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# Down memory lane
'To be part of that is really special' - 10 years on from a pivotal Dublin Donegal All-Ireland final
Senior managers and players emerged from the All-Ireland U21 final played on this day in 2010.

AT ONE END of the Breffni Park pitch, Michael Murphy placed the ball on the penalty spot.

At the other end of the grounds in Cavan, Dean Rock made a decision.

In the dying embers of the All-Ireland U21 football final in 2010, Dublin were clinging to a two-point lead. Then Donegal substitute Cillian Morrison made a burst towards the goal before being sent to the ground.

Sligo referee Marty Duffy handed Donegal an injury-time lifeline.

“I started the game playing wing-forward and as they got the penalty I’d moved into the full-forward line,” recalls Dublin player Ciaran Dorney.

“I was standing beside Dean Rock and he looked at me and said, ‘Look I’m going to go out to midfield, if he scores this, I’m going to try to catch the kickout and get it in as quickly as I can’.”

Dublin were considering how they might have to fashion an equaliser. It was three years at that stage since he had made his Donegal senior bow , he had been crowned Young Footballer of the Year the previous summer and his sparkling exploits made him the most feared attacker in the U21 grade that spring.

Instead he rocketed in a shot that smacked off the crossbar.

“We had one of the best goalkeepers in Ireland at the time in Vinny Whelan,” says Dorney. 

“Vinny would have played at Wrexham when he was younger, huge guy. Well used to facing penalties. We were hoping Vinny would do a job on it but then it hit the crossbar, those big thick wooden crossbars up in Breffni Park.

“That was a serious relief when he missed that. There was a scramble for the ball out near the sideline and we came out. The game was over about 30 seconds later.”

That was it then. A decade today since Dublin celebrated wildly, Donegal felt that crushing disappointment and an underage final that spawned a multitude of senior careers took place.

If U21 stars can find the climb difficult to the altitude of senior level where the air is thinner, a fair few from this game managed to negotiate the ascent.

Murphy’s dejection at that late penalty was plain to see. It was not a miss that defined him though.

michael-murphy-misses-with-a-penalty-in-the-closing-stages Michael Murphy strikes his late penalty in the 2010 All-Ireland U21 final

a-dejected-michael-murphy Donall Farmer / INPHO A dejected Michael Murphy after that miss Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

Over two years later he became only the second captain from his county to lift Sam Maguire and remains the totemic presence guiding Donegal football.

He had company from that starting U21 team for the senior triumph in Paddy McGrath, Leo McLoone and Mark McHugh. Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy came on in that finale against Mayo.

And overseeing their senior fortunes was their underage supremo Jim McGuinness.

That setup was the launchpad for a stellar period in Donegal’s football history.

It had a transformative effect on Dublin football too and by extension the national landscape over the decade that has ensued.

Rory O’Carroll was detailed to keep tabs on Murphy that day, he was manning the edge of the square for the senior side thereafter. When Dublin ended their Sam Maguire drought 18 months later, he was joined by James McCarthy in that starting side.

“I think Rory and James had the physicality straight away to step into senior football at intercounty level. Rory was an absolute rock at full-back. We’d a real good gameplan around Michael Murphy but then Rory himself had the physicality and the smarts and ability to read the game to handle him.

michael-murphy-with-rory-ocarroll Donall Farmer / INPHO Donegal's Michael Murphy and Dublin's Rory O'Carroll Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

“Then James, if you want the definition of an athlete, James McCarthy is that. He gets up and down the pitch all day long but he also has football talent as well. So they were the ones you would have said, ‘Yeah they can make that step up’.”

Dorney feels two characteristics of that team were the strong defensive backbone and the natural flair in the forward line. A player from each sector had to be patient before making the jump to senior. The influence of Jonny Cooper and Dean Rock has shone through since as Dublin stitched together their sequence of All-Ireland wins.

“It shows the work-rate that they had and they had the ability in themselves that they could make the step up. I think Jonny and Dean took one if not two years after the two other lads before they really made the breakthrough. 

“And both of those haven’t really been out of the Dublin team for any important game since. They had to bide their time but you could see they were good enough and clever enough footballers to make the step up to senior inter-county.”

leo-mcloone-with-john-cooper Donall Farmer / INPHO Dublin's Jonny Cooper and Donegal's Leo McLoone Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

That quartet scooped up All-Ireland medals and the combined haul of nine All-Star awards – three for McCarthy and two apiece for Cooper, O’Carroll and Rock – is proof of their individual prowess.

Other players flourished in different arenas. Dorney would go on to celebrate All-Ireland glory with St Vincent’s in 2014, bagging a goal in a game lit up by a virtuoso showing from Diarmuid Connolly.

O’Carroll had won that honour in 2009 with Kilmacud Crokes, Darragh Nelson would do likewise with Ballyboden in 2016. McCarthy, Rock and Ted Furman lined out for Ballymun on St Patrick’s Day in 2013. Sean Murray and Cian Mullins were part of a St Brigid’s side that contested the 2011 Leinster decider.

“I think when you go back to your club after playing with the county, it’s almost expected to be a step down. But I’d say for most of the lads on that team going back to the club from inter-county U21 duty was just as hard almost. It was around a time when senior club football in Dublin started getting really competitive.”

eamonn-doherty-with-ciaran-dorney Donall Farmer / INPHO Ciaran Dorney in action for Dublin against Donegal in the 2010 All-Ireland U21 final Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

And then there was the Dublin boss that day in May 2010.

Would it have been hard to believe then that Jim Gavin was going to manage Dublin to win six All-Irelands before the end of the decade?

“I actually probably would have. I’d never been in a setup that was as meticulously prepared. He made sure that everyone had a good understanding of what
was expected of them. We’d go out on the pitch and we’d walk through every element of what we thought was likely to happen.

“What we wanted to do and what we thought the opposition was going to do. I think that bred confidence. Before the final we’d looked at Donegal from every angle.

“Then there’s stuff off the pitch, the level of preparation that Jim introduced. There was hydration testing before we were allowed out training. The fitness training we went through was another level up. 

“Really good team bonding as well, understood there had to be a good work ethos but also a good atmosphere within the group to succeed. The likes of meals, gear, everything was just top class.”

jim-gavin-celebrates-with-ted-furman Donall Farmer / INPHO Jim Gavin celebrating after Dublin's victory with Ted Furman Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

The mood in the Dublin camp before that game was good. Westmeath had been taken care of in the Leinster final, then a victory over Connacht champions Roscommon that developed familiarity with the Cavan venue.

“The bus journey up to Breffni Park, we watched a video compilation on the last 15 minutes of the drive,” recalls Dorney.

“It was of all the great moments we’d had that year and things we were emphasising for the game, proper tackling, really good movement, getting the ball out of defence.

“That set the tone for the day and I remember it being a really nice evening for a game of football as well, a decent crowd there, about 8 or 9,000 people.”

A tight contest unfolded. Dublin sprinted into an early lead, Donegal pegged them back with McLoone sneaking in for a goal that nudged them ahead 1-4 to 0-6 at the interval.

Dublin’s second-half comeback was ignited by a terrific solo goal from Gary Sweeney. Dorney struck a point as part of a scoring run that pushed Dublin into the driving seat in the last quarter.

The late drama left nerves frayed but they held on and that winning feeling would become customary in Dublin football circles in the coming years.

For those involved in that breakthrough triumph, there is some personal satisfaction.

“It’s a really nice memory to look back on,” recalls Dorney. 

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“I was the only player I think to go from trials pre-Christmas right through to being in the squad for the All-Ireland final, something I’d be very proud of. Both the Dublin team and the Donegal team are packed full of names that have gone on to really special things in the GAA.

“So to be part of that is really special and have that to look back on. Definitely something I’ll keep with me.”

the-dublin-team-celebrate-in-the-dressing-room Donall Farmer / INPHO Dublin players celebrate their 2010 All-Ireland final victory. Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO


1 May 2010 – All-Ireland U21 football final

Dublin 1-10 Donegal 1-8

Scorers for Dublin: Gary Sweeney 1-1, Dean Rock 0-4 (0-3f), Nicky Devereux, Ciaran Dorney, Mark Coughlan, Robert McCarthy, Barry O’Rorke 0-1 each.

Scorers for Donegal: Dermot Molloy 0-5 (0-4f), Leo McLoone 1-0, Michael Murphy 0-2 (0-1f), Ciaran Morrison 0-1.


Vinny Whelan (St Maur’s)

Eoin Culligan (Kilmacud Crokes)
Rory O’Carroll (Kilmacud Crokes)
Darragh Nelson (Ballyboden St-Enda’s)

Jonny Cooper (Na Fianna)
Sean Murray (St Brigid’s)
Nicky Devereux (Ballinteer St John’s)

James McCarthy (Ballymun Kickhams)
Cian Mullins (St Brigid’s)

Ciaran Dorney (St Vincent’s)
Mark Coughlan (Kilmacud Crokes)
Gary Sweeney (St Sylvester’s)

Robert McCarthy (St Peregrine’s)
Ted Furman (Ballymun Kickhams)
Dean Rock (Ballymun Kickhams)


David Quinn (Lucan Sarsfields) for McCarthy (half-time)
Ciaran Reddin (St Maur’s) for McCarthy (38)
Barry O’Rorke (Kilmacud Crokes) for Furman (44)
Sean McGuinness (St Oliver Plunkett’s-Eoghan Ruadh) for Nelson (49)
Niall Brogan (Thomas Davis) for Dorney (64)


Peter Boyle (Aodh Ruadh)

Paddy McGrath (Ardara)
Declan Walsh (Malin)
Ciaran Boyle (Naomh Conaill)

Kevin Mulhern (Cloughaneely)
Danny Curran (Gaoth Dobhair)
Eamonn Doherty (St Eunan’s)

Conor Classon (Ardara)
Leo McLoone (Naomh Conaill)

Anton McFadden (St Michael’s)
Dermot Molloy (Naomh Conaill)
Thomas McKinley (Naomh Colmcille)

James Carroll (Gaoth Dobhair)
Michael Murphy (Glenswilly)
Mark McHugh (Kilcar)


Cillian Morrison (St Eunan’s) for McFadden (29)
Danny Murphy (Moville) for McKinley (29)
Ciaran McGinley (Kilcar) for Carroll
Sean O’Kennedy (Four Masters) for Curran (58)

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