Unless Meath are involved and regardless of who else is, I hate All Ireland Final days. They are the last days of summer. Thereafter, evenings get shorter, sport to actually attend becomes scarce and – as has blessedly been the case for our lads this year – any progress made is left feeling redundant as it will be seven months before counties are seen out in action again.
“Just as quickly as it started the firing stopped, and a terrible silence hung over the valley”The Ballad Of Michael Collins
Now, All Ireland Sundays hit me hard enough when they were in their proper format. With the Minor finals before the big one and they being played at the proper time of year. But now that the ‘Male GAA’ – if one can title it thus – have gone and destroyed the two most important days in their entire calendar it’s even worse.
It always takes me a day or two to reset the mind in these situations. The empty feeling takes a while to shake off but at least when it happens there will be another leather-bound volume of greatness to sit on the shimmering shelves like you see in those legal places.
It certainly couldn’t be termed a classic, in the purist sense of the word, finals seldom are. But it had everything a Dublin-Kerry match should have. Great scores, surprising misses, manic intensity, thunderous collisions and the odd flashpoint.
Completely randomly, the second half of the 2011 decider between the same two sides was actually what filled the viewing void where the Minor final should have been. Little was it known, though, that what was to transpire a dozen years later would almost be a carbon copy of same. Stephen Cluxton got the first score this time instead of the last but other than that the similarity was striking.
Without the aid of a breakdown of stats to back up the following, it would still be ventured that – in terms of possession at least – Kerry held sway for the majority of the contest. However, as with the other case referenced here, they again failed to drive home their advantage. Do that against a side of the acumen of the greatest group ever to pull on boots and it WILL bite you in the arse.
Where then it was Declan O’Sullivan going across the field dithering with the ball, coughing up a turnover and thereafter Kevin McManamon charging towards the Kerry goal like a bull at a field of heifers before sending Hill 16 into the delirium. It wasn’t actually the last score of the game but it was the one which agitated the blue wave which has lasted more than a decade.
This time around, Paul Geaney again proved his worth as the ultimate big game player when slotting past Cluxton in first half stoppage time, but again, despite eking out a three point buffer for themselves on a couple of occasions, they were never able to broaden the chasm beyond that. Which brings its own vulnerability.
And, there was almost an inevitability to what was going to happen once that was the case. The cruel irony, mind, was that the turnover which culminated in Kerry’s doom this time around was effected on the one man who had done more than any other to convey his county to the season’s climax, David Clifford. Though in fairness, David Gough was entirely correct to cancel the free originally awarded to the Fossa phenomenon and instead hop the ball.
From whence a combination of Cormac Costello and Colm Basquel morphed into a likeness of McManamon with the only deviation from the previous script that there was a last second offload to Paddy Small who – with unintended assistance from a Kerryman – looped the ball over Shane Ryan and gave the Hill an extra large shot of rocket fuel.
There’s no doubt Dublin’s bench made a serious impact, Jack McCaffrey in particular, but you do wonder if Jack O’Connor had his time again would he deploy his reinforcements differently. In my view, Paul Geaney was withdrawn far too hastily. Then, if it was felt the corner forward had to be replaced, was Adrian Spillane fit enough to do so?
Evidently not. But that being the case, I still think Killian Spillane should have been on long before his brother pulled up injured. Though it must be said that all the back up The Kingdom sent in made a difference. What undid them was their own profligacy and a slight dearth of disciplined defending.
Or maybe it was just they had no response strong enough to withold the last strike of the wounded lion. The warrior raging against the dying of the light one more time.
Presuming it is the end for this unique group of footballers as a collective. Because it doesn’t have to be. James McCarthy and Dean Rock more or less started the first verse of the swansong in their post match interviews.
The former of that duo could certainly go again. Ditto Mick Fitzsimons. Stephen Cluxton? How long is a piece of string… Though you could hardly blame Cluxton, Fitzsimons or McCarthy – history makers now with nine All Ireland Senior medals – if they were to go out in a blaze of glory.
Perhaps this is just me, but there has always been an inclination here that Dessie Farrell has never been afforded the recognition or respect he is worthy and deserving of. Comparable, say, to Jim Gavin or Pat Gilroy. At the very least, he deserves the opportunity to decide his own future.
For what it’s worth, if I were him, I’d stay put. Even if the record breakers do take their leave, there’s still the likes of Davy Byrne, John Small, Brian Fenton, Brian Howard, Sean Buglar, Ciaran Kilkenny, Paul Mannion and Con O’Callaghan around whom to rebuild.
Add to that the emergence of players such as Lee Gannon, Sean Mac Mahon, Lorcan O’Dell and Cian Murphy and there’s no sense that there’s likely to be a diminishment in their output.
As for Kerry, chances are it will be regarded as another which got away. Even with the esteem in which Jack O’Connor is understandbly held, it won’t sit well. As stated earlier though, they didn’t help themselves.
That said, anybody laying the blame for their defeat with David Clifford needs their head examined and a boot up the back end. Without even mentioning what the 24-year-old has gone through off the field this year, he kicked three points, two from play, and made the goal for Geaney.
Yes, he did kick a few wides, but do you know all that proved? He’s human. Speaking of Geaney, gut feeling is he has plenty left in the tank. So too Stephen O’Brien. Set those two aside and this Kerry bunch have time on their side.
If, on the other hand, Father Time has cried enough on any of the record breakers, unquestionably McCarthy will be the biggest loss of them all.
One is reminded of the line uttered after Jimmy Keaveney was sent off in the Leinster Final of 1979: Na bfhaca tu mo Sheamusin? (Has anyone seen my Jimmy?)