Dublin show coolness and courage as they come of age
Jim Gavin’s side prove greatness as they beat Kerry to win third All-Ireland in five years
Kerry substitute Kieran Donaghy battles in the Dublin square for a high ball with Rory O’Carroll and Johnny Cooper in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
The deluge came from the skies rather than in front of the Hill goalposts but as dusk fell across the city last night, nobody cared. Dublin won their 25th All-Ireland with the virtues that have been seldom mentioned – grit, courage, coolness – since they reinvented themselves as a whirling dervish of beautiful football.
There was little opportunity for either Kerry or Dublin to indulge in much of that as the skies opened over the city and Croke Park became a dimly lit theatre of unease and trepidation; passes spilled, athletes skidding, groans of disbelief tumbling from the stands and true commitment from both teams. Dublin’s slickness and attacking options got them through here. In Kerry, they have scarcely disguised their sense that the 2011 All-Ireland final was all but thieved from them by Dublin.
For a while here, city fans must have sensed the opposite was happening before their eyes. They comprehensively outplayed the reigning champions but couldn’t escape on the scoreboard. Frees that had been sailing over all summer went astray in the rain.
Brian Fenton, in an excellent debut final, saw a well-taken goal chance rebound off the post. The longer Kerry stayed as a live contender, the more nerve-wracking Dublin’s afternoon became. “Ah no, it wasn’t an anxiety,” said Gavin about emotions on the sideline.
“Even at half-time, we talked about remaining in control of ourselves and sticking with the process and being the best we can be. It worked for us this year, it didn’t last year; we’ve always asked the lads to go out and be the best they can be. Certainly there was great excitement, but not anxiety.”
Kerry aren’t used to getting bogged down on days like this. They do not equate a scoreline of 0-9 with any of their football teams, least of all the September variety.
The shimmering, catch-pass, version that cut Kildare open for seven goals could not be located. The one area where they did find joy was in pressuring Dublin’s kick-out, regarded as the jewel in their crown.
Stephen Cluxton has seen his prolific kick-out interpreted and analysed like some modern art masterpiece and there were times here when he seemed to second guess himself. But the rain turned the art of the kick-out into a lottery anyhow and the day came down to more basic virtues. “Out-worked us, out-thought us, out-fought us and the better team won,” was Fitzmaurice’s concise evaluation.
If there was one moment that illuminated the through-the-looking glass nature of the day it was when Philly McMahon ambled forward and turned his marker – and the most celebrated forward of the last quarter century – inside out before kicking a point. Wasn’t that supposed to happen at the other end?
“I think it was down to Dublin having the ball and us turning over ball,” said Fitzmaurice. “I feel that if we were in possession and were getting Colm on the ball and getting Philly McMahon defending him, we would have been playing the game on our terms. But for a lot of the first half we had to play it on Dublin’s terms and Colm ended up chasing Philly McMahon a lot. It’s an obvious tactic. He’s done it in others games and he’s very good at it.”
But Kerry do not dissolve on these days. When Darran O’Sullivan thumped a fine point after his introduction, Kerry trailed by just two and all they needed was a bit of Donaghy mischief. Paul Galvin entered the arena to a gladiatorial roar. All Kerry required was a chance.
It came when Donaghy got his mitts on a throw-ball in front of the Dublin goal and flicked a handpass to Cillian Young in the 67th minute. In keeping with the day, the Renard man lost his footing and the chance vanished. Kerry have enjoyed a few breaks over the past few seasons but not here. This goes down as one of their most disappointing All-Ireland performance.
“Yeah it is but like I said you can be over hard on fellas as well, I’m actually very proud of the players, particularly with the way they went at it in the second half. We weren’t happy at half-time with the way we were doing things and the way we were playing. At least we had a go in the second half, Dublin were just better than us, simple as.”
Simple as. This has become a period of crowded accomplishment for Dublin, in both league and championship. Purely on trophies alone, they have equalled their Seventies luminaries in All-Irelands won in a decade.
“I am sure there will be a few stats thrown out between ourselves and the Seventies lads,” said Michael Darragh Macauley.
“But we are nowhere near those lads. These are the sums I’ll do when I’m wrapped on a bar stool about 40 and tryin’ to big myself up to a young one or something. But for the moment we will just play the game.”
And it is theirs to play now. Greatness beckons.