Impressive Dublin prevail but being participants in a classic of little consolation to Kerry

Winning and losing of an epic contest came down to one vital late kick-out


I met a few of the Kerry players on Monday and the first thing you’d notice about them is that they were probably the last people in the country to give a damn about whether the game had been a classic or not. It didn’t matter to them high up or low down. And as for telling them they had a lot to be proud of in the way they performed! You’d want to be standing a good two or three yards away before you tried that one out for size.

There is no enjoyment to be found in a defeat. When these guys retire and football is talked about, these are guys that are going to come well out of any conversation. They know that.

All they were interested in was grabbing another medal when it was there for them. They’d have lived long and happy lives without playing in another classic game.

The win was there for them. It was a game that came down to one kick-out.

Of cuteness
As a Kerry footballer, the one thing you’d always think you’d probably have over Dublin would be the bit of cuteness and the ability to do the right thing when it mattered. But we didn’t do it right under that kick-out.

Kerry had three players there for it – David Moran, Marc Ó Sé and Fionn Fitzgerald. Now to me, Marc was the man facing the ball so it was his to call for. He says he did but in fairness David Moran probably thought he could make it too. It was just a mix-up and it cost Kerry badly.

Michael Darragh Macauley got in between them to flick the ball away and Kevin McManamon did the rest.

It’s funny, when you’re sitting high up in the stand as a supporter, you think you can see the game better than the players on the pitch. You think you know more about what’s going on. But all four guys who went for that kick-out knew what it meant. They knew that was the game right there. And if Kerry had won that kick-out, I’d have given them a great chance to go up for the winner.

The easy way to see the game is that Dublin had the legs on Kerry. And maybe they had. But there was still nothing between the teams in the last minute of the 70 so Kerry didn’t come off too badly for a bunch of old guys.

One point
There was one point in the second half when Tomás Ó Sé got caught up the pitch and left his man Diarmuid Connolly in an acre of space. It was a risk to take but you could see that he took it to try to get Kerry a goal. But in fairness to Stephen Cluxton – who wasn’t having a good day with his kick-outs – he saw the opportunity straight away once the ball went out of play.

He actually caught Tomás’s eye and immediately looked up to see where Connolly was. And fair play to him, he had the balls to stick the ball on the ground and ping it 60 yards into Connolly’s chest. For a guy who was having a poor game to be that switched on and that accurate at a crucial stage says a lot about him.

Tomás knew he was in trouble. He was so tired at that point in the game he could hardly lift his hands over his head. He says he was so wrecked that he couldn’t even shout at the fellas around him to go back in his place. It was pure thickness that was carrying him back up the pitch.

It was a game with so many talking points. Eamonn Fitzmaurice got so much right with his tactics. Putting Donnchadh Walsh on Jack McCaffrey was a masterstroke – I would have thought beforehand that Donnchadh might be short of a yard of pace for that sort of assignment. But he gave young McCaffrey a fair lesson.

You have to give Jim Gavin big credit. When he saw Kieran Donaghy coming on the field, Paul Flynn dropped back as a sweeper and cleaned up three or four balls back there in the closing stages.

That would nearly be the only call I’d feel Kerry got wrong. Donaghy probably would have caused more trouble around the middle of the field.

Everybody has their opinions. The one thing about living in Kerry is that no minute of any of the days since Sunday has gone by without somebody talking to me about the match. That’s the way of it – everybody from a judge to a bum has a view on what went wrong or what went right.

Going in, I had only one small worry and it came from being a former team-mate of some of these guys. You’d still be that bit protective of them. I just hated the idea that one of them would get caught out badly or would get a hosing.

I was probably puffing my chest out a bit last week when I was talking about it. I said I’d back Kerry (-4) at 9/1 but I ended up bottling it a small bit and went with Kerry (-2) at 6/1.

I wasn’t just as brave as I was letting on. It didn’t come off but if there’s any consolation for me after Sunday it’s that all these guys walked out of Croke Park with their reputation intact.

It could have gone the other way. The game is so fast now, even compared to when I retired only four years ago. I always took a bit of pride in being one of the fitter players once the summer came around but the level of fitness needed at the top of the intercounty game now is extraordinary.

I was watching some of the subs that came on the last day and, even with how fit they all are, it took some of them a good few minutes to get up to the pace of the game.

Yet when it came down it, some of Kerry’s older players were their best players. And none better than Colm Cooper.

What some people don’t really get about Colm is that he loves it when a defender comes at him physically like Ger Brennan did early on. He never opens his mouth but you can nearly see him smiling at how badly he’s going to embarrass a marker who thinks he can rough him up. He’d nearly write a letter to Santa asking for that kind of marker.

The one moment that summed him up for me against Dublin was actually when a free should have been given against him. It was in the first half and it ended with his first point from play. He got the ball on the 45 out under the Cusack Stand and then he turned and left Brennan for dead and headed for goal. The whole time he was running, he had his head up and you could see his mind working with each step.

Because if you’re a team that needs goals, there is nobody better than Colm Cooper to try to engineer them. From the moment he turned Brennan out on the sideline, he had a goal in his mind. And it was only when every avenue was closed off that he chipped the ball over the bar with his right foot.

But he was so intent on setting up a goal that he took about nine steps with the ball.

You’d nearly think the referee was so mesmerised with how he was playing that he didn’t notice him overcarrying. As good and all as Dublin were on Sunday, the way the Gooch played was just an exhibition of football. The passing, the balance, the use of the ball off either foot.

That kick-pass into Donnchadh Walsh for James O’Donoghue’s first goal looked great at the time but if you go back break it down technically it gets even better. First, the drop of the shoulder that stopped Brennan and Cian O’Sullivan for a split second.

Snappy pass
Then, instead of a snappy pass fired into Walsh’s chest – which was the easier one to give because he could commit to it fully – he made his teammate’s job easier by playing it in on the bounce and taking the spin off it. The ball was easier for Walsh to collect and the split second that bought him allowed him to see O’Donoghue moving inside. The handpass was good and the finish was clinical and the movement from both of them was excellent.

But it all came from Gooch, who set it up with the skill of a surgeon. I met Mikey Sheehy one of the days there and asked him if he was enjoying being a selector. He said that the highlight of his week was going to training and watching the Gooch kick a ball. He is what young footballers should look to be.

On that note, I have to say something about the Tyrone minors who beat Roscommon. Some of their football was exceptional – especially from young Conor McKenna – and the character they showed to come back from being so far behind was a credit to them.

But some of the cynicism they got bogged down in near the end was just depressing to watch.

Dragging down
I don’t blame young lads for doing it. Young lads do what they’re told and they do what they’ve seen seniors do before them. You can’t tell me that isn’t coached. You can’t tell me they came up with dragging down players to close out the game, or kicking away the ball when the Roscommon goalkeeper was lining up a kick-out. They didn’t dream that up by themselves.

Anyway, it was the only sour note on a great day.

Dublin are a really impressive bunch. You have to hand it to them – they had every chance to throw their hat at it when Kerry were scoring goals but they never broke and they never stopped working for each other. We’ll have plenty of time to analyse them before the final but the one thing that stands out for me having watched them all year is their sense of togetherness.

They work for each other and they are all on the same page. They don’t rely on stars, they rely on the collective and when you see that in a team you know they’re going places.

Cian O’Sullivan was a guy I didn’t rate massively highly before Sunday but I thought he was having a fine game in midfield in the first half. Then at half-time, he was put back to centre half-back.

Now, if you’re a midfielder and you’re playing well, it’s very easy to get the hump if you’re sent back to do a job in defence. But he flourished, not a bother on him.

He did his job for the team. Gavin has them all buying into this mindset. Whatever happens in the final, they’re on the right track.

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