David Moran and Jack Barry win midfield battle for Kerry
Lost art of midfield play revived as Michael Darragh Macauley makes a huge impact
Dublin’s Michael Darragh McAuley and Paul Mannion battle Kerry’s Ronan Shanahan and David Moran during Kerry’s AFL final win. Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Someone muffle the old church bell. Call local radio and inform them they’ve one less name in the deaths. Tell yer man parping the Last Post what to do with his bugle. The Gaelic football midfielder is living among us still.
We thought he was gone. The man who stood six-four with shoulders so square he could ferry a pint on either side and not spill a drop. Who caught kick-outs and taught manners, who sallied up for a point when he had to and dropped back to get under a long free when he needed to. Who was probably a Garda or an Irish teacher.
We thought he’d been ethnically cleansed from the game, replaced by an army of dutiful head-down runners and fastidious over-lappers. And maybe he has, in places. But in Kerry and Dublin, the old-style midfielder survives, with the sort of analogue efficacy that makes you wonder if digital is really such a step forward.
This was a final of more long kick-outs than is the norm these days. Hence it went through midfield as a lifestyle choice. Hence both sides matched fire accordingly. By the end, David Moran was the man chatting to TG4 and grip-n-grinning for the Man of the Match award. His three points – two from play and one from a 45 – were the headline but there was much to admire in the body text.
When Kerry pushed on in the period just after half-time, it was Moran who was dictating matters. Stephen Cluxton went through one of those spells where he couldn’t get a clean kick-out away, mostly because Moran seemed to be in his eyeline any time he looked up.
At one stage, the Kerry midfielder won a free from a Dublin kick-out and you had to double-take to realise the perpetrator was Bernard Brogan who, frustrated with the lack of ball going into the forward line, had come back and ganged up with Ciarán Reddin to try to curb Moran’s influence.
Paul Geaney potted a free soon after to put Kerry three ahead and when Dublin did manage to escape with the kick-out and break into the Kerry half, it was Moran who popped up with an interception on his own 45. In the break in play that followed, Reddin was called ashore, his duty all ended.
Reddin had his moments, all the same. Football isn’t always zero-sum. Just because Moran had a ball doesn’t mean his opposite number was cleaned out. In the first half, Reddin answered both of Moran’s points with white flags of his own, both times within a minute.
For the second, he burst onto a smart pass from Ciarán Kilkenny and rode two would-be tackles before popping the sort of score on the run that kept Ciaran Whelan in business for over a decade. There is a vacancy alongside Brian Fenton to be filled in the summer and Reddin’s name is firmly in the hat.
For the second game in a row against Kerry, Fenton was just another player on the pitch. He didn’t have a mare or anything, he just wasn’t exceptional. And for Kerry, that’s a win.
They’ve been looking for a stopper for Fenton for a couple of seasons now and in Jack Barry, they at least have a candidate worth putting on the ballot. Barry wouldn’t have Moran’s facility or imagination in front of goal but there’s a lot to be said in any side for a hardy lad who knows his limitations. When he bore down on Cluxton at the end of the first half, he fisted a point and resumed his position as though shooting for a goal hadn’t crossed his mind.
His primary job was to track Fenton and keep him from being the graceful influence on the play we’ve become used to seeing. In Tralee a few weeks ago, Barry suffocated Fenton on the ball and off it. In the wide open prairies of Croke Park, however, he was forced to give him a bit more latitude. Whereas Reddin stayed touch-tight to Moran, Barry preferred gave Fenton a few yards of space and cut off his angles of running.
And it worked. Fenton often had to forage back into his own defence to pick up the ball and never really got on the front foot enough to steer the game his way. He was the only one of the starting midfielders who didn’t get himself a score and in fact, he was lucky enough in the end to stay on the field. A body check on Barry early in the second half looked like a text-book black card but referee Paddy Neilan, for reasons best known to himself, decided it was a yellow.
Not Fenton’s best day, then. But in case Kerry imagine they have it cracked, Michael Darragh Macauley arrived on site to make them think again. In the 20 minutes he was on the pitch, the 2013 Footballer of the Year was his usual force of nature. He played a huge part in the Dublin goal, cannonballing forward and scattering enough defenders to leave the lurking Paul Mannion room enough to squirt his shot home.
And at the end, when all was chaos around the middle and Kerry couldn’t get a kick-out across halfway, it was Macauley who was manning the ramparts and keeping Dublin humming.
Old midfielders never die.