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8 November 2007 Edition

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Matt Treacy

From Crossmaglen to The Twelve Apostles

CROSSMAGLEN’S narrow victory over Clontibret in the Ulster Club SFC quarter-final attracted some media attention because of a minor schmozzle that broke out after the final whistle.
Referee Martin Sludden blew up after a short ‘45’ taken by Paul McGuigan who was unaware that it was to be the last kick of the game. The Farley men were not happy and some fisticuffs ensued after which two players were awarded red cards.
‘All just a bit of pushing and shoving.  Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.’ Not like the olden days. Speaking of which, TG4 the weekend before last rebroadcast the Dublin/Galway final of 1983 as a tribute to the late Mick Holden.
Now there was a match! It was possibly, at least as far as the records show, the most bitterly fought final in the history of the championship. Four players were sent off (three of them from Dublin) and the general feeling appeared to be that the whole thing had brought discredit on the association.
Of course, that is not the way that Dublin supporters felt. If, for some begrudgers, the players who held on grimly against the odds were ‘The Dirty Dozen’, for us they were, and remain, ‘The Twelve Apostles’, although possibly with more of the spirit of the Dublin Brigade IRA’s ‘Squad’ of the Tan War than the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Turning the other cheek was not part of their modus operandi.
Dublin had destroyed Cork in the semi-final replay and there had been whispers from within the Cork camp that Dublin had softened them up, that certain Cork players had been targeted and hit hard. This was to provide one of the key elements that contributed to the nature of the final.
Galway half-forward Barry Brennan mused that Dublin/Galway matches tended to be “quite physical”. Selector Bertie Coleman believed that there would not be any chance of the match “getting out of hand [if] the referee sticks to the rule book. We are prepared for a hard game.” One Galway journalist let it be known that they were still “bitter” over the pitch invasion in 1974 – when most of the Galway team were about 12!
Nor were matters helped by the weather. One of those days when you can say with certainty that the summer is definitely gone. Wind and periodic squalls of rain made ball control difficult and brought the players to close quarters.

The game’s turning point came when Joe McNally, who had been targeted by Galway as one of the potentially more vulnerable Dublin men, was taken out of it. Referee John Gough apparently saw nothing and the move ended with Galway goalkeeper Padraig Coyne poised for a kick-out while Kevin Heffernan attended a prone McNally.
Coyne essayed a quick pass that came to Barney Rock. Barney said, “Thanks very much, Padraig,” and proceeded to lob the ball over Coyne’s head and into the net. A damp Hill 16 danced like a field of wet bluebells.
Then, in the midst of an exchange in midfield, Mullins felled Talty. Gough despatched him to the line but not before Big Brian had a few words to say to the Galway man, who lay on the ground holding his head. They would meet again... in the tunnel.
Two more players, Ray Hazley and Tomás Tierney, were sent off before half-time when Dublin led 1-5 to 0-2. Then, early in the second half, Kieran Duff went after swinging his boot at Pat O’Neill. To this day, I do not know whether Duff actually made contact. Others are positive that he did. Mind you, the intent was there! Duff’s own take was that O’Neill had “made a great deal of it”.
Galway played like headless chickens and we were beginning to believe that Dublin would hold out. It was the men in the gap at Thermopylae, Michael Caine facing the Zulus at Rorke’s Drift, Custer’s Last Stand, the GPO in 1916. Except that this time the garrison had no feckin’ intention of being over-run by any man, no matter what tribe they came from.
The mighty Dubs held out for a victory that will live long in the memory of all who were there. In a city that had little good going for it in those dismal days of unemployment and heroin, Heffo had once again distilled all the defiance and pig-headed refusal to go down into a team of Dublin footballers.

The rest of the night blends into one long procession through music and laughter. We made our way first to the Thomas House where the entry of each new detachment returning from the battlefield was greeted by more uproar and songs. Already they had been christened: ‘The Twelve Apostles’. An echo of another heroic period in Dublin history when The Squad struck fear into the heart of the Castle terror machine.
For others, they were ‘The Dirty Dozen’, and as I woke the next morning, with the most ferocious hangover I had yet earned, the first voice I heard was the Galway manager, Mattie McDonagh, telling David Hanley on RTE’s Morning Ireland that they were considering taking the whole thing to the High Court. Laughing at Mattie went some way to laying the basis for recovery.
Seán Óg Ó Ceallachain blamed Galway for initiating the physical exchanges and pointed out that Mullins had been retaliating against an earlier offence. Peadar O’Brien, of the Irish Press, described Dublin’s performance as the greatest he had witnessed in any sport over 30 years. Heffo declared: “Galway came out to kick us and we did not let them down.”
There was a price to pay. Heavy suspensions were meted out and Dublin acquired a reputation for being dirty that followed them around all year. So did we, shelling out our meagre funds to journey to Cork and Castelbar and Newry as the celebrations rolled on through a disastrous league campaign that saw them relegated.
Mind you, no one seemed to mind and we joined the team in pubs and hotels and relived the triumph of the summer as the defeat of earlier in the day faded into the winter gloom. On one memorable occasion we even shared the train with them on the way back from Cork. How they managed to sober up sufficiently in order to mount a defence of the crown in 1984 is anyone’s guess.

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