This time last week the Gaelic football community was bunker-deep in introspective mode, endlessly debating the thrust of Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s remarks about the narrative surrounding his Kerry team and Dublin and their respective uses of the dark arts. And everyone else’s. Since Sunday’s league final? Nothing so much as a contented air of satisfaction.
The Division One final was an exceptional game.
It delivered outstanding individual performances, moments of controversy and a grandstand finish. Almost 54,000 spectators were served up entertainment in a bottle of rare vintage at Croke Park.
The 642,000 people who watched some part of it unfold on TG4 could reach for the remote when it ended and feel well and truly entertained.
“Today was a good day for football,” was Michael Lyster’s take later that night.
Most of the coverage online, in the newspapers and on radio over the following few days echoed that upbeat note. Kerry’s defeat of an all-conquering Dublin was deemed healthy for the game and the manner in which it played out — the last 20 minutes especially — appeared to throw a blanket over any sins, of which there were many.
And here’s the thing: Cynicism won it.
Fitzmaurice had been spot on last week when he singled out three examples of the depths to which Dublin have in the past been prepared to sink: Ger Brennan dragging down Declan O’Sullivan in 2011, the systematic, tactical fouling at the end of the final against Mayo two years later and Brian O Beaglaoich being manhandled to the ground by Cormac Costello last year.
Kerry weren’t about to be blindsided again.
The Roscommon referee Paddy Neilan pulled players from both sides up for over-carrying but the final count of frees committed — 33 by Kerry and 21 against Dublin — was nonetheless reflective of how the Munster men were prepared to step over the line when required. Ciaran Whelan picked up on that on RTÉ on Sunday evening.
The former Dublin midfielder singled out the third quarter as crucial and explained how Dublin had lost their discipline and conceded seven scoreable frees. “Kerry were also very smart in that because they fouled Dublin in the middle of the park,” he added. “When Dublin got any momentum coming out they slowed it in the middle of the field, not in the scoring zone.”
Smart was the word he used. Cynical would be another.
And it paid. Dublin went scoreless in that 15-minute spell from the restart through to the 50th-minute. Kerry claimed four points and left another quartet behind them with two shots floating wide and another pair coming up short. Anthony Maher’s blatant tug of Michael Fitzsimons’ jersey in the last minute of injury-time would complete the job.
“Carta dubh,” was as much as they said on the TG4 commentary after the Kerry substitute committed the act which would be pivotal to the result given Dean Rock kicked the resultant free high off the Kerry upright. It was a gerrymandered ending to the game. Yet another example of a major Gaelic football decider being closed out by misdeed.
We all good with this?
RTÉ spent just 80 seconds dissecting the litany of illegal incidents committed by both sides in their analysis. It passed in a blur and a babble of voices. Their 10 minutes of highlights featured just three of the 54 fouls committed. If you’d missed the live game you’d have been forgiven for thinking there hardly a glove laid out of place.
There’s a double standard at play here in our selective amnesia.
Hurling folk are routinely criticised for their happy-clappy attitude to the game. For lauding referees when they ‘swallow the whistle’ and ‘let the game flow’. How can football assume the high moral ground when it continues to brush so blithely over the fact numerous major titles have been secured courtesy of an act, or acts, of unabashed cynicism?
None of which is Kerry’s fault. Or Dublin’s before them, or anyone else.
Players and coaches sacrifice their time and effort to win. Or to put themselves into a position whereby winning is possible. Fitzmaurice spoke last week of a “duty to my players” when addressing the narrative over foul play and his players demonstrated last weekend that they were prepared to transgress to perform their duties.
Dublin, as we all know, were no angels either. James McCarthy could have walked for his rabbit punch on Donnchadh Walsh — himself a persistent offender on the day — Philly McMahon twice let a closed fist stray at Paul Geaney’s face and Diarmuid Connolly’s day turned black for his ridiculous upending of Gavin Crowley.
“They’re a fantastic footballing team, an attacking footballing team with brilliant players and an outstanding manager but, make no mistake, they’ve a hard edge about them.”
That was Fitzmaurice on Dublin before the game but Kerry lived up to his admission that his own side were not whiter than white either.
The Kerry manager did the game a service with all that honesty before the league final but the brilliance of Kerry’s play, the astuteness of their management team’s overall strategy and the drama engineered by Dublin’s comeback shouldn’t wash away the distaste that comes with the knowledge that systematic fouling and cynical play continue to reap such rich reward.
- Email: brendan. email@example.com Twitter: @Rackob