence of centres of excellence such as Coláiste Eoin or Benildus, the Northside will suffer. The St Declan's links with Oliver Plunketts in particular and that club's excellent coaching policies will ensure some response, but in the old heartlands there is evidence of recession and it gets worse the farther North you go. That vastly populated area stretching from Swords, through Skerries, Rush, Lusk and Balbriggan is generally a wasteland for the game of hurling.
Saturday's win in Dr Cullen Park wasn't greeted by herald angels. Rather some moaning (not from the CBS) about the imminent need to end the Dublin Colleges experiment, which began in 1993 and has yielded one All-Ireland and two Leinster titles.
It isn't as if Dublin's dominance has been oppressive, and recent success has been brought about by good structures and fine coaching rather than natural advantage (the hurling population of the city is small) but perhaps a move to Northside and Southside teams would draw attention to the need for the game to be tended north of the Liffey.
It doesn't matter what voice Dublin's hurling revolution speaks with, but for either half of the city to get left behind would be a betrayal of the principles that underpinned the revolution back in its nascent stages.
© 2008 The Irish Times
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