Dublin are 70 minutes from being the greatest GAA team of all-time. Jim Gavin’s footballers have slaughtered all in their path since first lifting Sam Maguire in 2015 – fast forward and it’s Kerry who stand in the way of an unprecedented five-in-a-row.
However, the Dubs are not the only team to have found themselves on the cusp of such glory. Here’s the five sides who fell at the final hurdle across both codes:
1919 – The Wexford Footballers
Despite popular belief, Wexford has not always been a hurling territory. The 1910s were an era of pure dominance for the Leinster men, as they won six Leinster and four All-Ireland titles in a row. They were managed by Sean ‘The Bull’ Roche, a man who had fought for the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship – he clearly had his men well-conditioned. Sean O’Kennedy was captain of the side whose most famous players included his brother Gus, Aidan Doyle and Fr Ned Wheeler.
Their quest for five was ended in 1919 with a loss to the Dubs in the Leinster Football Championship Semi-Final, but the Dubs were then defeated by Kildare – who went on to break the era of Wexford dominance. It’s been 101 years since Wexford last held Sam Maguire aloft, but there was once a time where it held a permanent grip.
1933 – The Kerry Footballers
Kerry dominated the late 1920s and early 1930s, starting their run of incredible consistency in 1929, it was 1933’s meeting with Cavan in the All-Ireland semi-final where the tide finally swung. Kerry were poor on the day, a youthful Cavan side going on to win 1-5 to 0-5 and pick up their first All-Ireland title that year.
Kerry went unbeaten in 34 League and Championship games. Their winning run could have been even greater but for the fact no League was held in 1930/31. In all, between 1924 and 1933, this Kerry side secured six All-Irelands, 10 Munster championships and four National Leagues. Given political tensions which ravaged the area during the era, the achievement is all the more remarkable.
1945 – The Cork Hurlers
The victors of the most controversial All-Ireland to date, this Cork team had a lot to prove. An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease forced Tipperary and Kilkenny to withdraw from the championship. As a result, Cork faced Limerick in the Munster final, and defeated them, before hammering Dublin in the All-Ireland. Cork played Tipperary in the delayed Munster final and lost, thus becoming the very first All-Ireland champions but provincial runners-up. For these reasons Cork’s first win of four in-a-row is often dismissed.
However, it was their response to doubt which placed them among the greats. They defeated Tipp in Munster and Dublin once more for the 1942 crown, blitzing Antrim in 1943 before squeezing past Limerick to thump the Dubs again in 1944 for four-in-a-row. They lost out to Tipperary in Munster in 1945, with the Premier breaking their dominance on all fronts by going all the way. The Cork side was spearheaded by the famous Christy Ring, regarded by many as the greatest hurler of all time.
1982 – The Kerry Footballers
Mick Dwyer’s men were the benchmark for years before this Dublin team came along. They won 9 All-Irelands across two decades, with stars like Pat Spillane, Mikey Sheehy and the Bomber Liston among the ranks. It was Offaly who stood in their way when one game from five-in-a-row in 1982.
They were moments away from doing the impossible, two points ahead with two minutes to go, when sub Seamus Darby picked up the dropped ball getting behind Tommy Doyle and buried it with his only kick. The most famous goal of all-time, it saw Offaly crowned champions, in a win that shocked the nation. Remarkably, in fourteen years under O’Dwyer, the Kingdom only lost on seven occasions.
2010 – The Kilkenny Hurlers
The Cats had dominated the sport for the entire decade, picking up Liam McCarthy successively from 2006 to 2009 with some of the greatest players the game had ever seen. Henry Shefflin, Eddie Brennan and Eoin Larkin were all at the peak of their powers in the glory years of the Brian Cody era – their 2008 All-Ireland winning margin of 23 points over Waterford considered one of hurling’s greatest ever displays.
In their way stood a youthful Tipperary, but morale dropped for the Cats losing Shefflin to an early injury, a Lar Corbett inspired Tipp running away with proceedings, as the forward grabbed a hat-trick. This kickstarted years of incredible rivalry between the counties, consistently meeting on Croke Park Sunday.
The side is argued to be the greatest in the history of hurling, yet still could not achieve the magic five.
Should Dublin achieve the feat in a few weeks’ time, their place as the GAA’s greatest ever team will be inarguably cemented, given the calibre of those who have failed in the past.