During the course of a conversation with some of the student footballers, Roy Evans issued a casual invitation, saying any of them were more than welcome to spend a week sampling the training at Melwood some time. Within weeks, the then Liverpool manager had received so many phone calls from Irish journalists about his supposed interest in signing Jason Sherlock that he rang his scout in Dublin and asked: “Who is this guy Sherlock and why do they think we are after him?”
That Sherlock actually played in the match, yet it didn’t ring a bell with anybody at Anfield, sums up the level of his ability nicely, but nothing captures the media mania about him in the mid-’90s quite like the image of mischievous hacks turning a fraction of a half-truth into a slew of back page “exclusives.” Never mind the veracity of it all, a “Sherlock for Liverpool” headline translated as “Sherlock to leave Dubs in lurch,” and nothing gets the national newspapers in a frenzy more than a story about the Dublin footballers, darlings of the press, and the county that receives more undeserved column inches than any other team in the country.
This is why so many people are irked by the Games Administration Committee’s decision to postpone the Dublin-Derry qualifier for a week. Notwithstanding the GAC’s longstanding reputation as one of those infuriating Croke Park bodies that appears incapable of consistency in their decision making, there’s the simple matter of people hating the Dubs. Of course, legitimate logistical grounds existed for delaying the match, but the mere impression of the authorities helping Tommy Lyons’s team to recover from the embarrassment of their performance against Laois is enough to reinforce a lot of suspicions and refuel conspiracy theories.
The line that the GAA needs Dublin to be strong if our national sports are going to properly thrive is trotted out so often that some people are bound to think the worst in instances like this; that the powers-that-be are doing their utmost to assist the Dubs. This is the end result of a media obsession, the most egregious example of which was the aforementioned case of Jayo, wherein an average footballer blessed with great speed and burdened by an inability to kick the ball very far was presented to the nation as some sort of alleged superstar.
By giving Lyons another week to find some tonic for his troops, the GAC have reminded us again of that moment at the end of the 1995 All-Ireland final against Dublin when Peter Canavan’s last-minute equalizer was inexplicably disallowed. That decision stunk then and stinks now.
It has become especially fashionable as well to parrot the notion that hurling is a game that would benefit hugely from having the men in the Arnotts’ jerseys genuinely contending for Liam McCarthy. Certainly, it would be good for hurling if Dublin or Laois or Kerry or any of these fringe counties made a breakthrough, but it seems to some of us that the last 10 years have been among the most fascinating and thrilling in the history of the sport, something borne out by the number of new fans who have been drawn to it in that time. To those of us beyond the pale, it seems Dublin needs hurling for the good of its own soul far more than hurling needs Dublin.
Undoubtedly, there are a few of their supporters who would be much the better human beings for experiencing the spiritual enrichment of a day out at a Munster or Leinster hurling final. As somebody whose professional obligations once required riding the Bus Eireann matchday special from Busaras to Pairc Tailteann, Navan, in the company of the Dublin fans (the kind of horrific expedition where a lot of passengers flashed a rolled-up copy of that morning’s Sunday World to the conductor in lieu of an actual ticket), I can safely say no county has quite as many fans who show up in the summer to go to games where they can’t name half the players on their own team.
Even these bandwagon jumpers are so mythologized we are led to believe the Dublin fan is a more colorful individual than his rural counterpart. This is despite evidence that for every honest to goodness supporter who knows the way to Parnell Park, there seems to be hundreds of the morons who were complaining on the radio about having to travel to the remote outpost of Thurles to play Kerry two summers back. These same sophisticates will no doubt find the trip to distant Clones next weekend a terrible burden.
The funniest thing is that in sports, antipathy toward a particular team or individual is usually founded on envy of their supremacy or dominance. At different times in the last 20 years, Steve Davis, the Kerry footballers, and Liverpool all came in for heaps of opprobrium for that reason alone. Dublin are hated even though they are not actually that good. They’ve won just one Sam Maguire since that hand-to-hand combat triumph over Galway in 1983, and yet when the manager’s job becomes vacant, the succession stakes are treated with the same reverence in some quarters as the papers in Rome accord the election of a new pope. This is in keeping with the ludicrously exaggerated coverage afforded this middle ranking football power and third world hurling county.
“As Mick Lyons went back to take up his position, the young braves were challenging him to come up onto the Hill and they would sort him out,” wrote Colm O’Rourke in his autobiography, “The Final Whistle.” “An old Dub stretched across a barrier nearby listened for a while to this and eventually he said to this group, ‘Jaysus, you all want him up here, why don’t one of you go down?’ “
Much more talk than action. Dublin in a nutshell.