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Dublin: 3°C Sunday 28 February 2021

'I got very emotional on the field afterwards. I just felt, 'Is this me gone now?'

As their counties start out in 2020, Colm O’Neill, Mark Poland, Johnny Doyle and Karol Mannion reflect on a different football championship a decade ago.

Image: INPHO

HERE’S HOW IT looked back then.

Cork had been crowned All-Ireland champions. Down came up just short in that September final. Kildare were only two points shy at the semi-final stage. Roscommon celebrated a Connacht win before making a last eight exit.

Meath won silverware in Croke Park. Sligo and Limerick lost deciders, Louth were defeated as well in the most luckless and controversial fashion possible. All four provincial winners lost their quarter-finals.

It was the year after the period where Kerry and Tyrone carved up seven titles, the year before Dublin’s blue wave came crashing across the Gaelic football landscape.

The 2010 championship, a summer of action that stands as an outlier in the Gaelic football narrative. An array of storylines that look more novel and compelling with every passing season.

Of the five counties that have contested an All-Ireland final since, only Dublin played in August that year. Kerry and Tyrone were toppled on a seismic July evening. Mayo were stunned by Longford and Donegal cast aside by Armagh on the same June day in the qualifiers.

And the outlook now for those in the 2010 leading pack?

Cork have only been to an All-Ireland semi-final once since then, in 2012 the year of their last Munster victory. Down and Kildare haven’t returned to the last four stage or won their provincial championship.

Roscommon have lived up to their end of the bargain, successful in two recent Connacht finals and All-Ireland last eight regulars.

Cork’s Colm O’Neill, Down’s Mark Poland, Kildare’s Johnny Doyle and Roscommon’s Karol Mannion were all central characters in 2010.


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Mannion was the first of them to retire from the inter-county game when he called it a day in January 2014, Doyle did likewise three months later. Poland departed in November 2017, O’Neill was forced to go due to injury by July 2018.

Tomorrow their four counties set out on the 2020 championship road. November is an odd starting point as Cork entertain Kerry, Kildare meet Offaly, Roscommon host Mayo and Down travel to Fermanagh.

All still avidly follow the local fortunes, forced to support now from the couch instead of the stand. The Gaelic football climate has undergone major change since 2010, yet a decade on the group can appreciate that summer spent in the national sporting limelight.

the-cork-and-down-players-line-up The Cork and Down players before the 2010 All-Ireland final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Pre-Championship mood

Mark Poland: “That year there was an awful buzz back around the county because Wee James had come in. I hadn’t been about the previous years. I’d been there before in 2005. It was one of the few times where every top club player in Down was available.

“And Marty (Clarke) was back from Australia. He added something massive to the whole setup. It gave our forwards more freedom as well, he was the one that got the attention.”

Karol Mannion (Roscommon): “After 2005 a lot of the senior players weren’t asked back. The panel became very young and we went into a pretty bad period. 

“We’d come off a bad year with Mayo hammering us in Connacht, then we’d a couple of injuries in that 2010 league and ended up going down to Division 4. We lost to Sligo in the very last game, they beat us easy in Markievicz. It wasn’t a good time.”

Colm O’Neill (Cork): “Finishing off in 2009 being beaten in the All-Ireland final, we were obviously gutted. When you’re going back to pre-season you’ve only one thing on your mind, it’s righting the wrong. But you’re back the same as everyone else in the competition at square one.”

Early Provincial Days

Mannion: “I got into the Roscommon panel at the end of 2001, had played in one Connacht final in 2004. So in 2010 we’d a great opportunity to get there, just get through London and Leitrim.”

O’Neill: “We played below in Killarney, a sweltering hot day. It was the second year in a row we drew with them, we went back to Cork and Kerry beat us after extra-time. We were going into the unknown then, you weren’t even thinking about the bigger picture.”

Poland: “We got to the league final, didn’t perform against Armagh but I think it was a blessing in disguise. We’d Brian McIver and Paddy Tally along then too. Brian didn’t suffer any fools, he wasn’t happy with that league performance.

“If we had won, I think we might have gone into the Donegal game with a different mindset. I’m not saying our season took off then, Tyrone turned us over in the Ulster semi-final.”

Johnny Doyle: “We played really great football that night, kicked some fantastic scores but Louth were just better. 

“I just licked my wounds very quickly. Kieran (McGeeney) was very good at getting you ready for the next competition. Before he arrived the All-Ireland series was nearly like a hangover cure and we failed miserably most years up to that.”

michael-fanning-and-john-doyle Johnny Doyle in action for Kildare against Louth in 2010 Source: James Crombie

Mannion: “We’d the game against London, three weeks to Leitrim and four weeks to a Connacht final. After the league a number of key players came back from injury. We were training well, had the two wins and galvanised us a group. We were getting great guidance from Fergal and his management team. That was a key factor.

The Backdoor

O’Neill: “We drew Cavan at home in the qualifiers. I’ll never forget that game, the conditions were awful. Wexford game, the same. It was a pure slog, the standard wouldn’t have been hectic.

“But the qualifiers is all about getting over the line and into the bowl for the next round. You could see after those two games, we were starting to build a small bit of momentum.”

Poland: “The Offaly one we scraped through by the skins of our teeth. There’s a big story around that, everybody in Down knows. The bus driver actually had us heading for Mullingar that day. I just remember sitting on the bus and seeing signs for Mullingar and thinking, ‘Right boys where are we going to here?’

“We only arrived in Tullamore 20 minutes before throw-in, things were a wee bit chaotic. That day really showed the mettle of the team. Next day out we let loose in Breffni Park against Sligo. From that day we didn’t look back.”

ciaran-mcmanus-and-mark-poland Offaly's Ciaran McManus and Down's Mark Poland. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

  • Kildare faced Antrim but the game was overshadowed by the sad passing that week of Dermot Earley Senior, the father of the Lilywhites inspirational midfielder. The funeral took place on the morning of the game.

Doyle: “The big thing for us, and again it’s a selfish thing, was Dermot going to play? Dermot was such a massive part of our team. 

“I know Dermot very well on a personal level. I remember going down to the house and chatting.

“I said, ‘Look it whatever you decide you want to do, is the right thing to do. Don’t be worrying about us’.

“He rang me later on that night saying he was talking to his Ma and that’s what his Da would have wanted him to do was to play. Knowing Dermot and Dermot Snr, and what representing your county, what being part of something bigger than yourself, it was a huge part of what they were.

“We’d paid our respects when we met in the Curragh for the wake in the Army Church. We were ushered in the side door, I remember standing waiting and it was a who’s who of the GAA. You were pointing out there’s Páidí Ó Sé and there’s Tony Hanahoe and there’s Larry Tompkins.

“The crowd in Newbridge for the game was just phenomenal. I do remember saying, Whatever else happens, we’re not leaving here as losers’.

dermot-earley-runs-out-with-teamates Dermot Earley runs out with his Kildare team in 2010 against Antrim. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“And by God we were close to losing that game. At least we got another day out. If we’d lost that, it could have left a big dent on us as players.”

Reaching The Quarter-Finals

O’Neill: “Limerick would have felt at that time they’d Cork’s number. That night in the Gaelic Grounds, for the heart of the supporters it wasn’t the best.

“Limerick were a top team then. Johnny McCarthy was a tough competitor, at the time one of the best man markers in the country. Ask any lad and he’d say that about him. To win a game after extra-time builds a bit of resilience and a bit of fight.

Doyle: “We got a bit of momentum after the Antrim draw. Sometimes when Kildare were expected to win was their toughest days. We didn’t do the favourites tag really well. We put in a really good performance up in Derry, I’d suffered a few tough defeats up there.

“We’d come off a victory and were in a happier place than Monaghan were coming off a provincial final loss. I’d a terrible game. Ronan Sweeney got a goal for us, we did well to get over that day.”

Silverware At Last

  • 18 July: Roscommon 0-14 Sligo 0-13 – Donie Shine scored 0-10.

Mannion: “During the 2000s Sligo were a great team to watch, some brilliant players that you would admire. I loved watching Eamonn O’Hara play, some of the defenders as well, Charlie Harrison and Ross Donovan.

“We were in good shape when we got to that Connacht final. In fairness you couldn’t but think, ‘Jeez we’ve beaten Galway and Mayo, this is a huge opportunity’, when you were from Sligo. We were gone to Division 4 and we were under the radar. It was certainly set up for us. A lot of the times when that was the case, it doesn’t work out. We nailed the performance on the day. We kept tabs on their best players.

“Donie’s role, you can’t understate what he did for Roscommon to win that game. It was a dream performance to watch a team-mate do that. His first Connacht final as a 22-year-old to do that. I’ll thank him until I end up in the grave, it was great to have him on the team that day.”

peter-domican-lifts-the-trophy Roscommon players celebrate their 2010 Connacht title. Source: James Crombie


  • 31 July: Down 1-16 Kerry 1-10; Dublin 1-15 Tyrone 1-13.
  • 1 August: Cork 1-16 Roscommon 0-10; Kildare 2-17 Meath 1-12.

Poland: “It was the first time I’d played in Croke Park in a championship game. You were going in with a mentality of, ‘Am I going to get a chance to play here again?’.

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“I actually over lockdown watched the video of it. The hunger and work rate from our forward line set the tone early on.”

O’Neill: ”It’s a results business. The plan is to go out play great football and put up a big score but sometimes that’s not always possible. The qualifiers is all about dogging it out and that quarter-final was the same focus for us.”

Mannion: ”We’d one night of celebration after the Connacht final but we knuckled down again. We decided we wanted to have a cut off it, the minors from ’06 would have been very much to the fore in wanting to push it on.

“We were leading five-ten minutes into the second half, but they just hit us where it hurt. They were a mature team and could turn the screw on teams like ourselves who were developing.”

karol-mannion-and-derek-kavanagh Karol Mannion in action for Roscommon against Cork's Derek Kavanagh. Source: James Crombie

Doyle: “We started that match pretty poor, lost Dermot early, he did his cruciate. James Kavanagh got an unbelievable goal, coolness personified. That was Jimmer, he’d such ability. We just got a couple of vital scores to pull away.

“I hadn’t kicked well the previous game and I put in savage hours kicking frees trying to get it right. The first one I got, I’d kick it with my eyes closed normally but it was a greasy ball and I kicked it wide. I swear to God, I could have dug a hole and got into it at that stage. Thankfully I got another couple of chances and they flew over.”

Poland: “The ball just fell to me early on (in the first minute). It was the one opportunity and I wasn’t going to let it go by easily.

“There’s actually a funny story to it. One of my friends from Longstone had a bet placed on me that day for first goal. He was late getting into the ground, walked in not knowing anything until half-time.

“Then he was like, ‘Here who actually did score the Down goal?’

“He couldn’t believe it. I think it was 22-1. He was a happy man in Dublin that night.”

mark-poland-scores-the-first-goal-of-the-game Mark Poland scores an early goal for Down against Kerry. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Last Four

  • 22 August: Cork 1-15 Dublin 1-14

O’Neill: “One of the games that stands out for me throughout my whole career. The atmosphere, the noise, the colour. The conditions were perfect, the crowd was humming. It was just pure championship. 

“It was thrown at Dublin that they couldn’t get past the line and discipline would have been thrown at them as well. They were probably in a comfortable enough position, gave away a sloppy penalty. A lot of stick was dished at them after that game, we came from behind, and pipped them at the end.

colm-oneill-is-tackled-by-ross-mcconnell Colm O'Neill and Ross McConnell during the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final. Source: Cathal Noonan

  • 29 August: Down 1-16 Kildare 1-14

Doyle: ”Once we knew we were playing Down, Kieran knew them and James McCartan very well. There was talk that it was going to be a Kildare-Cork final, he’d to quench that very quick. I certainly didn’t let it grow legs in my head. I was 32 so I’d a bit of experience.”

Poland: ”It’s one game everybody seems to bring up to me. It was a really warm, hot day. The red and black, and the white around the stadium. The way the game went, the excitement at the end was crazy. The buzz coming off the field that day, it was unbelievable.” 

Doyle: “You’ll win nothing without a bit of luck. Losing Dermot was massive. To me in ’09, he was in the top three footballers in the country. 

“The Benny Coulter goal, look it, it is what it is. No disrespect to Benny, he went hard for the ball as he always did. The disappointing thing is that the week before Kildare got a fine and Aidan O’Rourke got a two-match ban because he came onto the field too many times. They were quick to find out but a square ball decides whether you’re in an All-Ireland final or not.

“Even the Rob Kelly shot at the end, to me the ball was picked off the ground in the square. Should we have had a penalty?”

the-down-team-scramble-the-ball-away-as-robert-kelly A hectic end to the 2010 clash of Down and Kildare. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Poland: ”I know Kildare ones hark back to Benny’s goal but I think Pat McEnaney evened the game up as well, Callaghan took about ten steps for his goal. You’d always feel for the likes of Johnny Doyle, fellas that were so close to playing in the ultimate game of anybody’s career. But I definitely do think over the 70 minutes we were the better footballing team.”

down-players-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Down players celebrate at the final whistle after defeating Kildare. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Doyle: “You can’t get too bogged down. You’d be talking to people even now, they’d say we would’ve won the All-Ireland. I’m sure Cork would have had their say on that too. That Eamonn Callaghan goal, technically he took too many steps. We’ll always talk and maybe it makes us feel a bit better as well that we could have won it. You park those and move on.”

Battle For Sam

O’Neill: ”Thinking back the conditions were very tricky at times, there was a good bit of rain. When you get to those positions in finals, people only remember the winners. They’re just there to be won and thankfully we got over the line.”

colm-oneill-and-the-cork-players-celebrate Colm O'Neill celebrates after Cork's victory. Source: Cathal Noonan

Poland: ”The end of the first half, we were four or five up and Cork got a free around the middle of the field. Somebody said or did something and the ref brought it up. Donncha O’Connor knocked it over and it seemed to give Cork energy. From speaking to Wee James, being involved in the minors this year and chatting about it, he said that too, that point seemed to lift them in some way.

“When they started to claw us back in the second half we were making mistakes. That’s the really frustrating thing looking back. But look, Goulding never missed a free kick that day either too, he punished every indiscretion. You have to appreciate that skill too. Looking back you can’t begrudge them one either, they’d been beaten in two finals.”

2010 Reflections

Mannion: “Roscommon have sporadically won Connacht titles, we have come with teams every ten years or so. It’s a very hard thing to come by. I was there so long with Roscommon, it was so hard to win anything that when you finally win something, I was so happy to get it. I thought I might never win one.”

Doyle: “The Down defeat was a harder one to take on a personal level because I was 32. You’re thinking, ‘Jesus will I ever get the opportunity again?’

“I got very emotional on the field afterwards. I just felt, ‘Is this me gone now?’ I’d given everything I had to Kildare and I wouldn’t change it, I loved it. I’d been in jobs that didn’t suit the football, so I got a new job. It was my life. You’re just thinking how close we were.”

john-doyle-consoled-by-dan-gordon Johnny Doyle consoled by Dan Gordon after the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final. Source: James Crombie

Poland: “In 2010 we thought that was the way it was always going to be for years ahead. But obviously that wasn’t the case. I remember in 2012 we got beaten in Ulster final, we were one of the few teams that came through the six-day turnaround. Then we got Mayo in the quarter-final and probably we were a wee bit naive, they trounced us that day.”

The 2020 winter championship

O’Neill: ”I do think the trajectory Cork are on is an upward curve. There’s been two All-Ireland underage successes which is not something not to be sniffed at. But there’s a huge battle ahead of them  this weekend and the big question is can they close the gap?

Mannion: “It’s been brilliant since I finished up to see how good Roscommon have been. Enda Smith, his first year was my last year. Enda and his generation, a good group, extremely dedicated and they had the class as well to push Roscommon on. Getting to the next level now is their ambition.

Poland: “I’ve got a brother (Conor) on the team. It was strange initially when the boys were just gone back to training but now the football’s on TV, the buzz they’re getting. Getting out of Division 3 was a massive thing. Teams like Down could get on a run, you just don’t know. Hopefully on Sunday they can get over the line.”

Dublin’s Dominance

O’Neill: “You could see that day in 2010 they were starting to come. James McCarthy, Paul Flynn, Bernard Brogan were just coming into their prime. They’d the U21 teams after them. When Jim Gavin came in, it was total discipline and a mindset that got them over the line. You see how dominant they’ve been since.”

the-dublin-team-celebrate-with-the-sam-maguire-cup Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Mannion: “The game has moved on a lot from 2010, the margins between the top teams and everyone else are widening. It is going to be harder for a team a tier below the top level to upset it. You’ve Dublin, then Kerry, they’re going to be very hard to catch.”

Poland: “It’s scary how far Dublin have got ahead of other counties and how far teams like Down have dropped back. My last game was against Monaghan in 2017. I remember having it in the back of my head that if we win this game, we play Dublin in the quarter-final.

“I’d the idea it could be my swansong. But was also thinking is this going to be a good thing for the long-term development of the younger players? They were so far ahead of the pack. You have to hold your hands up and be honest.”

Doyle: “If you were asked to pick six teams to win the All-Ireland, you probably wouldn’t be able to name them. There’s not as many teams in the mix now.

“I wouldn’t take in any way from Dublin, what they’ve done is phenomenal. To win five-in-a-row, I never thought I’d see the day.

“But you’d love to see somebody else come in and shake it up.

“Or three or four teams to challenge to make the All-Ireland series more competitive. That’s what made 2010 that bit different.”



Subscribe to The42′s new member-led GAA Championship show with Marc Ó Sé and Shane Dowling. 

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Fintan O'Toole

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