Dublin in a league of their own on Rising anniversary
Sports review of 2016: On a day of commemoration the champions overwhelmed Kerry in what was their most dominant display of the year
Kerry’s Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy can only look on at the Dublin celebrations after the game. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Croke Park, April 24th
Dublin 2-18 Kerry 0-13
Allianz Football League final
It is sometimes a puzzle why the league starts with a bang - on a couple of occasions, full houses at Croke Park - but ends with a whimper. Not this year.
Played on the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, the final was also a heritage combination of Dublin and Kerry, just months after they had contested the previous year’s All-Ireland. The day was chosen by the GAA as the date for the association’s major centenary commemoration, Laochra.
Whatever about the past, Dublin looked the future on the field of play before a capacity crowd. It’s an interesting feature of the team under Jim Gavin that they have given consistently impressive displays in league finals. So it was last April.
Kerry came in looking seriously rehabilitated after the disappointment of losing their All-Ireland in 2015. It was important to make a statement, as under Eamonn Fitzmaurice the county had lost four out of five league and championship matches against Dublin.
By the end of the season it would be six out of seven.
Following a pattern, the champions were contained until the final 15 minutes but with difficulty. In a closing tempest of conceding 2-5 to 0-1 Kerry watched the roof fall in.
With the teams on course to meet in the second All-Ireland semi-final, it felt significant and created intensifying pressure on Fitzmaurice whose team looked one-paced in the face of the champions’ high tempo.
In a way it was the performance high point of the season for Dublin. The team never looked quite as powerful and untroubled and if that is a traditional voyage of discovery for league winners there were reasons.
James McCarthy had been the team’s player of the league but fell prey to niggling injury during the summer. Bernard Brogan’s form deteriorated and Paul Mannion struggled to hold down a place in the attack.
Of course, no sentient onlooker could really have expected that Kerry would come with nothing different should the teams meet again the following August in the last four. Whereas Dublin showed only one change from the league final, Kerry had five and a clever game plan that nearly unhinged the champions.
They survived but despite going into 2017 on the trail of three-in-a-row the gap between Dublin and the rest never looked as daunting as on the bright spring afternoon when they beat Kerry by 11 points.
Low Light: There’s a link with the football league final, which was his last match at Croke Park. It had been coming for a while but the premature death of Joe McDonagh at the age of 62 still presented as a shock. His extrovert presidency 20 years ago had been marked by the exuberance of his personality, great good humour and cultural gusto. It was also characterised by his relative youth and a strong modernising instinct. Strange to think that none of us will be bumping into him at GAA events and steadying ourselves against the eruptions of laughter.