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Wednesday 22 August 2018

'We thought we had it won' admits O'Connor

JACK O'Connor has been a losing manager on All-Ireland final day before, but you could tell by his demeanour as he entered the media room under the Hogan Stand that yesterday was perhaps his toughest moment since the Keys To the Kingdom were returned to him.

Tyrone -- the team he lost to in the '05 final -- were the prickly thorn in Kerry's side through the last decade...but losing to the Dubs?

It's not O'Connor's fault the rivalry has been weighed so heavily on one side for the past 35 years or that, as a direct result, few in the Kingdom really countenanced the notion that Kerry could lose.

"Maybe it looked like Dublin's name was written on it," he mused. "It's a tough one to take. It's hard to take. Fifteen minutes to go, we thought we had it won. That's life though, you know? Who said life is fair, like? We can look at ourselves in the mirror and hold our heads high.

"We gave absolutely everything and prepared thoroughly. We trained very well and hard, really hard. It showed today, we had plenty in the tank. They got one or two breaks. They got a sniff. 'Twas snatched away from us and we have to live with it."

O'Connor refused to go down the road of recrimination or weigh up the possibility of his own or some of his player's futures but perhaps the most frustrating thing from his point of view was that it was hard to decipher what exactly went wrong.

Declan O'Sullivan was at fault twice for Kevin McManamon's goal, while Barry John Keane displayed a touch of inexperience to concede the free that led to the late jaw-dropping conclusion to the match.

But disappointment, rather than frustration or anger, was the abiding emotion coming from Jack afterwards.

"I'm not going to be hanging any guy out to dry but of course the goal was a huge momentum changer because we couldn't see Dublin getting it back on points," he pointed out.

"We were quite solid at the back, we had kept it tight at the back all day. We reduced them to the odd point or a few frees. But the goal was worth more than a goal really because it just gave them life and gave them energy in the last five minutes to let them go on and win the game.

"It's tough to lose an All-Ireland any day but we looked like we were in control of that situation. I'm not too sure what was left, eight or 10, four points up. We had come back from three down.

"To go four up took a huge effort out of our fellas. Maybe that effort took its toll in the last five minutes. The two or three scores that Dublin got to win were turnovers, you know. So maybe the intensity and the pace of the game took its toll on our legs in the last five or six minutes.

"But in the general scheme of things, I have to be very proud of the way our lads played. I don't think many people would give us a chance of lasting with the Dubs the way we did.

"They played well and we rode with the punches for a long time, played a lot of good football in the second-half but of course to lose the way we did was devastating," O'Connor concluded.

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