Flashback: 2011 Allianz Football League Final - Cork v Dublin
By John Harrington
It’s hard to imagine it now, early in the last decade the Dublin football team’s story was one of heavy beatings, late collapses, and lessons learned the hard way.
The All-Ireland Final they won in 2011 ushered in a new era of Dublin dominance, but the road to it was a rocky one.
And, at the time, the League Final they lost that year against Cork seemed like the sort of pot-hole that could crack the axle altogether.
It was Year Three of Pat Gilroy’s reign as manager and by this stage his new-look team had bedded down and seemed to have moved on from sobering defeats such as the 2009 All-Ireland Quarter-Final hammering at the hands of Kerry and the 2010 Leinster semi-final massacre against Meath when they conceded five goals.
Dublin had recovered admirably from that embarrassing loss to Meath in 2010 by making it all the way to the All-Ireland semi-final where they were very unfortunate to lose to eventual champions Cork by a point.
Throughout the regulation rounds of the 2011 League they looked like a team poised to build on that encouraging end to 2010 as they reached the League Final without losing a single game.
Reigning All-Ireland champions Cork were their opponents in that match again, so the Final was billed as the perfect barometer of just how far this Dublin team had come and whether or not they were indeed the real deal.
Even without the injured Alan Brogan it looked like they were ready to answer that question with an emphatic affirmative as they pulled Cork apart in the first 40 minutes of the game.
Bernard Brogan was on fire, Kevin McManamon had his best day yet for his county, and the defence that Gilroy had put so much effort into cementing together was looking water-tight.
Dublin hit four unanswered points at the end of the first-half and a salvo of 1-2 at the start of the second so when Diarmuid Connolly looped over a point after 40 minutes to put his team eight points ahead they looked set for victory.
What happened next was commonly described in newspaper reports as a Dublin collapse, but that does Cork a disservice.
They outscored Dublin by 0-11 to 0-2 in the final half-hour with a display of power-football that exemplified everything good about a Cork team that didn’t always get the credit they deserved.
In a 12-month period they won two Leagues and one All-Ireland title, and they wouldn’t have achieved all of that were they not a seriously good football team.
Few teams could live with their athleticism when Cork really dialled up the intensity, and that’s what happened in the final 30 minutes of that League Final.
They ripped Dublin opened with their combination of powerful running and clever interplay, with players like Pearse O’Neill, Patrick Kelly, Ciaran Sheehan, and Daniel Goulding running riot.
It was a brilliant win in the end for the Rebels who at that stage looked like the best bet to win the All-Ireland title.
Dublin, on the other hand, still looked like a mentally fragile team, an accusation that manager Pat Gilroy refused to entertain immediately after the match.
“If I really believe that (the team is mentally weak) then I should walk out the door here and never be in front of this team,” he said.
“They will get stick for this. It was an eight-point lead and they lost. People will say what you’ve just said and we’ll deal with that and we have to deal with it because that’s our job.
“We are the Dublin team and we have to listen to that. And when we have the All-Ireland, some day, that’s when we’ll stop hearing that.
“That’s the challenge. Because that’s what everyone is going to think but I know what’s in that dressing-room. They have serious character and anyone who questions it, well, they might get a surprise. Some day.”
Gilroy’s words would prove to be most prophetic.
Less than six months later Dublin were All-Ireland champions and poised to dominate the game for a decade.