GAA weekend that was: Kerry’s rising stars stand tall under spotlight

AFL final win over Dublin significant regardless of managers suggesting otherwide

Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s Kerry brought Dublin’s 36-match unbeaten run to an end at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s Kerry brought Dublin’s 36-match unbeaten run to an end at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Despite serving up their latest mini-epic for the ages, there is still no safer sanctuary from any finger-licking exercise in Dublin-Kerry hyperbole than the cavernous press conference room under the Hogan Stand.

Here again on Sunday evening, as they invariably do, the two managers read the same proclamation: the Allianz Football League is not long gone before it’s forgotten. Indeed rarely, if ever, have two managers poured so much insignificance over both the victory and the defeat.

“If Dublin had beaten us today, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world,” said Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice. “I think you are kind of portraying that there is this psychological damage there, and that every time [Kerry lose to Dublin] we are going down the road banging our head off the window of the bus.”

Well, maybe not their heads, but possibly their fists.

“Obviously there’s massive disappointment, absolutely,” said Dublin manager Jim Gavin. “But we played against an excellent Kerry team, fully deserved winners, and we’ll go away, lick our wounds, and come back, hopefully stronger.”

Hopefully, perhaps, but then ‘hopefully’ is not a word Gavin has thrown out very often in his five seasons as Dublin manager, if at all.

Not that either manager could fully disguise the significance of the result; or more specifically, the significance of the victory for Kerry, and the significance of the defeat for Dublin.

Gavin’s insistence that it’s no harm Dublin actually lost a game, and that their previous 36-game unbeaten streak meant little or nothing to them anyway, may well prove true, but this is new territory nonetheless.

The first time Gavin has lost any final as Dublin manager, having won the previous four league finals; the first time since 2014 his team have lost a game post St Patrick’s Day; the first time this season his team lost in the final sprint for the finish line. Still, any significance of that is unlikely to be known or felt until August or September.

For now, therefore, any immediate significance of the result would appear to be more heavily weighted in Kerry’s favour. Even given the football world’s uncanny ability to constantly realign its stars, Kerry must have felt they owed Dublin this one.

Three weeks ago in Tralee, they essentially handed Dublin a record-equalling unbeaten streak, the 34 games which Kerry themselves had achieved back in the 1930s. Dublin went on to top that (beating Roscommon and Monaghan), only now, by bringing that unbeaten run to an end, Kerry can feel they can let that one go. If anything, Dublin’s unbeaten record of 36 games feels more settled in history given Kerry were the team to bookend it, their victories coming 765 days apart.

Given the week that was in it too, the headline retirement of Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper, the county’s rising generation of future stars also came under a brighter spotlight, possibly more than they realised. Yet they each stood calmly and confidently under it. Five of those players hadn’t featured a year ago, when Dublin ran out comfortable winners in last year’s final, yet made Croke Park their own on Sunday - especially Tadhg Morley, Jack Barry and Kevin McCarthy.

That Kerry took Dublin for 20 scores, 0-20 to 1-16, - more than Gavin has conceded during his term as Dublin manager - must carry some significance as well. Sure, Paul Mannion’s goal brought Dublin right back into the game for the final 10 minutes, but it was the only time Kerry’s defence was found openly wanting. Overall, Kerry will feel they left more of the goal chances behind them.

What the two managers also readily and justifiably admitted to was the impending sense of extra-time, as Dean Rock stood over the 47-metre free which would have forced another 20 minutes of playing time. As close as that was (coming back off the upright) there was no great sense that Dublin would kick on again in extra-time.

With Bryan Sheehan already making his presence felt, Kerry’s hold on midfield now complete, and Kieran Donaghy prowling the sideline hungry like the wolf, any period of extra-time might merely have postponed the inevitable. That Kerry were the stronger team on the day, and Dublin’s previously insatiable thirst to close out close games, wasn’t going to be enough this time.

In the end then, despite what both managers said, there may well be plenty of significance beyond the trophy and final score.

Any lasting significance to the Division Two final, between Galway and Kildare, was always likely to be lost after a game like that, beyond the fact that Galway won by two points, 0-18 to 0-16, ending a near 16-year winless streak in Croke Park, going back to their 2001 All-Ireland final win over Meath.

Some immediate significance, however, was perhaps obvious: assuming the two managers, Galway’s Kevin Walsh and Kildare’s Cian O’Neill, sat back down to watch Kerry-Dublin, that step up to Division One looks more like one giant leap.

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