Kerry had the power, and glory was within reach

Kerry had the power, and glory was within reach
Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton saves a shot from Kerry's Paul Murphy. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

In Tipperary town 34 years ago, Donie Buckley got enough of his right fist to a desperate, late sideline ball from his Desmonds colleague Martin Downey to deliver a first All-Ireland club football title to the town of Castleisland.

He must be wondering at this stage what a second one looks like.

After being ravaged and burned by Mayo suffering in Croke Park, inspired by those ventures to and adventures in far corners of the world, to keep him at the sharp edge of coaching, maybe good fortune owes him a dance.

Between final own goals in 2016 (double the suffering with a pair), frees hitting the upright in 2017 and all the rest, yesterday’s All-Ireland SFC final between his native Kerry and Dublin delivered about as much torture as one sane man should be reasonably expected to endure.

Someday, somebody schooled in these things will disprove Horace and devise a script convincing us failing to seize the moment is really a good thing.

That it’s okay to pass up goal chances, plenty of them, a penalty included, to throw a lifebuoy to this masterful Dublin outfit — though one down their best marking defender before half-time.

Most excruciatingly of all, to then surge into sight of a 38th title only to cough up three decisive possessions in the final minutes when the Kingdom had the power — and the glory was within reach.

Peter Keane made an unconvincing stab at it afterwards, but no-one was buying. Birth certs have no currency in an All-Ireland senior final, though experience surely must.

Kerry haven’t blown their chance to be the kings of 2019, but they’ve passed up an obvious and glorious opportunity to do so.

The next 13 days are critical. Great minds in both camps are occupied already by the lessons of yesterday’s drawn final, and to that end, Buckley’s got game for Kerry.

Again, Jack Sherwood, Tommy Walsh and Killian Spillane provided impetus off the bench, and the call to start Jack Barry was vindicated. But all that will play itself out on the pitch at Fitzgerald Stadium, starting Wednesday.

The real work will be done in the area above the eyebrows. Convincing these Kerry tyros that they won’t have to wait until 2020.

Jim Gavin and Dublin deserve nearly as much kudos for clawing a draw out of this final as they do for any of their champagne Sundays since 2016. History weighs heavy.

They trailed in the 66th minute when Killian Spillane kicked the lead score for Kerry, but the 15-man challengers would score no more.

Dublin had the greater poise – which is understandable – and the surge of energy (which isn’t), as Kerry coughed up decisive possessions in unconvincing attempts to progress beyond halfway and run down time on Dublin’s historic five-in-a-row attempt.

Killian Spillane of Kerry shoots to score a goal. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Killian Spillane of Kerry shoots to score a goal. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

By the death, which was in the game’s 78th minute, Dean Rock had another 2017 hero moment to win it in front of the Cusack Stand, but that would have been a twist too far for Kerry — and for Donie.

David Moran was a mountainous figure for the Kingdom in the second period – though he did spill one of those priceless late possessions — but the callowness of his colleagues meant too many were desperate for someone else to close out the deal for them.

Dublin’s own desperation had a Jack McCaffrey shape to it, and he was rampant in almost everything he did.

Though Kerry’s introduction of Jack Sherwood was an effective change again, the departure of Gavin White removed whatever fig leaf Kerry had in terms of containing McCaffrey.

The Clontarf motorbike finished with 1-3. Similarly, Tommy Walsh’s introduction proved beneficial to Kerry’s cause, but it triggered a move out the field for David Clifford, which was hardly ideal.

The presence of this gigantic talent was such that, even on a day he was short of his magical best, Clifford caused consternation in the Dublin full back line. Plenty of blue learnings there too. He scored 0-2.

Paul Geaney will hardly sleep a full night between now and September 14. It’s a rare thing for the Dingle scoresmith to finish a game scoreless, much less miss a penalty — and a golden goal chance teed up by O’Shea in the first half. He wasn’t alone.

Kerry trailed at half time because of their own profligacy and not McCaffrey’s 18th minute goal, so the dismissal of Jonny Cooper in the 35th minute for a second bookable offence on Clifford, was a timely and unexpected bonus.

Not that they got any material reward from it. When McCaffrey pointed in the 55th minutes, the champions were 1-14 to 0-12 in front.

Kerry, with the extra player, couldn’t convince themselves to twist when sticking was of dubious benefit.

Then Killian Spillane, the boundless confidence of youth spiriting him, scorched free after a Davy Byrne dropped ball and made the Hill 16 net dance.

Ten minutes later, he was edging Kerry in front for the first time since the 17th minute. A point up, a man up, their tails up.

The process of recovery will be as much psychological as physical. Keane has it underway.

“Well, if you were looking at the glass half-empty, you can think like that (lost opportunity),” he said afterwards.

But we are not looking at it like that. We are not looking at the glass half-empty. You are creating chances and if you are creating chances, something will come.

“Sure, just keep rattling away and something will come out of it.” The Dublin strategy afterwards was transparent too: Must do better.

“Disappointed with our performance,” Jim Gavin said.

“To keep moving and keep creating scoring chances, keep turning the ball over, that’s obviously the impressive piece — but overall in the expanse of the game, just not good enough from the standards the players set for themselves, not what I set for them. I know when they reflect they’ll have a lot to say and all we’ve done today by getting a draw is give ourselves an opportunity to come out again.”

Doubtless though, the invincible Dubs are running out of gas. They only introduced four full subs, and with Con O’Callaghan curtailed, it was as well there had an MVP display from McCaffrey. But their nous is far greater still than Kerry’s.

Jack McCaffrey of Dublin shoots to score a goal. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jack McCaffrey of Dublin shoots to score a goal. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The tension at Croke Park was such that the 82,000 sellout was muted at moments in both halves, everyone appreciating the enormity of one game-changing moment — if it arrived.

The final was thrilling but not quite in the realm of a football classic.

The referee David Gough did well, though Tom O’Sullivan can be counted lucky he didn’t follow Jonny Cooper off with a challenge on Johnny Small after 51 minutes.

Kerry may counter by saying Stephen O’Brien was grounded for what seemed a good penalty shout seven minutes earlier, but their frustration was greater as Stephen Cluxton tipped a Paul Murphy exocet onto the crossbar.

Two players — Sean O’Shea and Dean Rock — shared 20 points between them. The Kenmare lad is 20 himself. He can be a Declan O’Sullivan-type focal point for Kerry. The real deal.

Peter Keane didn’t spend long in the press room — Kerry ate their grub and were on the road home by 9pm last night — but he was right about one key fact. Kerry are still there.

Dublin's Johnny Cooper moments before being sent off by referee David Gough. Photo: INPHO/James Crombie
Dublin's Johnny Cooper moments before being sent off by referee David Gough. Photo: INPHO/James Crombie

The Kingdom are well tired of losing the so-called classics — 1977 semi-final, 1982, 2011, 2013 semi-final, 2016 semi-final — and their new green wave will make a quantum leap forward on the basis of what they learned yesterday.

Kerry are still there. But so are Dublin.

There was one big winner yesterday, other than the Croke Park bank account.

The minor footballers of Cork showed poise and panache far beyond their teenage years to recover themselves from a last minute Galway goal and power on in extra time to claim a first All-Ireland since 2000.

The likes of Conor Corbett, Michael O’Neill, Ryan O’Donovan et al won’t be delivering on the senior stage for a bit yet, but for Bobbie O’Dwyer’s young side to claw their way back twice in the second half and then surge for home in the additional periods is a wholly encouraging shot in the arm for football in the southern capital.

A minor and an U20 All-Ireland from 2019. Football in Cork has a beating heart.

Quirke's Final Podcast: Kerry learn on the job. Gavin's gaffe. 'O'Shea is a joke'. Gough's big calls

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