February 2011 and Dublin have beaten Cork by six points. Under the Hogan Stand, Pat Gilroy is quietly praising his team for getting their discipline in check in the second half, but his calm words betray his delight. Inside he’s dancing.
Of “The Big Three” at the time (Kerry and Tyrone were the other two), Gilroy’s Dublin had not yet defeated Cork, the team that forced them into submission in the previous year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
Psychologically, to finally beat them, even in a football month as irrelevant as a February league match, was the equivalent of striking oil. As Gilroy told a member of the press privately afterwards, his players now knew what it was like to beat all of their strongest rivals. It didn’t matter that the clocks had not yet gone forward; all that concerned him was that a monkey was gone from their backs.
Before March 1 this year, Eamonn Fitzmaurice didn’t know what it was like to shake Jim Gavin’s hand at the final whistle and commiserate. In their three previous meetings, he was the one doing the congratulating. Privately, that would have gnawed at him. There were mitigating reasons behind that first loss in February 2013 when his side mustered an embarrassing four points in Killarney. They were a work in progress but the All-Ireland semi-final later that year? The Division 1 opener the following February? No excuses.
But what would have upset Fitzmaurice the most was how familiar his players were becoming with that losing feeling against Dublin.
This year’s victory was only Kerry’s second in their last seven clashes. On their previous occasion they beat Dublin in February 2012, only eight of the 21 players involved against Tyrone last month saw action.
Beating Dublin was a new phenomenon for Paul Murphy, Fionn Fitzgerald and Jonathan Lyne as it was for Stephen O’Brien and Paul Geaney.
What was worth two points on the day to this current Kerry outfit whose lack of concern for their well-being in the league is quickly rivalling the Mick O’Dwyer and Páidí Ó Sé eras was colossal in the long term.
The perverse perceptions some may have built up in their heads about Dublin the two previous seasons had been demolished.
“Dublin had a good record against us too, for the last few league meetings, and we were keen to arrest that,” said Fitzmaurice following the game.
Kerry’s intent in the second half was obvious in a reading of the scoreboard. Outscoring Dublin seven points to one in the third quarter, they made the game theirs. Five of their starting attack scored.
Dublin goalkeeper Sean Currie was tormented so much on his kick-out that it was hardly surprising Stephen Cluxton made his seasonal return for the following game against Mayo.
The purpose of Kerry’s behaviour spoke volumes too. There was constant dialogue with referee Eddie Kinsella. Captain Kieran Donaghy may have said more than others but he had support.
Everything Kerry were doing was in numbers. When Mick Fitzsimons ran at pace to shove Fionn Fitzgerald to the ground after Anthony Maher and Bernard Brogan wrestled, five Kerry players ran after him.
One in, all in. This, remember, had come after a Brogan goal to cut Dublin’s deficit to two points. We may well have been back in Limerick the previous August as Kerry once more took the sting out of their opponents’ threat by nefarious but clinical means.
Unthinkable as it would be unprecedented for Kerry, defeat on Sunday would be a third consecutive reverse to Dublin in the championship.
The last time Dublin threatened to complete the “three-in-a-row” Kerry put five goals past them in 1978.
Conventional wisdom would indicate Dublin should be favoured because Sam didn’t winter in the capital last year and this Kerry team, not considered a great one by most people’s standards, aren’t a patch on the 2007 side that last achieved back-to-back titles. But the aggravation Dublin have caused Kerry, Fitzmaurice especially, is untold.
In 2006, Jack O’Connor was dismissed in some quarters as arrogant when he walked into a losing Mayo dressing room and told them that their then 55-year wait for an All-Ireland title was nothing compared to the one year that Kerry were without the trophy.
Fitzmaurice would hardly be considered haughty but he echoed O’Connor writing in this newspaper a day after the 2011 All-Ireland final.
“People outside Kerry might think we are greedy, that it’s great for the GAA for Dublin to win an All-Ireland and that Kerry have enough won. Until you understand that Kerry never have enough won, you won’t understand Kerry.”
A full comprehension of Kerry would point towards them winning a 38th All-Ireland title be it next weekend or October 3 (if the law of averages is applied). Dublin have hunger but Kerry, because of Dublin, have hurt.
The decision to select Meath native David Coldrick as referee for Sunday’s All-Ireland final wouldn’t have been taken lightly.
That Coldrick lives and works in Dublin wouldn’t be considered conflicts of interests nor would they have raised a red flag but they still had to be considerations for the appointments committee.
It is a reflection of the esteem the Meath native is held in that he has been given the gig, becoming the first final referee in 17 years to hail from the same province as one of the competing teams.
He is an exception but only because his officiating has been exceptionally good this year apart from falling foul of the odd double yellow card cop-out.
The committee didn’t have many other options.
With All-Ireland semi-final referees out of the equation since the end of the 2000s, three of the best men were ruled out.
David Gough is still considered relatively green despite being excellent this season. Pádraig Hughes’ penalty decision in the drawn Munster final may have counted against him.
Choosing Coldrick made the most sense even if it has been humorous to see how both Dublin and Kerry supporters have claimed his presence is a boost for the opposition.
History will teach Limerick plenty about the perils of placing too much stock in an All-Ireland U21 hurling title. That glorious period at the start of the 2000s under Dave Keane now reads more like a prime example of wasted talent than glittering promise.
Limerick need only look over the border to Clare to see how a hat-trick of U21 crowns has given some people an inflated perception of their standing in the game. At least some of that success translated to senior level; for Limerick the turn of the century only serves as a reminder of what might have been.
Since 2000, only Kilkenny and Clare have really carried U21 success onto the senior stage. The Galway teams in 2005 and ‘07 came to little after graduation while Tipperary are still waiting for the class of 2010 to make the breakthrough that was pledged in Thurles that night when they annihilated Galway.
But for this particular group of Limerick tyros, and the heartache they endured as minors, this triumph will serve as a great lesson in endurance and working harder to make up for pain and heartache. In them, there may just be something to be believed. It’s the hope that kills, though.
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