It takes a special team to make a team like Mayo look so old, spent, lost.
Yet that's what they did, once the ref threw that ball back up.
Their veteran midfielder set the tone from the start.
Up front, their young tyro left even Lee Keegan, the outstanding back of his generation, chasing shadows.
Next to him, their reigning All Star inside forward kicking one wonder point after another over with his trusted left foot, torched a brilliant man marker like Brendan Harrison for five points.
The Mayo kickout was in disarray, their goalkeeper frazzled, by the press employed.
In just 12 devastating minutes of football, they had absolutely blitzed Mayo, transforming what was once a close game into a double-digit lead.
By the time Andy Moran was introduced, the game was already long over. In the end James Horan’s team were fortunate to lose by just 10 points, as unfortunate as they were to have had only a week to turn around from the high of beating one of their westerly neighbours in a real backs-to-the-wall affair in a provincial ground to face the well-rested aristocrats in their own backyard.
And that is why Kerry are in the All-Ireland final — and have a chance to win it.
Remember Killarney only a month ago today? Fitzgerald Stadium packed, just like Croke Park last weekend?
David Moran laying down a marker and the law to Aidan O’Shea, just as Michael Dara Macauley established how last Saturday’s second half was going to be when tomahawking that throw in towards Dean Rock?
Sean O’Shea’s dancing feet leaving Keegan as flat-footed as he was encountering Con O’Callaghan’s?
David Clifford evading Brendan Harrison’s hold and fingertips to swing over point and point with that precious left peg just like Paul Mannion last weekend?
David Clarke with his kicking tee in hand as overwhelmed as Rob Hennelly was facing the blue tsunami?
David Moran plucking down his kickouts like Brian Fenton fetched Hennelly’s?
How Kerry went from just 07-04 up on Mayo after 19 minutes to 14-04 after 31?
True, Mayo were flat from having played Galway in Limerick the previous weekend, just like they were leggy last Saturday from the effort exerted to overcome Donegal in Castlebar, but it still took a remarkable effort and team to make the weeks and years so evidently catch up on Mayo.
Take it so that however many boots the Kerry goalkeeper orders from Gerard Murphy’s sports store in Castleisland, he and Kerry will keep the ball kicked out to Dublin, and a whole lot better than Mayo did when besieged by both finalists this past month.
For sure there was something awe and fear-inducing about Dublin’s power surge after half-time. Having spent the week researching how Dublin have developed their coaches and players for a piece in last Saturday’s paper and then watching them lay waste to the other top side of the decade, it brought to mind some of the utterances of Tim Robbins’ character in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds as the extra-terrestrials’ towering war machines scorch the earth.
“They’ve been planning this for a million years,” Harlan Ogilvy tells Tom Cruise’s Ray Ferrier. “We’re beat to shit. Think about it. They defeated the greatest power in the world in a couple of days. Walked right over us. And these are the only the first. They’ll keep coming.
And yet on the same day as Ciaran Archer is announced as the U20 player of the year, ready to come on stream and replace a departee like Bernard Brogan, we cling to and even believe in a line from another character played by Robbins, one Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.”
Contrary to what Cleese claimed, it doesn’t kill you. It keeps you alive. And so it is with the rest of football. It can get busy living or get busy dying.
And in Kerry at least it has a team who isn’t going to just roll over. All year they’ve been busy living and for a good bit longer than that they’ve been making plans of their own for future domination.
It was evident in that dismantling of all things Mayo, kickouts and everything else, last month. Not only did it take exceptional players to pull it off — Clifford, O’Shea, Geaney, Stephen O’Brien in the prime of his career — but it took astute coaching and plotting.
As more than one current and former Mayo player noted, it had Donie Buckley’s fingermarks all over it, armed as he was with so much knowledge of the tendencies and weaknesses of a team he coached for six years.
That opening Super 8s game though won’t be the only match in this championship that his time with Mayo will prove to have been invaluable in scouting and preparing for an opponent. If there’s one team he knows nearly as well as Kerry and Mayo at this stage, it’s Dublin from going up against them so often.
Think of all the video sessions he’s sat in and facilitated over the decade, looking at ways to curb and hurt the Dubs. If you throw in the 2011 championship when he was part of Jack O’Connor’s coaching staff, this will be his sixth All-Ireland final coaching a team against Dublin.
Though he still awaits his first win over them, the most Dublin won any of those previous five encounters by was a single point. In 2016, they required a replay to scrape over the line.
And that year Mayo’s form going into the final was considerably more erratic and underwhelming than Kerry’s this year; we tend to forget in light of Mayo’s subsequent resistance that people were as braced for a one-sided affair as they expect one on September 1. But it didn’t happen. A proud group of players and a wily brains trust that included Buckley didn’t allow it.
Kerry and Buckley won’t allow it this time either. For sure the core of their team isn’t as hardened and experienced as the Mayo teams he coached into September. They don’t have as many proven and capable one-on-one defenders to shut down a Brogan, Kilkenny, or Mannion as a Harrison, Keegan, and Barrett have at various times at their peak.
But it’s not like this Kerry side are all schoolboys or choirboys. Nine of their outfield players that finished against Tyrone have already won either a senior All-Ireland or a national league.
Virtually all the rest have won minor All-Irelands.
And Peter Keane has surrounded himself with far more experienced selectors on the line than James Horan could call on last Saturday.
Keane oversaw three of those minor All-Ireland triumphs, accompanied by James Foley and Tommy Griffin, who has also served as a coach to All-Ireland-winning Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne teams as well as being a five-time All-Ireland-winning player.
Maurice Fitzgerald has coached St Mary’s to an All-Ireland intermediate title as well as being the one link to the Éamonn Fitzmaurice regime in which he was a selector for two years. Faced by something like Dublin threw at their opponents after half-time last Saturday, you can expect Kerry’s reaction on the line and thus on the field to be more swift and less startled than what Mayo offered.
There’s something for everyone to ponder in that. If Kerry look primed to be the new Mayo — as in Dublin’s main rivals for the next decade — then Mayo as currently constituted look like being the new Tyrone: A respectable and consistent top-five force without ever breaking back into that top-two status which they enjoyed for most of a decade.
Horan has outsmarted some fine coaching staffs this year and done a masterful job of integrating new players with his veterans and will carefully ensure the inevitable bout of retirements won’t become like a deluge like which Cork experienced in the autumn of 2013, effectively submerging them for the rest of the decade.
But now he’s back at the highest level and encountered once again at close quarters Dublin’s towering killing machines, he’ll have likely spotted that where once Mayo and Dublin were equals in the S&C stakes, a not-inconsiderable gap has opened, and he could do with a bit more nous and experience alongside him.
All that though is for later. Right now we have this final. September 2019 might prove to be a lot like September 2009, where a dominant Kilkenny team met an emerging Tipperary side who rattled them in a classic but weren’t quite yet ready to take them down.
Con and Clifford could be going at it for the next 10 years like Callanan and TJ, owning a decade like Bird and Magic did the ’80s. At worst, though we’ll have a duopoly. There will be no monopoly or extermination.
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