Kerry gave all they could but it wasn’t enough as Jim Gavin’s men rose to the challenge
I got into a taxi in Dublin on Sunday morning feeling like I had left too much money in the city on Saturday night. The driver was a real old-fashioned Dub. Delighted with himself. Full of chat.
“I know you,” he says. “You’re Tomás Ó Sé.”
So maybe my day was cursed from the start.
My man was looking forward to his day. He was doing a few hours in the morning to pay for a few pints in the local watching the game. He must have wanted a few bags of crisps to go along with the pints because he was definitely going the long way round. I said this to him and he explained that he was avoiding roadworks. Good one, I thought.
He was a sound fella, real soft-spoken. But he had plenty of Dublin arrogance to go along with it.
“You know,” he says, “youse are very good to come up. It’s a long way to come to get a hiding.”
So I’m not ashamed to say that my first thought as the teams went in at half-time with Kerry five ahead was for my taxi-driver. I imagined him sitting on a barstool somewhere on the northside, his face gone white from the shock of it all. Where’s your hiding now?
As Popeye says, I am what I am. I wouldn’t be human if I was able to watch that last 10 minutes of the first half with a cool head. I had a brother down there, I had some of my best friends on the sideline and on the pitch. For them to come up to Croke Park and do what we all hoped and prayed they could do, that was blood-pumping stuff.
But in the end, Dublin are a team for the ages. There’s no doubting them. I have an issue with people who try to knock them or try to find excuses why everyone else doesn’t measure up. They have had every question asked of them and they’ve always found an answer. We’ve seen them many times now fall behind and refuse to accept defeat.
I don’t care what anybody says about money or population size or any of that – when you’re staring down the barrel, it comes down to each individual and whether they have it in them to turn things around. These are serious players and they clearly have a serious manager who wants them to win playing good football. The only problem I can find in them is the colour of their jersey.
Kerry gave all they could and it wasn’t enough. Dublin can near enough survive anything at this stage. They don’t care if you score a couple of goals. They don’t panic, they don’t look around wondering where all the leaders are. They take it on themselves.
They don’t care if you want to mix it physically. They want to mix it themselves. I really like that about them. They want the game to be manly, they want you to know that this is a contact sport.
For Paul Geaney’s first point on Sunday, Cian O’Sullivan threw himself in Geaney’s direction for an attempt at a block. I was sitting up in the stand and I had as much chance of getting a block on it as O’Sullivan but his follow through carried him into Geaney and knocked him on his ass. The message was clear – score your point but expect to eat a bit of dirt as well. I love to see that in a player.
O’Sullivan was exceptional on Sunday. You can tell just by watching him that he’s an intelligent guy. I heard he works in one of the big accounting firms in the city and I wasn’t a bit surprised.
It’s the way he carries himself around the pitch – you can see him thinking ahead, organising the players around him, radiating calm. He’s never cribbing to the referee or lambasting his team-mates. He’s just staying cool, working over and back, over and back to cut off the space down the middle. He’s like a line-dancer, just without his hands on his hips.
He’s a dream for Jim Gavin to have in his team. You know the fella you play poker with who hasn’t won a hand all night and starts complaining that he isn’t getting good hands? Gavin would have no time for that. He has good hands most of the time but he can play poker too.
That role he has O’Sullivan playing is a step above what most managers would risk. Gavin is putting a huge amount on his plate there – he’s basically saying that the most important area on the pitch from a defensive point of view is O’Sullivan’s responsibility. Most teams wouldn’t come up with that job in the first place but Gavin obviously knows what type of fella he has in O’Sullivan.
Some of the things Diarmuid Connolly did in the game, only two or three players in the country are capable of. For his first point, he wriggled out of a couple of tackles, burned them off with a sprint to give himself room and popped it over from 40 yards off his right foot. His point to win the game was from nearly the same position at the opposite end of the pitch but this time he curled it in with his left.
Those players don’t come along every year. Not just players of that ability but players who are able to have that crucial impact on a game when it matters most.
Connolly had the first two shots at the posts – one went over, one went wide. In the quarter-final against Donegal, he had the first shot as well but the Donegal goalie saved it. He wants to get into it, get the show on the road, get the business done early. And he wants to be the one taking the shot at the end. You can’t buy that attitude.
On the Kerry side, I thoughtDonnchadh Walsh was outstanding. I’m always amazed at his ability to pop up out of nowhere. He’s just always running, running, running. He’s like an apparition. You’d be driving along a country road late at night and you’d half-expect to see the Kerry number 12 shirt pop out of the bushes and make a burst across the road. How does he turn up out of nowhere so often?
That touch for Darran O’Sullivan’s goal was perfect and it nearly summed up his whole Kerry career. Kerry broke down Stephen Cluxton’s kick-out and once Geaney got onto it, you would have expected maybe the Gooch to be the one running in on goal to get the pass. But Donnchadh just materialised.
When the ball came to him, he knew the right move to make – one touch and Darran only had to walk the ball in. And then he was away off, running the roads again. Where he’s going, nobody knows.
I’ve heard people say that half-time came too quick for Kerry. But it’s nonsense really. As far as I’ve seen, half-time comes at the same time every Sunday above in Croke Park. There’s very few certainties in life but I’d say we can add half-time to death and taxes. You know when it’s coming, you know what you have to do after it. If you don’t do it, that’s your own look-out.
The difference ultimately was that some of the Kerry decision-making just wasn’t smart enough when it had to be. In a game like that, the margins get so tight that doing the right thing becomes non-negotiable.
At one stage in the second half, James O’Donoghue and Colm Cooperburst themselves to work Tadhg Morley into a shooting position out on the 20-metre line below the Cusack Stand.
It was hard-won space – O’Donoghue got savaged by Michael DarraghMacauley and James McCarthy on his way to feeding Gooch. Gooch could have had a go himself but Morley was closer to goal and in plenty of room because O’Sullivan had pulled his defence in to protect the goal. So it wasn’t a difficult chance.
Morley is new to the team and this was his first game in Croke Park. I’m not picking him out to pick on him, just to make the point about experience and decision-making. He snatched at his shot and pulled it wide at the near post. You can’t do that. Not in this sort of game. Put it this way – I played long enough with the Gooch to know that Morley’s ear would have been red raw going back to his position.
You need to be smart. You need to turn all the little battles your way. Above all, you need to be tuned in. Stephen O’Brien got through for a great point in injury-time to level the game. He ran in along the endline and fisted it over the bar and his momentum carried him nearly into the net behind the Canal End goals.
Before he was able to turn around, the game was back on. If you watch it again, O’Brien is still running across the line, the ball is still in the air going over the bar and Cluxton is already bending over to pick up a new ball at the foot of his right-hand post for the quick kick-out. In Cluxton’s mind, a Kerry player is out of the game so let’s go. Let’s get on with it.
To me, O’Brien had to cut across there and disrupt the kick-out. Get in Cluxton’s way, cause a row maybe, do something to slow the whole thing down. Even just run across his line so he has to change the direction he wants to go. Stop the quick kick-out so that everyone can get back in position and everyone can get their heads clear.
But he did what 99 per cent of players would do – he got back out to his position and Dublin started building again. It’s very hard to fault him for that because he did so well to get the point in the first place but these are just the tiny things that you need to turn in your favour. Kerry still have that bit of naivety whereas Dublin are just so well tuned-in.
Kerry have run into Dublin at a time when Dublin are in the exact right zone in terms of their age profile.
They have the perfect spread of ages in terms of knowing what to do when the game is close. They’ve been in that situation so many times, they take the right option more or less every time.
There’s no disgrace in Kerry losing to them. There’s no disgrace in anybody losing to them. When it isn’t Kerry on the receiving end, they’re a pleasure to watch.
I hope the taxi driver enjoyed his pints on Sunday night. My only consolation is the porter’s a lot dearer where he was drinking than it was where I am.