“The Dubs are back, the Dubs are back, let the railway end go barmy ’cause Hill 16 has never seen the likes of Heffo’s Army.”
Here’s a statistic you may not know, or at least you may not have considered – in the 42 championship campaigns since that catchy little ditty, “The Likes of Heffo’s Army”, was unleashed on the world by The Memories, Dublin have appeared in exactly one third of the All-Ireland Football Championship finals played.
Yes, 14 times since the day in 1974, when Paddy Cullen saved that penalty against Galway to set the ‘Jacks’ on their way to victory, we cocky metropolitans have been feeling this deadly buzz on the third week of September; lashing bunting to our terraced houses, strapping flags to our taxis, squeezing into our replica jerseys.
And speaking of memories, every final has one. From Mullins’ masterclass of ’76 to Clucko’s free in 2011; from Big Jimmy’s wonder goal in ’77 to Charlie’s slow walk in ’95; from Paddy’s gift to Mikey Sheehy in ’78 to the Dirty Dozen in ’83… monumental days, all of them. And now here we are on the verge of another.
The week before an All Ireland final is always special. You can feel it in the air. Knowing looks are exchanged between weather-beaten faces. Animated conversations about team selection and injuries can be heard at street corners. “I hear McCarthy’s flying in training.” “McManaman could be starting.”
The excitement is building. Sunday can’t come quick enough.
And yet, I’ve always felt that there was something missing, something that the ‘culchies’ had and we could never get. The clue is in another line of that same song from 1974:
“We’ll be marching down from Ringsend, and from Ballyfermot too. From East Wall and Marino to support the Boys in Blue.”
The trip to Croke Park for a Dub on final day typically consists of a wander down to the pub after lunch, a couple of pints in Meaghers or The Fairview Inn; outside if the weather is nice. When the minors are not in the final, there’s no need to head down until about ten to three.
For everyone else, it’s a pilgrimage. Last one out, turn off the lights; a county on the move; an unforgettable journey starting at all hours of the morning. Wide eyed children gazing from cars painted in county colours. A mass movement of people, united in their quest for glory. A crusade.
And then if they win?! Bonfires at the crossroads. The glorious return of the victorious warriors. Sam Maguire, the spoils of war, held aloft under main street lights in the rain. A week off work. A satisfied glow that keeps the county warm until Christmas and beyond.
In Dublin, it’s a lap of honour and good night back in the local.
As we spill off Clonliffe Road into Ballybough, the unconfined joy we felt at the final whistle is quickly diluted into the Tolka as vacant stares from faces in lumbering double decker buses remind us that it’s just a game. It’s just a bloody game.
But, jaysus you know what? I can’t bleedin’ wait for it.
Paul Hennessey, Pundit Arena