Miriam Lord: No dreams were harmed in the making of this All-Ireland epic

Final score: Dublin 1-16, Kerry 1-16 and everyone else a basket case.

Still friends: Dublin and Kerry fans chat after the All-Ireland senior football final in Croke Park. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Still friends: Dublin and Kerry fans chat after the All-Ireland senior football final in Croke Park. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Hearts faltered and we lost all semblance of sense and reason, but no dreams were harmed in the making of this All-Ireland epic.

As supporters reeled away from the battleground with their nerves in shreds, a spritz of drizzle cooled the streets around Croke Park and two rainbows shone briefly in the sky above the bay – one for Dublin and one for Kerry. A reminder that the treasure is still there for the taking, despite Sunday’s intoxicating contest between the two biggest teams in Gaelic football.

Reigning champions Dublin and All-Ireland aristocrats Kerry engineered a thrilling and utterly absorbing drama for the ages, flooring an already gibbering crowd with a last gasp draw and the tantalising prospect of a rematch in two weeks’ time.

I need new pants!' he roared as the crowd got worked up ahead of kick-off. 'I need new pants!'

The whole mad episode left two great teams and two great counties in emotional flitters.

But it kept the dream alive for everyone. They will regroup and recover. It may take a while for some to get over the drama, but in the public houses around Croker as the cleaning staff moved in around the deserted stands, the sound of raucous singing rang from some boozers while relieved followers from both persuasions toasted one another on crowded footpaths outside the most popular haunts.

For Dublin, the capital city and pre-eminent side in Gaelic football in recent years, the prize is a magic five titles in a row and a place in the history books.

For Kerry, the team which almost pulled off the elusive five in 1982, the prize is to stop them – and cement the Kingdom’s claim to be the only, the ever and the best.

Drive to Survive

In the last quarter of the game, with nothing between the sides, a match which had been sold to the nation as Dublin’s “Drive for Five” had suddenly morphed into an irresistible Drive to Survive by both teams.

The experienced and garlanded Dubliners against the youthful and undaunted Kerrrymen. They nearly finished off both sets of supporters by the time the final whistle came after seven – seven! – minutes of added time.

Final score: Dublin 1-16, Kerry 1-16 and everyone else a basket case.

The pundits said Dublin’s superior firepower would see off Kerry’s precocious fledglings. As those agonising final minutes wound down, the crowd started roaring for the deployment of a different kind of firepower.

“Blow it up, ref! Blow it up!”

For all concerned, the thought of a last-ditch score was just too much to bear. So when Meathman David Gough finally blew the whistle he put 80,000 people out of their misery and ended their suffering. It was the humane thing to do.

The green and gold and the blue hordes staggered away. The feeling all around the ground was one of palpable, pure relief. Mind you, they’ll all want to be back for more at 6pm on Saturday, September 14th.

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It was a great day for the final. The sun was shining and two old adversaries were about to square up to each other for bragging rights for the foreseeable future. There was a huge turnout by Kerry supporters – nicely but firmly taking every opportunity to point out that they have to travel a long way at considerable cost for a match in Dublin while the locals only have to fall out of the pubs after their dinner at home and toddle up to Croke Park.

The Five Lamps on the North Strand were scrutinised with interest by all who passed. Was the glass on the lanterns coloured blue or were four bulbs blue and what time would the fifth light turn blue after Dublin lifted the Sam Maguire cup? This was Dublin City Council’s excellent wheeze.

When dusk arrived on Sunday, that last bulb remained unlit.

What looked like a repurposed horse-drawn hearse, complete with two black horses wearing blue plumes on their heads, appeared to be ferrying fans up towards the stadium. Jackeen garveys for the day – all supporters admitted once they paid for a trip.

The plumbing merchants on Jones’s Road had two special toilet seats in the window – one with the Dublin crest, the other with a Kerry one. But nobody, even supporters of the hotly tipped Dubs, was flush with confidence as the game approached.

All the colour was there – the Molly Malone’s and the dickied up Roses of Tralee, the hats, scarves and flags. Bertie Ahern went in early to catch the minor game (Cork beat Galway) looking nervous. The mayors of Kerry and Dublin walked into the Hogan Stand together. Paul McAuliffe (Dublin) and Niall Kelleher (Kerry) had co-celebrated a knees-up the previous night in the Mansion House. They dropped into Fagan’s pub on their way to meet supporters. “Fabulous reception. Great banter.”

“I’m wearing a gold chain while Niall’s is only silver” pointed out the Lord Mayor of Dublin. “And I keep pointing out to him that the Sam Maguire is silver” retorted his Kerry counterpart.

Kerry's Tadhg Morley with Paul Mannion of Dublin in action. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Kerry's Tadhg Morley with Paul Mannion of Dublin in action. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

There was a strange atmosphere in the ground before the match. You could almost feel the apprehension. A blue smoke bomb detonated on Hill 16. An American instagrammer with a huge following was in the Hogan Stand, brought to Ireland and the game by Tourism Ireland.

“I need new pants!” he roared as the crowd got worked up ahead of kick-off. “I need new pants!”

When the national anthem was over and the referee prepared to throw in the ball, the Kerryman beside us blessed himself.

Then it began. The madness, the anxiety, the fear, the hope, the agony.

Eerily quiet

For much of the game, the crowd was eerily quiet. It took almost half an hour for the Dubs on the Hill to manage a decent rendition of Molly Malone. By then, as half-time approached, the blues seemed to taking control.

And then Jonny Cooper got his marching orders. Half-time saw an equally subdued crowd.

On the restart, Dublin once more upped the ante. Chances were created, converted and lost. They will be talked about in years to come – particularly in the Kingdom, were some opportunities were wasted.

With 20 minutes to go, the match exploded and the caution and jittery reserve of the fans was thrown to wind. One point in it with 10 minutes to go. Level. One point. Level. It was torture. Kerry seemed to be gaining the upper hand. Then again, no.

The crowd on the Hill appeared motionless, apart from a large Kerry contingent planted up high, clapping their hands in their sunlit upland.

In the final minute, Dublin equalised. Then the Hawkeye replay showed that they didn’t.

Can’t watch, have to watch, have to look away, can’t look away, stand up, sit down, up, down, up, down. These were the “look away now” moments for those of a nervous disposition, except it was impossible to do that. It was almost impossible to breathe.

An impossible sideline free kick could have given Dublin the title. It wasn’t to be and wouldn’t have been fair on Kerry.

In the stand, spectators were tearing their hair out. In the press box, the sports writers were tearing their thesauruses out.

And then that blessed, welcome final whistle.

It was impossible to get sense from anyone in the immediate aftermath.

Well. What do you think?

What do I think? What do I think?

“Look at me, I’m still shakin’.”

Pure relief.

And we’ll do it all again in a fortnight.

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