The 1950s did not begin auspiciously for Dublin. They failed to make the play off stages in either 1950 or 1951, but they did reach the Homeâ final in 1952 where a large attendance of over 30,000 was a sign that interest in the capital was reawakened, although it was well down on the 46,000 who had watched Meath beat Mayo the previous year.
One of the reasons for the heightened awareness was the growing dominance of Vincents on the county team. They had won the previous three county championships but that run seemed to have come to an end when in May 1952 they threatened to withdraw from both the football and hurling championships. According to county board minutes, the main grounds of their objection to the date were: that a number of their hurling team were injured in last Sunday’s S.F.C. tie against St. Josephs. Vinnies and Joeys had many famously tough encounters, the one referred to having been in the Dublin quarter finals. The county board quickly agreed to a re-fixture of the hurling semi final.
The long awaited breakthrough seemed to have arrived when Dublin won their first national league with a comprehensive 4 – 6 to 0 – 9 victory over Cavan in the final. Fourteen of the Dublin starting 15 were from Vincents and Dublin wore the Vinnies jersey. That seemed to augur a turnaround in championship fortunes. They had been beaten by Kildare in the preliminary round in 1950; by Meath in the quarter finals in 1951 and 1952. But 1953 was to bring further grief, a third successive quarter final defeat to the Royals. Interestingly, Vincents had made their objection to playing the Dublin hurling semi final on May 17. That was just a week before the county footballers, almost all of them Vincents and many of them dual players, faced Meath. Given the demands on the players, perhaps their poor record in Leinster was understandable.
It seemed that the league win had been the one swallow. 1954 was if anything even worse. They lost their league title to Mayo in the semi final, and lost to Offaly in the Leinster semi final.
Despite the disappointments 1955 did witness two significant breakthroughs. Dublin had recovered from the disappointments of the previous years to the extent that they had again reached the League final, having defeated Cork in the semi-final. Now they faced a major challenge. They were to face All Ireland champions Meath in the final. It was to be the end of Meath’s first golden age, unsurpassed again until the late 1980s. They had won their first Leinster in 1939 and their first All Ireland in 1949. They had won five of the previous eight Leinsters and had beaten Kerry relatively easily in the 1954 All Ireland final. Meath had also won the league in 1946 and 1951.
Dublin had not beaten Meath in Leinster since 1944. The belief that Dublin could beat them was founded mainly on the fact that Dublin looked extremely fast and were relatively young in comparison. Meath’s style was of the old school which was perceived to be vulnerable to the Fancy Dan stuff. Much of that is possibly hindsight as Meath were after all the All Ireland champions and had beaten Dublin for the last three years in the championship.
The seeds of the future in Dublin were also being sown and the minors had won the All Ireland in 1954, the first of three in a row and of five for the decade. Just the week before that, the famous Joeys of Marino had defeated another Dublin school Synge Street in the Leinster colleges final. Among the stars for Joeys were brothers Lar and Des Foley. Â Joeys was the nursery of the great Vincents team which had 11 of Dublin’s starting 15 in the league final.
The league final proved to be somewhat of a damp squib as Dublin, described by Padraig Puirseal as “speedy, open and spectacular,” totally overwhelmed their opponents who looked ragged and tired in comparison. In a pattern often attempted to be emulated by later Dublin teams they were quick out of the blocks and Kevin Heffernan scored the first goal after eight minutes. A minute later another Dublin attack ended with a penalty being awarded and it was coolly despatched by Ollie Freaney. After 12 minutes, Dublin led by nine points and the match was over as a contest.
In retrospect the scale of the victory, and its repeat in the Leinster final, also against Meath, possibly undermined Dublin’s chances of winning the All Ireland. There is no sense that the players themselves were complacent, but the supporters certainly had huge confidence in them. They were also, as so often in later years and with similar consequences, the talking horse of the media. More significantly, they ensured that Kerry would not be taking them for granted, and that was what proved to be decisive.
May 8, 1955, Croke Park, National League Final:
Dublin 2 – 12 Meath 1 – 3 Attendance 42,916
DUBLIN: Paddy O’Flaherty (Binn Eadair), Danno Mahoney (St. Vincents), Jim Lavin (St. Vincents) , Mick Moylan (St. Â Vincents), Willie Monks (St. Margarets), Norman Allen (St. Vincents), Nick Maher (St. Vincents), Jim Crowley (St. Vincents), J McGuinness (St. Maurs), Dessie “Snitchy” Ferguson (St. Vincents), Ollie Freaney (St. Vincents), Cathal O’Leary (St. Vincents), Padraig “Jock” Haughey (St. Vincents), Kevin Heffernan (St. Vincents). Johnny Boyle (Aer Corps), Subs: Maurice Whelan (St. Vincents) for McGuinness.