Wow. I mentioned after the semi-final weekend that there had to be a twist in the road for this Dublin team as they sought to create history.
They have been relentless during their four-in-a-row run but they showed yesterday that they are human and they realise the significance of what they are trying to do, if only on a subconscious level.
We got our twist and then some and the best part is the fact we get to look forward to it all again in two weeks’ time.
As a seasoned observer remarked to me the night of the Allianz league game in Tralee, “it’s a pity Kerry and Dublin don’t play every week.”
Whatever about the rights and wrongs of the sending off, it was significant for a number of reasons besides the obvious numerical advantage for the entire second half.
With Dublin short a body it was easier for Kerry to press the Cluxton kickout and they got some joy in this battlezone as a result.
There was more space all over the pitch and as the players tired late on Kerry were able to exploit the huge prairies at the back, most notably for Killian Spillane’s critical goal. The most significant impact for me though was when Dublin were in possession.
As we all know they are excellent at closing it out when they get ahead in games. They work the ball back and across the pitch wearing out the opposition and working openings with patience and accuracy.
They can grind teams down by adding score after score until suddenly they have opened up an eight or nine-point lead and moved out of sight.
But Jonny Cooper’s dismissal robbed them of a body in their build-up play and Kerry were able to press the ball aggressively and with numbers, trapping Dublin players and forcing them into turnovers. Dublin had to work much harder than usual to fashion openings but to be fair to them they kept at it.
Even the Dublin management had a day when they looked human and for once they were slow-moving on the sideline.
I was surprised they did not move Cooper to the half-back line and off David Clifford after the initial yellow. At his most ruthless Jim Gavin would probably have taken him off. It’s unlike him and he will be annoyed this morning.
Expect the normal version of Gavin for the replay.
The risk and reward nature of pressing Stephen Cluxton’s kickout was evident in the first half. Kerry got joy in forcing him long and winning those contests.
Crucially, however, these wins were not converted into enough scores. Cluxton gathered himself and re-organised his outfield targets. Brian Howard started to make himself available as a long kickout target on the Hogan Stand side of the pitch, right on the sideline.
When he won the kickouts he sought to move it forward into unmanned Kerry territory as quickly as possible. This ploy resulted in Jack McCaffreys goal.
Dublin make it look so simple as Cluxton's free is caught by Howard and within seconds Jack McCaffrey put the ball in the net.— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) September 1, 2019
Watch highlights on #sundaygame from 9:30pm. #rtegaa #DUBvKER pic.twitter.com/Lw5PAzJkuS
It spooked Kerry for a while and they abandoned the press. After the sending off they pressed successfully on occasions once more. For the replay their approach to Cluxton will be central once more to deciding the outcome.
Dublin showed us in the closing stages of the match why they are the champions they are. They were below their best, were tiring and down to 14 men.
However, they refused to bow and throw in the towel. Ciarán Kilkenny really stepped up and his body language alone showed his intent as he sought to pull his team together to rescue the game. They forced some huge turnovers in those critical moments towards the end.
As I have stated before Dublin will never hand you a win, you have to go and earn it and they stayed fighting right until the end. They are a remarkable team.
While of course the Kerry players will be disappointed not to have finished the job yesterday they should relish the replay. For many, it was their first All-Ireland final and now they get to play in their second one in less than two weeks.
So many of the Kerry players won individual battles and had massive games. Seán O’Shea was immense and was ably assisted by Paul Geaney, Paul Murphy and David Moran, at times.
Tom O’Sullivan limited Con O’Callaghan as effectively as anyone has managed this summer and Paul Mannion was well marshalled by Tadhg Morley. Many more of them survived and contributed sporadically across the 70 minutes.
Dublin have been here so many times over the last few years, against Mayo and Kerry in finals and semi-finals. They have built up such a reservoir of experience in dealing with those game-deciding passages late in games.
Previously they have always found a way to solve the puzzles but yesterday they weren’t allowed to. The Kerry players will have learned so much about themselves in those game-defining moments.
That learning is incalculable. They don’t have to wait until next year to draw on this experience they can use it in a fortnight, and they will need to.
For Kerry to win yesterday I felt they needed goals. The chances were there but not converted, including the penalty and Paul Murphy’s rasper which rattled the crossbar in the second half.
Killian Spillane’s goal was huge. I enjoyed it. Shane Ryan did very well initially when he stopped Paddy Small’s shot going over and punched it down to himself, and Kerry moved the ball smartly upfield. In many ways it was similar to Con O’Callaghan’s first goal in the semi-final victory over Mayo when Cluxton batted Patrick Durcan’s shot to himself.
In the warm-up Killian caught my eye as every chance he got in one of the drills he stuck it. He looked very sharp. When he was coming on for his brother Adrian he changed direction and exchanged a low five with him.
The intent in the exchange was clear as I could hear the clap on the sixth floor of the Hogan Stand. When he got the ball his finish was sublime and this is what he is best at.
Not for the first time this summer replacements have impacted significantly for Kerry.
For Peter Keane and Jim Gavin the replay will have so many elements and challenges. Their body language and how they addressed their squads in the immediate aftermath of the match will already have set the tone for their upcoming preparations.
It has to be sold as an opportunity as opposed to a disappointment. In 2016 when Dublin drew with Mayo, the Dublin management locked themselves away that Sunday evening, watched the match together and strategised until the small hours.
Their approach was ready and good to go on the Monday morning. It worked as they won the replay. I presume they will adopt a similar approach this time around. Kerry made for the Kingdom last night and the management will have had their preliminary discussions on the long journey home.
I assume they will meet again today and get battle ready. Both managers had to give the worst kind of news to some of their players this week.
Bernard Brogan, Eoghan O’Gara, James O’Donoghue and Micheál Burns were all told they weren’t wanted or needed.
That is serious blow to a player and can take time to recover from. How those conversations went last week could dictate the players’ attitude over the coming fortnight.
Can they react in the right fashion and aim to prove their respective managers wrong or will they be energy vampires and a distraction?
Both managers also have to consider whether they stick or twist with their strategies for the replay. I always felt that the team that learns the most wins the replay.
You have to bring something different and generally that approach worked for us. All of these little decisions in isolation are important but together they create a cocktail that dictates the replay.
For the managers and their management teams there is a lot of thinking to do - for the rest of us it is intriguing to see what they come up with.
While many will feel Kerry will have missed their chance, I disagree. I think they will believe even more. They have now proven - to themselves and everyone else - that they can live with Dublin. The next step is to go and beat them. Dublin will improve but so can Kerry. Here we go again!