In modern football rivalries, Dublin versus Mayo gets top billing

Croke Park clash on Saturday evening will decide who reaches this year's All-Ireland final
In modern football rivalries, Dublin versus Mayo gets top billing

Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton consoles Aidan O'Shea of Mayo after the 2016 replay in Croker. Cluxton is gone but O'Shea remains Mayo's leader. Picture: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

IMMEDIATELY after the 2012 Kerry-Tyrone championship qualifier in Killarney, Paul Galvin was whisked away by a TV producer to be presented with the man-of-the-match award.

Galvin momentarily lost his composure during the interview. It was untypical Galvin, but he was so emotional because he had just spoken with Mickey Harte.

A week earlier, those accused of murdering Harte’s daughter Michaela were acquitted in Mauritius.

“I told him,” wrote Galvin in his autobiography “that everyone in Kerry was with him and his family.”

In a game Kerry dare not lose, Killarney was drunk on a cocktail of raw emotion and gripping tension.

Upon leaving the dressing room afterwards, Harte and his players were greeted to a generous reception from hundreds of Kerry supporters. After a decade of enmity, the scar finally seemed to have healed from the bitter and fractious Kerry-Tyrone rivalry.

Was the white flag ever fully raised though? During the 2019 championship, Seán Cavanagh rekindled memories of that moment when the Kerry supporters clapped Harte and described it as “patronising”.

The emotion on Galvin’s face and in his voice during that TV interview was anything but patronising. Kerry have always largely acknowledged Tyrone’s greatness in the 2000s, but Tyrone almost couldn’t resist stoking the embers to keep the old flames burning.

Just days after that 2012 clash, Brian McGuigan, who was sent off in the game, criticised Declan O’Sullivan and Colm Cooper who, he claimed “often gave the impression that they looked down on you”.

In his annual report at the end of that year, then Tyrone secretary Dominic McCaughey talked about poor refereeing in Killarney and how Kerry’s victory was “greeted, amazingly, with tears of joy by some players and wild scenes of jubilation among highly vociferous supporters.”

McCaughey’s point was clear; a qualifier victory would never match the monumental games Tyrone had won against Kerry.

Some of the bad blood was bound to simmer beneath the surface but the dynamic that underpinned football’s most embittered long-distance rivalry shifted throughout the last decade. Kerry began to get on top and have dominated the relationship ever since.

Tyrone had so many other battles to fight over the last decade that presenting themselves as an irritation to Kerry was no longer a priority.

The sides’ draw in Omagh in their final league game in 2015 relegated Tyrone to Division 2. When Tyrone finally beat Kerry for the first time in seven previous attempts in the final round of the 2018 league, it was a dead rubber in Omagh.

Kerry still never felt they could afford to switch off against Tyrone, and they buried them when the sides met in the league semi-final in Killarney in June, banging in six goals in an empathic 16-point win.

The relationship was naturally defined by a tension rooted in their differences. Yet what had driven them apart also bound them together to make them great.

That tension helped to create two of football’s greatest teams. Even when Kerry got on top, Tyrone still always used those past victories as a blunt weapon against them. They were never slow to remind Kerry that they’d beaten them in three All-Ireland finals.

All-Ireland semi-final wins against their old nemesis in 2015 and 2019 have helped to quieten Tyrone.

The intensity of the rivalry has further diminished because, with the exception of David Moran — who came on in the 2008 All-Ireland final — all of the main characters have now left that stage, including Harte.

The sides are due to meet again next weekend, though that's up in the air due to Covid issues but the defining rivalry in football now will take place today when Dublin face off with Mayo again.

The critics may say that you can’t call the relationship a rivalry when Dublin have dominated it so much, having beaten Mayo in their last six championship matches. But three of those matches were All-Ireland finals decided by one point, one of which went to a replay. The 2015 All-Ireland semi-final also went to a replay.

The only match that wasn’t a real contest was the semi-final two years ago when Dublin blitzed Mayo after half-time and went on to win by 10 points.

Mayo are the one team which have continually fronted up to Dublin, whose dominance has been so all encompassing that modern football rivalries have almost become redundant — because there have been so few teams good enough to challenge Dublin.

The GAA will always be defined by local rivalries, but the provincial championship system has become so outdated that many of those relationships feel more jaded than ever before.


Thirty years ago, the Dublin-Meath rivalry was at its apex when the sides clashed on four seismic first-round matches in Leinster. When the counties met in last month’s Leinster semi-final, the wider public had zero interest.

The one great national football rivalry that has always kept the GAA public enthralled is Dublin-Kerry. Dublin have absolutely dominated that relationship in the last decade, beating Kerry in five huge championship matches (including two finals) between 2011-’19.

When Dublin won the five-in-a-row in 2019, beating Kerry in the final was the ultimate nightmare for Kerry, especially when Dublin finally achieved what Kerry never could, even with their greatest team.

The GAA public are already salivating at the prospect of another Dublin-Kerry final in three weeks. Kerry-Tyrone will evoke memories of the greatest rivalry of the 2000s but the real intrigue will be in the Dublin-Mayo clash.

Because that has become the biggest show in town.

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