Just don’t be fooled by the shorter evenings. Dismiss at once the falling of the feeblest of leaves. The nip in the air? That would be the cold war: Dublin-Kerry.
The tensions between these two juggernauts will escalate the closer we get to Sunday week. Ciaran Whelan has mentioned there will be “propaganda” but on Saturday evening, we were offered a Molotov apéritif when Jim Gavin sent a thinly-veiled message to Eamonn Fitzmaurice that he is cognisant Kerry have been keeping a close eye on Dublin. “I know their management team were here for the Leinster final, the league final, the last two games, so they’ve got a good look at us.”
Fitzmaurice won’t deny that because he can’t, but he might chortle at Gavin’s insistence that he hasn’t seen much of Kerry. The Kerry manager knows the extent of Dublin’s scouting web. In an interview in this newspaper in January of last year, he highlighted they had a backroom team member doing statistical analysis of the Cork-Clare Munster semi-final.
Dublin don’t forget that nor do they fail to remember it was Fitzmaurice who, in that same piece, highlighted the extent of their home comforts in Croke Park. “If Dublin are behind, there is one fella rolls (the ball to the Kerry goalkeeper) from one side and another from the other. Let’s say a Kerry back kicks it back to him to slow the game down, another ball comes straight in from the other side. Magic! If Dublin are ahead, you won’t see any ball, you have to go looking for it.”
It may have been Tyrone player Conor Clarke’s role as the team’s ball-boy last year that precipitated the end of retrievers at championship matches before neutral stewards were appointed to the roles this season but Fitzmaurice had put a spotlight on Dublin’s cosy arrangement, which has now ceased.
Before they beat Kerry in 2011, breaking a run of eight championship defeats and one draw, Dublin weren’t a problem. Dublin were well aware of that too. Years back, we fell into a frank conversation with Conal Keaney, then a Dublin footballer, after an interview about Kerry’s respect for their rivals. He put us right on that score quick-smart: “It’s easy to be civil when you’re the ones who are winning.”
We know from reading Fitzmaurice’s Irish Examiner column the morning after the ‘11 final that Dublin had hurt him. “When my parents’ generation explained to me about Seamus Darby’s goal in 1982, I never quite got it,” he wrote. “I never got the crystal clear recollections of that day, the tears and the sorrow. I understood what a disappointment it was but never managed to understand the emotional baggage that went with it. Now I understand. Yesterday’s defeat is my generation’s Darby moment. I am heartbroken, but most of all I’m heartbroken for (captain) Colm Cooper.”
We know how deep the 2013 semi-final loss, his only championship reverse in 16 outings, cut him, his forensic analysis of how Kerry lost their way in four minutes so telling. “As a player you move on, even if you’re reminded of it every now and then. But from a manager’s point of view — it was the first year I wasn’t playing club football — so there is a space there. You do a lot of thinking, and evaluating.”
We know, for all Kerry’s indifferent approach to the league during his tenure, how badly Fitzmaurice wanted to beat Dublin in last year’s Division 1 opener. That was evident in his out-of-character attack on referee David Coldrick’s performance that evening. “I felt the referee’s performance was well below par tonight. I watched the game in the coaches’ box so I had the luxury of an instant replay up there. He got a lot of calls wrong. We found it very hard to get frees in the second half close to goal. Dublin didn’t.”
However, we know that Gavin also gets tetchy when he loses to Kerry. After March’s heated meeting in Killarney, he blamed the Kerry players for influencing Eddie Kinsella into sending off Michael Fitzsimons for what was truly a red card foul on Fionn Fitzgerald and issuing black cards to Denis Bastick and Philly McMahon. “They seem to me to be a bit reactionary. A lot of the opposing players seemed to put him [Kinsella] under pressure. Maybe the wrong call was made, we’ll need to review the tape, and for the sending off, the player (Fitzgerald) seemed to go down quite quickly so again we’ll have to have a look at that.”
Having studied Gavin as carefully as he has his Dublin team, Fitzmaurice knows Kerry stung him that day. It’s known in media circles that Kerry have become scabbier in their public utterings to reflect the slim pickings provided by Dublin.
“They have a serious manager,” Fitzmaurice said of Gavin last year. “He wasn’t visible until he got the (2013) Phillips manager of the year award, wasn’t seen anywhere high up or low down. He stuck his head above the parapet to accept his award and disappeared again. A serious guy.”
Therein lies deep respect but from a distance.
Ó Fearghail kicks for touch with Cahill
A hurling “Up For the Match” may have been an unlikely setting for Des Cahill to quiz GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail about Diarmuid Connolly but kudos all the same to Cahill for bringing up what was the dominant topic of conversation on Saturday.
Ó Fearghail answered: “It has nothing to do with the GAA whatsoever, really, in many ways. It’s an independent legal body, they’re called the Disputes Resolution Authority.
It’s really a courts system and our system dealt with it through our hearings committee and our appeals committee then the player chose to go to what really is a body totally independent of the GAA.
“We don’t have any role in what happens there whatsoever.” That may be true but the DRA found that the GAA hadn’t provided Connolly with a fair process.
Their findings are likely to mean repercussions in the form of motions to tighten up the disciplinary structure or possibly a review of the system itself.
As for Connolly being allowed to play after the new Thursday 9am deadline for championship match-day panels (he wasn’t included), when the motion was passed at Congress earlier this year there were no exceptions stipulated apart from an emergency goalkeeper.
Last week, we wrote that the GAA needed Connolly’s suspension to stick.
They may have thought they had all their ducks lined up. But they didn’t. That, Ó Fearghail knows, has everything to do with the GAA.
Don’t worry about Cats, they’re always hungry
At tea-time on Sunday, the Kilkenny team paraded the Liam MacCarthy Cup (held aloft inset by Joey Holden) on a lap of honour, but the Croke Park stands were largely vacant.
The mass desertion of stripey supporters said plenty about the muted reaction from inside the county as well as outside it to Sunday’s triumph.
A former Kilkenny star we spoke to the week prior to the final reckoned they would have to be five years without an All-Ireland title to feel the rush of a build-up in the county again.
But don’t think they or their team have become too used to a good thing. Part of Kilkenny’s secret is that they have selective memories. This latest triumph will be mothballed and put away in the next couple of months. The defeats, though, the perceived slights, the lack of respect, those sources of motivation are never put into storage.
When you hear a retiring Cat say he remembers the losses more than victories you can bet your bottom dollar he’s not lying.
By the time they come back from their almost annual team holiday in January, they’ll be renewed with their hunger replenished.
It’s the scars that inspire them, not the successes.