Matching Kerry’s 84-year record for unbeaten runs – as Dublin did in Tralee last Saturday- was a remarkable achievement and they are now poised to move it on very quickly.
With Dublin bidding for a fifth successive League title before attempting to win the county’s first All-Ireland three-in-a-row for 94 years later in the season, three questions arise. How good is this squad? How much more will it achieve over the coming seasons? How does it compare with great teams of the past?
The answer to the first question is straight-forward. Four All-Ireland wins in the six seasons (only two defeats in 36 games) and four successive League titles since 2013 makes them the undisputed No1.
As for how much more they will win, only time will tell. On the question of how the squad compares with high-achievers from the past, we are in subjective territory, where everyone’s views are as valid as the next.
Mine are alongside, with the best 10 teams since the early 1960s ranked in order. Obviously, it’s impossible to be definitive in an exercise like this, not least because most aspects of the game – including rules, team management, training (both in amount and sophistication), player behaviour, equipment (even the football is different) and refereeing – have changed substantially.
What remains constant is the most basic requirement of all in making a great player or team – talent. So while the modern game may be unrecognisable by comparison with the past, does anyone doubt that if 1960s stars like Seán O’Neill and Paddy Doherty (Down), Johnny Geraghty and Enda Colleran (Galway) were playing nowadays, they wouldn’t be just as good as the best of the current generation?
Conversely, if players like Colm Cooper, Bernard Brogan, Michael Murphy and Seán Cavanagh were placed in a time capsule and transported back to the 1960s, they would be just as effective.
It’s easy in all sports to either over-glamourise the past (‘everything was much better back in the old days’) or disparage it by showing old footage and mocking standards (‘look at how bad that was’) but, in reality, the truth is always somewhere in between.
Muhammed Ali and Arkle were 1960s boxing and equine icons, who most believe have never since come close to being matched. And while current English soccer players are paid fortunes and treated like royalty, they don’t come close (nor did their many predecessors) to the 1966 World Cup-winning team.
The main criterion I applied to comparing the top football teams is achievement. Under that heading, Mick O’Dwyer’s remarkable Kerry squad of the 1970s and 1980s is so far ahead of the rest that there’s no need for further elaboration.
Galway (1964-’65-’66) are second because, other than Kerry (1978-’79-’80 and 1984-’85-’86), they are the only three-in-a-row winners on the list.
The treble has a special magic about it because it’s so hard-won. Apart from Kerry, Galway is the only county to have done it in the last 90 years. Dublin may reach that peak this year, in which case they will zoom into No 2 but, for now, they are among a list of double winners.
At this stage, I still rate the Dublin team of the 1970s ahead of the current group for one reason. ‘Heffo’s Heroes’ had much stronger opposition in Leinster than the current group and, when it came to All-Ireland level, they were up against the greatest team in football history.
If it weren’t for Kerry, it’s probable that Dublin, who reached all the finals between 1974 and 1979, would have won six-in-a-row. Nobody can credibly claim that the opposition facing Dublin nowadays is anything like the Kerry team that Dublin had to contend with in the 1970s.
Tyrone supporters will, no doubt, argue that the team that won the All-Ireland title for the first time in 2003 and added two more over the next five years should be ranked higher than seventh.
However, the 2005 and 2008 titles were won via the qualifiers, which wasn’t possible pre-2001. Tyrone would still have only one title if it weren’t for the ‘back door’ and while nobody is disputing the excellence of their squad in 2003-2008, the fact that they won the All-Ireland via a second chance leaves them behind the ‘pure’ winners on the ratings table. Similarly with Kerry in 2004-2009, during which two titles were won via the qualifiers.