Ah lads. Seven goals!? Are ye joking? We know ye’re going well but there’s going well and there’s going well. Three would have been plenty. Four would have made the point with a bit to spare. But seven? Seven!
How in the name of God do ye expect Kerry people to cute-hoor our way out of this one?
This is a serious challenge. In the long history of cute-hoorism, we’ve never faced a battle like this one. We’re right up against it. In fairness to us, we’re flat-out looking for angles.
How do we keep a lid on a 27-point win?
I wouldn’t mind if it had been a qualifier some Saturday evening night where there might only be radio coverage. At least you’d be able to dodge your way out of that by saying there was a big wind or the ref was very soft on us or the poor divils had a rake of injuries and struggled to field a team. But this was in Croke Park on live TV against the crowd that beat Cork the week before. There’s just no poor-mouthing this one.
At least we got a dig-out from our good friends and neighbours in Cork on Monday night. I don’t know who put out that statement from the Cork County Board but whoever they were must have a bit of Kerry blood in them somewhere. Just when all the focus was coming down on Kerry, Cork pipe up and start cribbing about having to play in the rain.
Talk about a godsend! It had to be a double agent at work. We thought we were goosed, we thought we’d have to spend the whole week ducking for cover. But out of nowhere, Cork decide that now is the time to go and take a stand.
And can I be the first to say, they were just right too. The rain. The referee. The quick turnaround. World hunger. Child poverty. It all conspired to nail poor Cork to the cross.
But look, we’ll just have to face up to it eventually. Kerry were fairly exceptional on Sunday. Even allowing for how poor Kildare were, Kerry just hit the high notes right across the pitch. Fitzy will try to take the heat out of it as much as he can but it’s there for us all to see. Kerry are top quality, Dublin are top quality. Everything is shadow-boxing.
Jim Gavin pulled the reins a bit on Sunday when he took off his best players as soon as the match was won. Diarmuid Connolly came off, Ciarán Kilkenny came off, Jonny Cooper and James McCarthy came off. They were all gone with just over 20 minutes left in the game. The players who came on didn’t exactly set the world on fire either.
But there’s no point trying to make out that Dublin aren’t in the top two, no more than there’s any point trying to claim Kerry aren’t there with them. If anyone had a bit of doubt, it was killed off over the weekend – not just on Sunday but on Saturday too.
The difference in ability between some of the Dublin and Kerry players and rest was massive. I was watching the Sligo-Tyrone game on Saturday and there was a point where David Kelly got into a shooting position for Sligo, kicking into the Davin Stand. Kelly is as good a forward as Sligo have, maybe as good as a lot of counties have. But he made no shape at this shot at all.
Now, that can happen to anybody. But it shouldn’t happen to the best player in a team. He’s supposed to be the one the rest of them can rely on in a tight spot. I thought of Kelly the following day when Paul Geaney – who wasn’t having a good day for Kerry – managed to squeeze out a point with his left leg while his marker was hanging out of him.
Geaney played poorly on Sunday and was eventually taken off but he still managed to score two points at a time when the game was still up in the air. To have those shots in your bag and be able to pull them out when things are going badly is what separates Kerry and Dublin from the rest.
So the first place you start when you’re looking for reasons why Dublin and Kerry are a cut above is that they have more players like that than other teams do.
Then you add in the fact that they both play to a specific game plan that is adapted to the modern game. Their attacking ability speaks for itself but what was also really impressive to me on Sunday about Kerry was how well they defended when the game was still a game.
In that first half, their discipline in defending the 45 was exceptional. They got the bodies back but more importantly, everybody knew their job. My major gripe with blanket defences is that most teams seem to just use it as a safety-in-numbers job. The attitude seems to be that if we flood the defence, sure somebody is bound to break up play.
But if you watched Kerry on Sunday, you saw them constantly talking to each other, covering zones, moving across the pitch together and back across together if they had to. Nobody was standing there like a lemon scratching his head, half-hoping the ball would fall his way. They were linked – if I push over, you push over; if I pull back, you pull back with me. And it didn’t change after the fifth or sixth goal went in.
The important thing they did was get themselves into clusters, which has two upsides. First, they broke down the Kildare attacks through sheer weight of numbers; second, they were able to break out with multiple players in the counter-attack. So you had players like Shane Enright, Aidan O’Mahony, Paul Murphy and Marc Ó Sé all shooting up the pitch and getting involved in attacks.
Change the jerseys and swap the names and you have Cooper, McCarthy, Cian O’Sullivan and Philly McMahon all doing the same for Dublin. That’s the template – no passengers, everybody knows their job, all are trying to work the ball to the guys who are best at scoring. And everything is done at pace.
I’ve always said that to win back-to-back All-Irelands you have to improve by 25 per cent on the year before. This thing is so delicate and the line between success and failure is so thin. Michael Murphy could and maybe should have got a black card on Saturday – would Donegal have come through if that had happened? James O’Donoghue’s injury didn’t matter on Sunday – wouldn’t it matter another day?
The good thing from Kerry's point of view is that they have players coming into form earlier now than they did last year. Stephen O'Brien wasn't showing this level of form at this stage last year. Anthony Maher and David Moran weren't either. Darran O'Sullivan, Tommy Walsh, Paul Galvin the same. And obviously, Colm Cooper as well.
This game would have done the Gooch the world of good. He got on the ball as much as he could and when he was given the space to play his game, he played it like only he can. My only worry for him would be that against better teams, he will have to do some of his work away from the opposition goal.
He will have track back and tackle and block up space. That just isn’t his game. He’s the most natural footballer in the championship but he doesn’t look too natural when he’s on his own 45 with a runner going at him. It’s great to have him back but if he wasn’t going to shine in a game where Kerry had the time and space to run in seven goals, when was he?
If these Kildare players have anything about them, this will haunt them for years. We’ve all played in games where we’ve got a hosing. We’ve all had a day when nothing went right. But we haven’t all given away seven goals in one half of football.
The worst of it is that if you go back and analyse each goal individually, you’ll find Kerry didn’t have to do anything exceptional for any of them. One was dropped by the Kildare goalkeeper, the next two came from Darran O’Sullivan running down the throat of the defence, for the next, Donnchadh Walsh had time to play a pass off his knees. Gooch scored the fifth one by catching a long ball behind the full-back, Stephen O’Brien was waved in for the sixth and Darran was able to flick in a scrappy one at the end and wheel away laughing.
Of all the games I played in Croke Park, the one that has never left me is the hammering we got from Meath in 2001.
Sometimes when I see the tribunals or the banking inquiry on the news, I get a mad notion that if I could somehow get all the players from both sides and the managers and everyone together, I’d grill them all until I worked out in my head what happened that day.
Did Meath do something different? Did we give up the ghost? If we did, why did we?
What was it about that game on that day that we made such a holy show of ourselves? I’ve thought about it on and off over the years and I eventually gave up torturing myself. When I thought about it, all I heard was the Meath supporters cheering the passes and that’s no good for anybody’s head.
The Kildare players gave up on Sunday. They didn’t all give up at the same time but enough of them did so at times that mattered for Kerry to be able to run in all those goals. When there are seven goals scored in one half, it says more about the team that conceded them than about the one that scored them.
Those goals weren’t all down to the Kildare defence, no more than the good Kerry defence I was talking about earlier is all down to the fellas with low numbers on their backs. One of the goals started with a Kildare shot that dropped short. Whose fault is that?
In the end, Kerry would have beaten them one way or the other, just the same as Dublin beat them in Leinster. We saw two excellent football teams on Sunday and all the cute-hoorism in the world won’t be good enough to distract anyone from it.