Seán Moran: Given Dublin’s domination it’s strange they had so many doubters

There is a relentless attrition that comes with being champion

It wasn't just the sight of Dublin and Kerry contesting an All-Ireland final that gave Sunday a back-to-the-future atmosphere.

The incessant rain, which seemed to be a constant during finals in the 1970s and 1980s, also added to the atmosphere, invoking those afternoons decades ago when similar downpours rinsed the autumnal colour from many a September afternoon.

Kerry’s historical success rate in the championship appears to help the county process defeat.

It’s not that the sense of disappointment is any less acute for the players, but there is an unflinching realism about the reactions of supporters and officials: if they weren’t good enough they didn’t deserve it.

Thirty years ago when a Monaghan friend and his companions watched Eamonn McEneaney’s free kick sail over the Kerry bar to send the 1985 All-Ireland semi-final to a replay, an elderly Kerry supporter beside them turned around.

“I’m glad he got it,” he said of the equalising kick. “Ye deserve another day out.”

In the old days – farther back than the 1980s – it was customary for reports of All-Ireland finals to include descriptions of the festive atmosphere prevailing in the city on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.

At the weekend there was discernible jauntiness amongst the Kerry supporters. Maybe that’s the way it is in any given year as they’re so used to being in Dublin in September.

On a train heading for the city on Sunday morning a friendly if diffident Wexford man – “sure, it’s 1996 since we’ve been in one” – asked a Kerry supporter what was going on in the assembly of wires behind the seats.

“The phone,” he replied, indicating an obscured socket. “We’re re-charging our phones.”

“Aren’t the trains great?”

“All we need is a kitchen to cook the breakfast!”

Any match discussions didn’t sound fraught with anxiety apart from urgent conversations on the newly-charged phones about the latest ticket transactions for the afternoon.

There was undoubtedly greater pressure on Dublin going into the match.

The team that up to 13 months ago was supposed to dominate the All-Ireland was now facing their traditionally most psychologically challenging opponents – and seeking to do what no other Dublin side had done before: beat Kerry for three championship fixtures on the spin.

Teams who win multiple All-Irelands frequently have to encounter crisis points, the resolution of which is integral to their success. This has been a common feature of championships won through the qualifiers but it’s harder to replicate when the prospect of defeat in you province is so remote.

Vulnerable

Nonetheless Dublin encountered and survived their auto da fe in the semi-final replay.

Already vulnerable because of the manner in which they allowed a seven-point lead to slip at the end of the drawn match, the team began to implode with a succession of errors – a dispossession, missed free and turnover of possession – which was followed by Patrick Durcan’s point to put four between the sides going into the final quarter.

The response that evening – outscoring Mayo by 3-4 to 0-2 – was reassurance that Dublin were still potent in attack and, crucially, capable of overcoming adversity in the most demanding of circumstances.

Ultimately the weekend’s outcome represented a gratifying achievement for the current management. Of the nine major titles available to Dublin over the past three seasons, they have taken home eight; only last year’s All-Ireland eluded their mantelpiece and that in consequence of the side’s only championship defeat in that time.

Given that level of domination in the game it looks strange in retrospect that Dublin had so many doubters going into Sunday. The reservations all flowed from the trauma of the Donegal semi-final defeat during which players had appeared helpless in the face of the opposition’s goal-rich counter-attacks.

Incoherent

Attempts to get back into the game looked to be panicky and incoherent. Stephen Cluxton and Bernard Brogan missed frees.

There is a theory that but for the two semi-final defeats in 2012 and last year, Dublin would be now sitting on five-in-a-row All-Irelands. But that is to overlook the relentless attrition that comes with being champions. Dublin’s last two championship wins have been partly fuelled by the desire to regain their title.

On Sunday Kerry found the burden of defending Sam Maguire just as intolerable as every county in the past 25 years – with the one exception of their 2007 team – for whatever reason: fatigue, satiation or hubris.

In pursuit of success Jim Gavin had to recast Dublin as a team that could embrace a more formidable defensive approach while still posing a threat at the other end.

Conditions

Allowing that conditions were awful on Sunday, the match was won by that defence. It conceded just nine points and dramatically improved on the indiscipline of the semi-finals by giving away just two scoreable frees in the entire final, just one of which was converted – as opposed to concessions of 1-8 and 0-5 from frees in the semi-final and draw.

Unfortunately – as the player gave another good performance – there was the Philip McMahon incident.

Despite his vigorous denials that he had intentionally poked his finger in the eye of Kieran Donaghy, and the alleged victim's full subscription to the code of omerta, it is likely to be investigated by the Central Competitions Control Committee.

It's an unwelcome postscript to a worrying year for disciplinary matters within the GAA, compounded by the puzzling Disputes Resolution Authority decision released on Monday, which doesn't make persuasive reading to anyone who believes that the penalty for Diarmuid Connolly's category III infraction, striking an opponent, should have been more severe than the forced endurance of three late nights.

smoran@irishtimes.com