Wednesday 13 December 2017

Heroes of the Hill etch their names in history

Kerry nemesis buried, three All-Ireland titles in five years - this is Dublin's time

Dublin’s Michael Darragh Macauley is challenged by Kerry’s Aidan O’Mahony during the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park
Dublin’s Michael Darragh Macauley is challenged by Kerry’s Aidan O’Mahony during the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park

We may be paraphrasing but you get the gist: Colm O'Rourke announced on RTÉ after it was all over that Dublin had murdered Kerry by three points.

And that's exactly how it was - a three-point hammering that has laid to rest any modern notion of Kerry superiority over the Dubs.

In so many respects this was a wretched All-Ireland final - largely but not entirely attributable to weather conditions that turned our old friend, O'Neill, into something more resembling Palmolive. But when it came to quality football, however sporadic, the men in Blue played the vast majority of it.

They came to Croke Park yesterday with a stated mission - to reclaim the All-Ireland lost in that implosion to Donegal, 13 months ago - and their ambition to complete the task was evident in most things they did.

Whereas Kerry, it seemed, came to HQ trying not to lose their stranglehold on Sam. There is a subtle difference: the holders lacked real attacking ambition and this was reflected in their general inhibition.

Never once did they truly go for the jugular ... save perhaps in the closing minutes when their introduced skipper, Kieran Donaghy, caused a few moments of pandemonium close to goal. But at that stage it was a case of desperation, the Kingdom chasing a goal that might have delivered the most unlikely and ill-deserved of replays.

The only wonder is that Dublin hadn't put them out of their misery long beforehand. For that, they can largely blame themselves: they frittered away a succession of inviting second half chances as Kerry teetered on the brink of total meltdown.

Those misses were a mixture of misfortune and bad finishing: Paddy Andrews was a tad unlucky to see his 39th minute goal chance on the turn fizz narrowly wide, Brian Fenton unluckier still to see his 47th minute daisycutter rebound off the post.

Yet, in the same period, you had point chances go a begging from Paul Flynn, Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly while Stephen Cluxton failed to convert three long-distance deadball attempts and Brogan (carelessly) and Connolly (from the touchline) also missed frees.

Their second half wide count reached ten; they only managed four points in the period.

That offered a window of opportunity to the holders, and they almost grabbed it after 67 minutes when Donaghy won a throw-up ball and then, despite being surrounded, deftly hand-passed across to the lurking Killian Young.

If the wing-back had gathered cleanly, it was a definite goal chance and Kerry - bizarrely - could have been level. Yet, in a cameo that was symptomatic of their malaise, Young spilled it and the chance was lost.

Adding salt to open wounds, Dublin ventured straight up the field and Alan Brogan, barely on the pitch, calmly slotted over to make it a four-point game.

Soon after, another high punt in the direction of 'The Star' sparked claims for a Kerry penalty but referee David Coldrick was having none of it.


There was still time for a moment of self-inflicted panic stations in the Dublin defence when Cluxton's attempted pass, in open play, was intercepted by Donaghy ... but all that resulted, eventually, was a free-in for a foul on Donnchadh Walsh.

Bryan Sheehan converted, but the game was now into four minutes of injury-time and much of that was wasted by stoppages - Donaghy and Rory O'Carroll were booked after a skirmish, and there followed another lengthy hold-up before that late Connolly free.

When one last hopeful Kerry punt was pounced on by James McCarthy, the game was up and Coldrick called time, having played an additional four minutes 32 seconds.

For the second game running, McCarthy had been one of Dublin's standout defenders but this was a genuinely collective triumph. You go through the various match-ups and what is revealed is a story of Dublin domination.

Philly McMahon, who has made a blindside run into Footballer of the Year contention, subjugated Colm Cooper - admittedly a pale shadow of the peerless Gooch of old.


McCarthy saw off Stephen O'Brien in the first half and kept motoring strongly in the second. Fenton went head-to-head with David Moran and, by the full-time audit, you'd never have guessed who was the rookie and who was the reigning All Star.

Where Fenton was assured and mostly accurate in possession, Moran was ponderous and wasteful.

Thus, for the second game running, the latter was subbed - although the identity of his replacement, the veteran Paul Galvin, raised a few quizzical eyebrows, especially with Tommy Walsh a more obvious ball-winning option around the middle.

Indeed, that wasn't the only Éamonn Fitzmaurice substitution that could be questioned in hindsight. Barry John Keane was their sixth sub in, just after the hour - but was James O'Donoghue the man to haul off, with Kerry chasing a goal?

Still, given the error-strewn nature of their overall performance, even a different roll call of switches might have struggled to reignite Kerry.

Dublin have been far more fluent themselves, in the recent past, but this was still a victory of substance.

They have now won three of the last five All-Ireland titles, a record that places them on the same iconic pedestal as their '70s game forebears - and with the promise of more to come.

They have also vanquished their erstwhile nemesis in green-and-gold for the third championship game running - an historic hat-trick never previously achieved through this long and storied rivalry.

They had set the agenda from the game's opening play, Fenton belying any All-Ireland debut nerves with a point inside 15 seconds. In the fourth minute they carved open Kerry for their first goal chance - Brendan Kealy denied Dean Rock on that occasion, but that was another reminder of the defensive vulnerability exposed by Tyrone.


From there to half-time, much of the football was shocking but Kerry were the more culpable party. They probably had their 'best' spell after that Rock goal chance but kicked any momentum away through sloppy handling, distribution and wides; when Paul Geaney pointed after 26 minutes they were level at 0-4 apiece, but then Dublin cranked up the gears with four unanswered points via Bernard Brogan, Jack McCaffrey, Paddy Andrews and McMahon to lead by double-scores at the break.

Even though Kerry riposted with the next two points, and even though Darran O'Sullivan injected some spark into their half-forward line, a two-point deficit was as close as they came.

And they were lucky at that. Sam is coming home.

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