Epic tale goes Dublin’s way
Kingdom smothered under blue tide after McManamon leads way with sublime goal
Dublin’s Kevin McManamon score his side’s second goal of the game. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
On the weekend we lost Seamus Heaney, it was as well that hype and history rhymed. Dublin and Kerry handed us a plate filigreed with spun gold and then proceeded to heap it high, serving up an All-Ireland semi-final for the ages.
It ended with a Dublin jailbreak, a bust-out closing spell in which they plundered 2-2 in just five minutes to make the scoreboard look a fraud.
It said 3-18 to 3-11 when all was done let nobody imagine it tells half the story.
For Kerry were carried out on their shields here. A seven-point beating is a lie, plain and simple. Dublin trailed by a point with three minutes left and hadn’t scored for the previous eight. For a time it looked like Kerry might just manage to squirrel away enough possession and kill enough clock. But it wasn’t to be.
Diarmuid Connolly pointed a tricky free from out on the right to draw the sides level as time ticked on towards 70. Even then, Declan O’Sullivan had a decent chance soon after to kick Kerry into the lead again but he pulled it wide. With 81,553 through the gates, the biggest crowd of the year had seen the best game of the year and few among us would have found the idea of returning for another crack next Saturday anything less than agreeable.
But in the end it came down to a single kick-out. One scrap for possession, a heap of bodies and a cloud of dust. David Moran and Marc Ó Sé went up for Kerry and got in each other’s way a little, allowing Michael Darragh Macauley to flick out a hand and put Kevin McManamon in the clear.
Suddenly he had 60 yards of space in front of him, the Hill beckoning him home.
After a game where Kerry had so successfully curbed Dublin’s running options, it seemed incredible that McManamon could find such room right at the moment when Dublin needed it most. It was like they’d tried every key, only to find the door had been unlocked.
The hero of the 2011 All Ireland final headed straight for goal and his finish sent the place into orbit. Connolly followed up with a sealing point and Eoghan O’Gara cracked a goal in off the crossbar with the last kick of the game. McManamon’s goal was a kidney punch that left Kerry bent double and the rest of it was a matter of blows landing as they sank to their knees.
“The way we approached the game we always felt it was going to come down to the last five minutes,” said Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
“We knew that there would be goals there for us today. The way Dublin play they have a very attack-minded philosophy. They go for broke but they do leave themselves a bit exposed at the back.
“We felt with the forwards we have and the way the lads were playing in training that there were going to be goals there for us and even more than we got. We knew as well that Dublin were going to get periods of dominance in the game and of course they were going to score. We figured it would come down to the last five minutes even though we got three goals in the first half.”
What had gone before was a joy. The interplay among Kerry’s forwards in the first half bamboozling to watch, never mind to play against. Colm Cooper steered the game to his own pleasing and found willing and able allies in James O’Donoghue and Donnchadh Walsh.
The trio combined for each of Kerry’s goals, never more beautifully than O’Donoghue’s first.
Clever Cooper move
Having taken a return pass from a quick free out on the 40, Cooper drew two defenders and just when it looked like he would play an inside pass he froze. It was like seeing Torc waterfall pause in midstream and it was enough to throw off the Dublin defence momentarily. His kick-pass found Walsh who dished off to O’Donoghue and he beat Stephen Cluxton low to his left.
It was the best of Kerry’s three first-half goals, the ballast of which sent them in at the break with a 3-5 to 1-9 lead. They were reasonable value for it too, with Anthony Maher holding his own at midfield and the Dublin kick-out strategy coming under serious pressure.
The totems of Dublin’s summer were having a poor afternoon – Jack McCaffrey was being cleaned out by Walsh, Paul Flynn couldn’t do right for doing wrong, Paul Mannion’s punched goal on 13 minutes was his sole contribution to the day. And when Kerry came out and kicked three of the first four points, it meant that Kerry took a 3-8 to 1-10 lead into the final 25 minutes.
Not for the first time this summer, the Dublin bench had its say. Dean Rock had his customary two-point impact, including the first score of the Dublin rally with his first touch of the ball. Denis Bastick started dominating midfield alongside the tireless Macauley and for 10 minutes Kerry had serious trouble getting out of their own half. Dublin kicked five points on the spin and set sail for the horizon.
But this game will fill scrapbooks purely for how Kerry reacted. From the depths of their stomachs, they found a response. Cooper tapped over a free, O’Donoghue and Darran O’Sullivan knifed points. With only Rock offering a threat for Dublin, it looked possible that Kerry were about to pull it off. But then McManamon brought the walls tumbling down. And just like that, Dublin turned thoughts to Mayo.
The rest of us just sat there, delighting for a stolen moment in a sport that really isn’t so bad after all.