Dublin: The Chaos Years
by Neil Cotter (Penguin Ireland, €18)
This is a refreshingly honest account of the interactions between the managers, players and fans of the Dublin senior football team from 1996 to 2010. It records the behind-the-scenes abuse, backchat, disloyalty and other challenges faced by the managers of that period.
Pat O’Neill led the Dubs to victory in the All-Ireland of 1995, but soon after stood down. He was followed by Mickey Whelan. A complete Dub, he had majored in sport science in a US college. He introduced novel training drills and set about grafting new young players into the team. Senior players were unenthusiastic about these initiatives.
There was serious division in the dressing-room between the established players and aspirants to a permanent place on the team. After failing to come near to winning an All-Ireland, Whelan’s contract went, following a public humiliation at the hands of the Dublin fans.
Next up was Tommy Carr, a former player. An army captain, he failed to take full control of the dressing-room. The splits among the players became more noticeable – between the senior and new young players, between players from different clubs and even between Northsiders and Southsiders.
When Carr failed to deliver the Sam Maguire Cup he also went. He was so upset by the manner of his dismissal that he did not attend a match in Croke Park for the following ten years.
Tommy Lyons began with verve and a blaze of publicity but some of the players regarded him ‘a culchie’. His days were numbered after a ‘rumble’ in the dressing-room, led by Dessie Farrell, later CEO of the Gaelic Players Association. Lyons’ exit was marked by disgraceful scenes, orchestrated by a section of the Dublin fans, known to the players as the “drunken muppets”.
Paul Caffrey was the next to take over. An innovator, he had each player carry in his kit-bag a ‘blue book’ with inspiring quotations – shades of Mao’s little red book!
He also devised a pre-match formal salute by the players to their fans on Hill 16 – shades of the ‘All Blacks’ Haka.
More controversially, he encouraged “verbals”. This consisted of taunting or abusing one’s marker. In fairness to Caffrey, this unsporting conduct was not introduced by him. It was already associated with some members of the Tyrone team and it had been creeping into the game for some time.
The end came for Caffrey after a comprehensive defeat to Tyrone. He reacted by going abroad to avoid the fans.
Next was Pat Gilroy. A godson of the revered ‘Heffo’, he was a strict disciplinarian, he insisted on punishing training drills and schedules, but he had access to unprecedented funding.
He led the team to success in 2010 and inaugurated a period of remarkable success for the ‘Dubs’ and very happy times for their fans.
The dark days were done.