Never before has a footballer featured in as many titanic games as Tomás Ó Sé and Gooch

A little over a week after the 2005 All-Ireland football final, this writer received an email from a fairly irate Kerry supporter.

Never before has a footballer featured in as many titanic games as Tomás Ó Sé and Gooch

The previous Sunday in a national newspaper, I had proclaimed the Tyrone-Kerry shootout of that September as one of the best five All-Ireland finals of the previous 30 years.

Also in that elite quintet of games I had down the immortal Seamus Darby final of 1982, along with Armagh’s breakthrough win in 2002.

For the Kerry supporter, this was highly objectionable. Why did I think every final that Kerry lost was such a great game? And in a period when Kerry had won 10 All-Ireland finals, why didn’t I feel even one of them merited inclusion in my top-five list? I tried to explain in my reply that my list was actually a compliment towards Kerry. Most of their finals were won in such comprehensive style, they weren’t thrilling enough for the neutral, while such was their gallantry in defeat, they made sure every final they lost required an epic performance from the opposition. In my view only their 2000 saga against Galway was in the equation and ultimately I felt the Down, Donegal and Derry wins of the early 1990s, along with those three Kerry defeats, just about shaded it. My Kerry friend didn’t buy it, nor after Tyrone’s victory over Kerry in 2008. After that I didn’t pay any more heed of him but he came to mind again on Sunday.

Would he be bristling that another Kerry defeat was being hailed asprobably the greatest game ever or would his primary sentiment be that of pride that Kerry contributed so handsomely to a game that none of us will ever forget?

You would like to think the latter. There have been so many superlatives about Sunday and while it can never get enough, we’re not going to add to it here.

What we do feel needs to be properly acknowledged is the sheer multitude of cracking games this group of Kerry players have been involved in.

Never before has a footballer featured in as many titanic championship games as Tomás Ó Sé and Colm Cooper have.

Of course Jacko and Mikey and Páidí won more — but they had to beat less. In their time, Ulster and Connacht couldn’t even trouble the best of Leinster, let alone Munster, and Cork had to be merely ordinary to be the second or third best team in the country.

It wasn’t like that for Tomás. Take 2000, the year he won his first All-Ireland. That was the last year of the old do-or-die championship and in a packed, sweltering Fitzgerald Stadium that June his team had to withstand a furious second-half comeback from Cork to fend off the then previous year’s All-Ireland finalists. It took a replay and extra-time to see off Armagh in that year’s All-Ireland semi-final and another replay to pip Galway in the final; while none of those games was perhaps a classic in its own right, all were pulsating affairs. In 2001, we were served one of the best and underrated Munster finals, as Corkery and Crowley engaged in a shoot-out on the field while Páidí and Larry jostled on the line, before the trip to Tipp for those two unforgettable days against the Dubs.

Then, along came the Gooch. Kerry would ultimately fall short to Armagh but the football they would conjure up that summer of 2002, even in the first half of the final when they took that awesome Armagh defence for 11 points from play, was Gaelic’s answer to Zico and Socrates’s Brazil of ’82.

The two counties would serve up another classic in 2006: Clarke and McDonnell in their prime, Donaghy and Francie on the edge of the square; Darragh bettering the mighty McGrane in the middle of the field. In truth, that was the real 2006 All-Ireland final, just as the Kerry-Dublin showdown of 2007 — the most underestimated semi-final of the last decade — was the de facto All-Ireland final of that year.

In 2008, there was that glorious monsoon shoot-out with Michael Meehan and Galway, along with a trilogy of games with Cork.

On top of all that, there were so many classic team displays, games in which the opposition couldn’t provide enough resistance to bump the match itself up to classic status. Gooch and Mike Frank terrorising the Cork and Galway backs in Croker in 2002 and Roscommon again in 2003; poor Mayo in 2004 and 2006; and famously, Dublin in 2009.

At the time this writer prematurely predicted Kerry would lose, marginally and heroically, that All-Ireland quarter-final, citing the line from Richard III and the West Wing, “When the fall is all that is left, it matters a great deal.” Some of Kerry’s greats like Gooch will rise again and play again after last Sunday, some like Tomás may not. But how they went out matters a great deal and perhaps my other old Kerry friend may this time agree. In losing as they won so often, they didn’t really lose at all.

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