Dublin hold nerve to see off Kerry in frenzied All-Ireland final endgame

Dessie Farrell’s side had more right answers after intense decider at Croke Park

All-Ireland SFC final: Dublin 1-15 Kerry 1-13

The boys are back. A game that was tied in knots for ages eventually found freedom in injury-time as points from Paul Mannion and Dean Rock loosened Dublin from Kerry’s clutches. On a day when the rain made everything difficult, their steadiness in the endgame simplified matters.

It was a strangled sort of a day for a long time, as if both sides had overthought the whole thing. They were so caught up in the bluffs and double bluffs and treble bluffs that they almost forgot to go and play. Every kick-out was like watching a race to complete a Rubik’s Cube – exciting once you saw the outcome but a bit of a grind to behold as it happened.

For what it was worth, Dublin had much the better of those exchanges. Brian Howard was consistently able to get free of Dara Moynihan when Stephen Cluxton was standing over the ball, meaning that Dublin were pretty much always on the front foot immediately. At the other end, Shane Ryan often looked like a man whose friends had got a taxi home without him, scanning the horizon for green and gold compadres and finding none.

So it was that twice in the first half, a Kerry score was followed by a Dublin one immediately from the kick-out. A Seán O’Shea free on 11 minutes was wiped out within a minute by Brian Fenton loping through at his ease. When O’Shea repeated the dose three minutes later, Con O’Callaghan had won his own free for Cormac Costello to convert within 40 seconds.


Everything seemed to be coming easier to Dublin. Kerry were struggling to get David Clifford into the game. He scored with his first involvement after six minutes, taking Mick Fitzsimons for a run down the Cusack Stand side before cutting back for a towering point. But otherwise, he had to live off scraps.

Whereas Dublin were by and large getting their strike men into the game. Paul Mannion curled a lovely unhurried point in from the left with his left boot. O’Callaghan was a constant threat. Even Cluxton came forward to land a free and a 45, his first scores in a final since 2013. By the time we got to stoppage-time at the end of the first half, Dublin were two ahead and loving life.

Enter Clifford. Collecting the ball on the endline, he not only drew Fitzsimons to him but he pulled the sweeper Howard out of the middle too. It left Paul Geaney one on one with Davy Byrne inside. It was all the room the Dingle man needed once Clifford found him, turning this way and that and becoming the first player to beat Cluxton since the 2019 final.

It meant that Kerry brought an unlikely lead into the break with them, 1-4 to 0-6. Dublin had been the better side, more coherent in most of what they were doing. But Jack O’Connor’s side had hung in there and won the biggest moment of the half. In polling, you’d have called the numbers soft. But it was a lead all the same.

What could they do with it? That was the question for the second half. Dublin almost wiped out the goal in short order, O’Callaghan rattling the crossbar on 40 minutes after being left one-on-one with Tadhg Morley. It was ominous for Kerry but they responded in the best way, reeling off the next two points through Paudie Clifford and Geaney. Suddenly, they were 1-7 to 0-7 ahead, the biggest lead of the game.

When Dublin needed a spark, they found it in Colm Basquel. A Footballer of the Year candidate after the quarter-final, he’d had a poor semi-final and was anonymous in the first half here. But now he exploded into the game, first whipping a point on the run on 42 minutes and soon after setting up the Dublin goal.

It came after Kerry held on to the ball for too long around their own 45, struggling to get out past the Dublin press. Gavin White tried one pass too many, only for Basquel to get a touch and set Paddy Small away. Paul Murphy got back to get a despairing half-block in but all he could to was deflect it past Ryan and into the net. Dublin 1-8 Kerry 1-8, 45 minutes on the clock.

Game on.

To Kerry’s credit, they came back like champions. Paudie Clifford was rampant now, fisting a point off a turnover and scoring one off his left after Ryan made a foray into the Dublin half. Within four minutes of the Small goal, they had wiped it out and led 1-11 to 1-8 going into the last 20 minutes.

But Dublin weren’t to be denied. They answered Kerry’s three-in-a-row with three of their own, two from Mannion and one from Basquel. When Fenton pushed them one clear in the 64th minute, it was looking like their day.

Kerry had lost their range completely. Clifford was forcing things now, taking on shots that made him look mortal. Killian Spillane came off the bench to swing over an equaliser with four to go and the sides were level when the six minutes of injury-time were called.

In those circumstances, it was anyone’s to win now. Dublin made it theirs. Mannion got on the end of a Basquel pass, Rock finished it with a free into the Hill.

Champions. And deservedly so.

DUBLIN: Stephen Cluxton (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 45); Eoin Murchan, Mick Fitzsimons, David Byrne; James McCarthy, John Small, Lee Gannon; Brian Fenton (0-2), Brian Howard (0-1); Paddy Small (1-1), Con O’Callaghan, Ciarán Kilkenny; Paul Mannion (0-5, one free), Cormac Costello (0-1, free), Colm Basquel (0-2).

Subs: Jack McCaffrey for Gannon (49 mins), Niall Scully for Costello (54), Seán McMahon for Howard (63), Cian Murphy for Murchan (65), Dean Rock (0-1, free) for P Small (69).

KERRY: Shane Ryan; Paul Murphy, Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan; Graham O’Sullivan, Tadhg Morley, Gavin White; Diarmuid O’Connor, Jack Barry; Dara Moynihan, Seán O’Shea (0-5, three frees), Stephen O’Brien; Paudie Clifford (0-3), David Clifford (0-3, one free), Paul Geaney (1-1).

Subs: Brian Ó Beaglaoich for Murphy (55 mins), Adrian Spillane for Moynihan (58), Micheál Burns for O’Brien, Mike Breen for Barry (both 56), K Spillane (0-1) for Geaney (64).

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times