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'Lads send it to me when I've had a few pints' - Spillane's rant before Kildare's epic Leinster win

Former Kildare forward Tadhg Fennin looks back at the 2000 Leinster final and replay against Dublin.

Updated Aug 1st 2021, 7:37 AM

CURTAILING THE DUBLIN football team in 2000 was a very different type of challenge compared to the job of trying to take down today’s juggernaut from the capital.

mick-odwyer-and-glen-ryan-1282000 Kildare manager Mick O'Dwyer with team captain Glen Ryan after their victory. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Long before their All-Ireland six-in-row heroics and 10 consecutive Leinster titles, Dublin were a tameable animal. The idea of facing them didn’t trigger worries about keeping the margin to a respectable number.

In the year 2000, Dublin were five years clear of their most recent All-Ireland victory. They had booked their place in the Leinster final after wins over Wexford and Westmeath and were paired with a Kildare outfit who had reached the All-Ireland final two years before that after ending a 42-year wait for a senior provincial crown.

In short, the football landscape was a very different sight 21 years ago.

For Tadhg Fennin, who scored a goal in the replay of that 2000 Leinster final, preventing Dublin from building up too much steam was the key to subduing them.

“The fear that’s there now wouldn’t have been there that time,” he tells The42 looking back on the last time Kildare lifted the Delaney Cup.

The drawn game finished 0-14 apiece after Dublin’s Collie Moran grabbed a late equaliser to send the tie to a replay. Kildare didn’t complete the job that day but Fennin recalls how the Kildare squad still felt hopeful after the final whistle.

“I don’t think we missed your chance, the feeling would have been if you get to the Leinster final against Dublin, you want to beat them on the first day.

“But that wouldn’t have really come into our heads. We would have just had a look at ourselves and the fact that we were back up and getting another chance to play in Croke Park and play in front of the fans and play in the Leinster final. That was what it was about for us really.”

Writing in the Leinster Leader, Robert Mulhern recals that the replay had the highest attendance of any sporting event in the world that day. An eerie stat to read in the context of today’s socially distanced environment at GAA games.

And it was Dublin who made the stronger start in front of that packed crowd in Croke Park. By half-time, they were 0-11 to 0-5 in front and in a strong position to press their advantage after the restart.

Fennin’s fear about struggling to handle a Dublin team striding out of sight was in the air, and Kildare looked to be in trouble. In an interview with the Irish Times remembering the game, Kildare star Dermot Earley remarked that then manager Mick O’Dwyer gave them “a grilling” at half-time.

In the Sunday Game studio, Kildare were getting cooked in the analysis too. Former presenter Michael Lyster was anchoring the coverage at the time, while veteran pundits Colm O’Rourke and Pat Spillane were also on duty.

Source: CillDaraTimes/YouTube

Spillane was unmerciful in his assessment of Kildare’s first half performance. A “woeful and inept opposition” was how he opened his address. “Not one of the forward line could score from play but of course, what’s new with Kildare forwards?

“Christ, they’re so easy to defend against. They’re two corner forwards are very lively but there’s no point playing the ball into the two corners because then they have to work it all the way back in again.

O’Rourke was less cutting in his assessment, and sympathetically opined that “you have to cut your cloth to suit,” when asked for a reason for the limitations in the Kildare attack.

But that interlude did little to soften Spillane’s tongue as he put Kildare substitutes Brian Murphy and O’Dwyer’s son, Karl on the chopping board.

“If Karl O’Dwyer was in Kerry, he wouldn’t be making the Kerry senior championship side. If Brian Murphy was in Cork, he wouldn’t be making the Cork junior football side.”

Fennin was one of the “lively corner forwards” that Spillane referred to in that segment.

“I’ve seen it a few times,” he says, “The lads send it to me when I’ve had a few pints. I’m kind of cringing at the whole backdrop of the Sunday Game [studio].

“You would have heard about it but it wasn’t any big surprise to us. You knew, reading the papers and the media element of it. It wasn’t within the county or anything like that but there was this perception that never really affected us.

“Looking back on it now, it’s easy for us to laugh and joke about it. We felt we were good enough forwards and if we got the right kind of ball, that we could do damage. Ok, we did need the goals but we had been scoring pretty highly.

“The scores to possession rates show maybe it wasn’t what it should have been but we had confidence in ourselves. Listen, it was of the time. We didn’t look like we were going to do anything at all in the first half as such, but we were happy enough to remind him in the second half.”

Kildare began mustering the response from the throw-in for the second half. After some patient attacking play, Padraig Brennan sent Earley through with an overhead handpas.

With just goalkeeper Davy Byrne to beat, Earley slipped the ball under his feet to send the Lilywhites roaring back to life.

Now just trailing by three points, Kildare advanced for their second goal of the afternoon a minute later. The ball was moved up the field into the path of Murphy who rounded the keeper before unloading possession to Fennin at the edge of the square to apply the finish.

That scoring burst ultimately propelled Kildare to their second Leinster title in two years. They also limited Dublin to just one point in that incredible second half display.

It was the perfect way to silence Spillane’s talk.

tadgh-fennin Tadhg Fennin gathering the ball from Brian Murphy for Kildare's second goal. Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

“Karl came on and made a massive difference at half-time,” Fennin says about the harsh treatment O’Dwyer received in that studio rant. “He created the first goal. Brian created the second goal.

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“Karl O’Dwyer is an All-Star and a massive player for Kildare. He was an integral part of the ’98 set-up. And the Karl O’Dwyer thing was coming from Kerry or whatever from Pat’s point of view.

“But from our point of view, he was an excellent forward, a really good guy to play with. A really experienced guy who we learned a lot of. Brian Murphy was a really good player who probably didn’t get enough recognition as a county player but a really intelligent guy on the ball.

“He was so unselfish as you can see in the goal. They were the kind of guys we wanted to play with.”

Kildare are back in the Leinster final this Sunday afternoon against Dublin, but it’s a different kind of prospect this time around. With this Dublin team, once they start building up any kind of meaningful momentum, they’re pretty much out of reach.

However, they have shown some vulnerabilities in this championship. An eight-point win over Wexford in their Leinster opener was uncharacteristic for them, while Meath also gave them a shake in the semi-final.

Letting a 2-11 to 0-6 half-time lead slip back to three points is not in keeping with the kind of ruthlessness we’re used to seeing from Dublin. They overpowered the Royals in the final stages but for a brief spell they were against the ropes.

These could be just momentary mishaps or maybe it’s possible that this could be the start of a bigger slide.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a little bit of vulnerability there,” says Fennin about what he expects might unfold later today.

“You can’t lose Jim Gavin and Stephen Cluxton at the minute and be the same panel. It’s just not possible.

“Now, don’t get me wrong, they have players that are good enough to win the All-Ireland but you can’t just replace these players. How much trouble were they in in the Meath game? I don’t really know. I guess we’re looking a little bit closer to home and the fact that we’d come on and improved since the Offaly game against Westmeath. But yet, Westmeath had chances to probably force that a little bit closer or even get the draw out of it.

“They’ll be looking from massive improvement from the Westemeath game or they won’t be in the game. But are they in a position to ask those questions of Dublin that Meath asked or tried to ask? And is there a vulnerability there that we haven’t seen yet?

“Everything is going to have to go really well and we’ll have to get the rub of the green, get a goal maybe shortly after half-time. We’ve seen it before and it can happen but are Kildare going to put themselves in that position? That’s the key.

“People are generally feeling it’s a little too early to write Dublin off but there’s probably a couple of signs that they aren’t as strong or as ruthless as in previous years.”

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