Champions might just be starting out


Personal histories echo through all this, the latest example of Kerry's timeless mastery of the game. "All my life I have been watching them, Ogie Moran, Pat Spillane, all the greats, lifting the Sam Maguire and this was something extra special," gushes Seamus Moynihan.

"You know, I always said that the captaincy was a bit overstated, that it was a more honorary thing than anything else but being up there today was a dream come true, really." The Kerry captain speaks as he plays - fluid, breakneck speed, safe and unerring. Warmly and effortlessly he emphasises what has become the biding principle for the players - team effort. Ghost through this dressing-room now - crowded with athletes more exhausted than euphoric - and from various corners, you will hear them insist that this, the 32nd All-Ireland, was all about the panel.

"The lads were just outstanding throughout today," says Declan O'Keeffe. Nearby, Liam Hassett is giving an appraisal of the attacking unit. "It's a 20 man team, this. With the forwards, well, we went a while without scoring but that has happened to us before and we weren't going to panic." Maybe the memory of 1997, portrayed so often as the year Maurice Fitzgerald alone delivered the All-Ireland to Kerry forged the resolute and cemented sense of team purpose that sustained this latest triumph. Although Moynihan has been lauded for his superhuman exploits all summer, the full back's work was quietly devastating; he toiled so others might thrive. He will be mentioned in the same breath as "the greats" he himself used bow before but Moynihan, modest and selfless to the last, is the ultimate team player.

Perhaps that is down to the manager. Paidi O Se was the first man to leave the field after the whistle ended and not for a moment was the mask slipping. The once fiery wing back has evolved into a curious man of middle age - ostensibly full of twinkling southern plamas - but distant and mistrustful of all outside influences. He has wrapped himself and this talented squad in a cocoon and is unapologetic for it. So yesterday, it was a relief to see that he wasn't about to bend or soften up now. He is brief, concise, detached, loyal to what he believes.

"A few things worked. Our decisions at the back - in tying down Michael Donnellan and Pauric Joyce and the players we put on them, well great credit is due there to the management, it has a major bearing on things."

Paidi has walked the plank for his convictions over the past few years. He has his share of detractors in the home county and beyond and yet his record is beginning to glow. He has demonstrated time and again that he cares not for personalities, only for the greater good of the Kerry jersey. "This has been very special," Liam Hassett says when asked to hold the win against the light of 1997.

"To have my brother Mike out on the field as well. A great day for us, for the Hassett family. In '97, well, I didn't think I deserved the right to the captaincy that day."

So the misgivings of those times, the days when it looked as if the Hassetts wouldn't play again . . . all are forgotten now.

"Well, I suppose today, yeah."

Simple words with endless depth. This team might just be starting out.

Meanwhile, in the losers' dressing-room Galway manager John Maughan makes no excuses. "Well a few things went against us, and I thought we might be able to get a goal when we got back to three points. But that's it, and I have no qualms at all with the result. I would just like to congratulate Kerry on a great performance."

There were, however, some positive moments to look back on, not least the stunning goal from Declan Meehan. Goals like that very often win games at Croke Park, but O'Mahony feels that it may have come a little too soon.

"It was a fantastic team goal, but there may have been one or two players who were rushed a little bit in that period of dominance. But you can't be analysing too much when you're just after losing an All-Ireland."

One of the interesting tactical decisions was midfielder Kevin Walsh coming off and then back on, but O'Mahony reckoned it was a gamble they could afford to take. "He got a touch on the cartilage of his knee, and with the five subs, I thought we could have a look at it and see if he was all right to go back in. "But I just hope that him and players like him don't throw in the towel at this stage. There's a lot more for pulling in those lads. The game just didn't go for some of them today but that's just the way it is."

For Walsh, it was an injury-ridden afternoon that he would rather forget: "It came from a bolt of studs into the kneecap, but I wanted to come back on. "They were still putting a lot of balls wide and when I came back on I felt we were getting back into it again. But then we missed a few chances, and sent a few balls into the goalkeeper's hands, including one of my own. That doesn't help things."

But nobody is saying anything about the end of the road. "After a defeat like this, everything has to be looked at again," says O'Mahony, "and a lot of that is up to the county board. But in my own case, my own life has been on hold for three years even though I've enjoyed every minute of it. Today is not that day for making any decisions."

With that, he bid us goodbye, but the feeling is that it won't be for the last time.