Darragh Ó Sé: Timing of All-Ireland replay shows scant regard for players

Idea that Kerry have lost their chance is wrong – they’ve ample room for improvement

Stephen Cluxton makes a stunning save to deny Kerry’s Paul Murphy a goal. It was another game where I came away nearly in awe of Dublin’s goalkeeper. I honestly think he’s still underrated by people. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

We’ll get to Sunday’s game in a small bit but first I want to start with the replay. Specifically, the timing of it, on Saturday night next week. Once again, it shows no respect for players and, in keeping with the rest of the summer, feels like the GAA running off the competition to get it out of the way.

For a start, it will totally overwhelm the women’s final the following day. The Dubs are in both finals so not only will supporters stay away the second day but the whole build-up will be overshadowed. The final is the one day in the sun for women’s football all year and now it’s going to be completely eaten up by the biggest game in Irish sport.

But it’s more than that too. This is going to sound very traditional but Saturday night just doesn’t sit right with me for an All-Ireland final. Saturday nights are for league games and club games and qualifiers. Even Super-8s games and All-Ireland semi-finals at a push. But an All-Ireland final should be the main game of the day, in the middle of the afternoon.

Everyone who ever kicked a ball dreamed of playing in an All-Ireland final and when they did, the floodlights weren't on

I’m talking purely from a player’s perspective here. I know people are talking about long distances and late nights for travelling supporters and all that but that’s not what I’m getting at. A final is a final – nobody who goes worries too much about the trip or what time they get home.


But for a player, a final is sacred.

Everyone who ever kicked a ball dreamed of playing in an All-Ireland final and when they did, the floodlights weren’t on. Floodlights are for winter football. They’re for fitting a game in when time is getting tight. This is the last game of the GAA summer – surely to God it’s not too much to ask that you do the players the courtesy of not making them feel like they’re an inconvenience?

This was already bugging me before I read this from the GAA in the Irish Examiner yesterday. “There were a number of logistical reasons. We are very keen to have it on live television and in discussion with RTÉ there would have been a lot of moving parts, and they would have considerations such as greyhound racing.”

The greyhound racing! You couldn’t make it up. I knew the players came a good bit down the list of priorities in Croke Park but getting pushed around for the sake of the dogs? Even I didn’t think they were that badly thought of. But there you go.

As for the drawn game, a few things have stayed with me since Sunday night. The first was that I was wrong in this column last Wednesday. My feeling was if Kerry got a run on Dublin, they would score a lot more than Mayo had done in their semi-final. As it turned out, they scored exactly the same in the first half, despite having the better of it for long periods and giving themselves plenty of chances.

David Clifford's shooting was shocking. David Moran and Paul Murphy pulled a couple wide. Paul Geaney could have had two goals – although the one James McCarthy cleared off the line was just good defending with a lot of Dublin bodies back on the line. They went in at half-time with eight points when it could have been closer to 1-11 or 1-12. Bad shooting let Kerry down.

That tells me, above all else, that Kerry have major room for improvement. The idea that Kerry’s chance is gone doesn’t make sense. If they had done everything to the maximum, if they had taken all their chances and still only managed a draw, then you’d say it was more than likely gone alright. But that’s not the case.

Deep end

The Dubs will improve, we know that. But since some of Kerry’s better players all year – Clifford, Geaney, Stephen O’Brien – weren’t able to contribute as much to the scoreboard as usual, we know Kerry can improve as well.

On top of that, you have a rake of young Kerry players who’ve got their first final over them and who know they play at that level now. No matter how confident a lad such as Gavin Crowley would have been coming in there, he must have wondered was he up to it. Same with Seán O’Shea, Jack Barry, Killian Spillane, all these fellas.

That’s over and done with now. Kerry had 15 different players, including subs, playing in their first All-Ireland final. They know now that it’s the same pitch, the same goalposts, the same size ball, the same everything as it’s always been. The mystique around it has gone. They dived into the deep end and they were able to swim. Now they can concentrate on swimming better.

Seán O’Shea: one of the many talented young Kerry players who now have the vital experience of playing in an All-Ireland final. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Years ago, we had a fella in with Kerry who used talk to us about green platforms and red platforms. It wasn’t really my scene so I didn’t have a whole pile to do with it but some of the lads did and good luck to them. I presume the green platform meant go and the red platform meant stop.

Anyway, when the Kerry team landed back down to Killarney on the train on Monday, wouldn’t that platform have felt good and green to them? Everything in them now must be saying go. Go get it. Go train for the next fortnight. Go improve. Go and bring everything you have the next day. Nobody will wonder for a second if they left it behind them. It won’t come into it.

On the Dublin side, it was another game where I came away nearly in awe of Stephen Cluxton. I honestly think he's still underrated by people. People talk about what a brilliant player Brian Fenton is – and he is – but he'd tell you himself that it does him no harm to have Cluxton as the man supplying him with ball. More than a decade ago, Cluxton made an All Star out of Shane Ryan. It's incredible that he's still making heroes out of fellas at 37 years old.

Fenton showed he’s only flesh and bone just like everybody else. He wasn’t getting into the game on Sunday except when Cluxton was putting it on a plate for him. Flip it around and David Moran had a great game working with an inexperienced goalkeeper at the other end. That’s something to keep an eye on in the replay.

Cluxton has nerves of steel, all the same. Jack Barry took two huge catches off him in the middle of the first half on Sunday. The whole of the Kerry team was pushing up, the Kerry crowd were smelling blood. Cluxton didn’t sweat it. He just pinged a kick-out to Brian Howard, landing perfectly on Howard’s chest over by the Hogan Stand sideline. All it took from there was a kick pass by Howard in to Paul Mannion and Mannion did the rest.

Three minutes later, Kerry were still going full-bore for him. They pushed everyone forward for the kick-out that came after the free where Jonny Cooper got his first booking. You could see it in the ground – they had so many players pushed forward that the goalie Shane Ryan was marking Con O'Callaghan and Mannion.

Cluxton still went for the ballsiest kick-out, putting it up for Howard to catch on the sideline. It was a phenomenal catch – and it was naive of Kerry not to realise how exposed they were and bottle him up, mark or no mark. If the situation was reversed there, the Dubs wouldn’t think twice about giving up the extra 13 metres to buy themselves an extra few seconds.

Hollywood score

Instead, Howard clipped the ball to Ciarán Kilkenny and a few seconds later Jack McCaffrey had the ball in the net. So Cluxton went from having two kick-outs picked off in a row by Barry to his next two going for 1-1 into the Hill. He’s some operator.

The job for the Dubs now is reflection. Fenton, Jonny Cooper, Michael Darragh Macauley, Mannion, Kilkenny, even O’Callaghan. None of them did the damage they usually do. They’re going to spend a lot of time between now and then promising themselves they won’t be as bad again.

Diarmuid Connolly reacts after missing the target with his speculative long-range effort late in the All-Ireland final. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

We drew with Galway in the 2000 All-Ireland in a game where I had put in a fairly average performance. In those days, the two teams still met up for a lunch the following day – even after a draw! I remember thinking I didn’t want any piece of that so I made some excuse about having to be back at work and headed down the road with my father on the Monday.

For the next week, I watched the video of the game over and over and over again. I watched every little thing I did in the game and asked myself why. Be it good or bad, I went through every ball and wondered what I could have done better. By the time the replay came around, I was annoyed with myself and I wasn’t in any mood to allow it to happen again.

I would imagine there’ll be a lot of anger around the Dublin set-up now. Players annoyed with themselves, annoyed with each other. Some of the shots they were taking on Sunday were very unlike them. John Small shanked one into the crowd in the first half. Paddy Small dropped the one short that led to the Kerry goal. Outside of Mannion the odd time, Dublin players haven’t been taking those potshots on for the past few years.

Most jarring of all was Diarmuid Connolly’s one from outside the 45. That’s the sort of score Dublin used to take on in 2014 and 2015, back when Connolly and Paul Flynn were their main men. Dublin never shoot from outside the 45 in open play anymore. They work the ball over and back and up and down until they make a chance that’s harder to miss than to score. Yet there was Connolly, in injury-time in an All-Ireland final, going for the Hollywood score.

Dublin are going to spend the whole fortnight cranky at themselves

I'm not saying he was wrong to do it – no better man in the country to take it on. I just wonder how it would have gone down in the Dublin camp. Jim Gavin is big on the collective and the esprit de corps and all that stuff. How does it go down with the collective that a fella who could just as easily be in Boston is breaking from the game plan and doing his own thing when everything is on the line?

Anger isn’t a bad thing, by the way. The Dubs are around each other long enough at this stage not to be worrying about hurting each other’s feelings. If they use it the right way and face up to everything honestly, it could easily be the thing that drives them to winning the replay.

As a Kerryman, that’s the worry. Not that Kerry left it behind them on Sunday. More that Dublin are going to spend the whole fortnight cranky at themselves that they did.