MY favourite memory of 2002, Armagh’s season in the sun, is the semi-final victory over Dublin and in particular the singing of Amhrán na bhFiann.
I distinctly remember the passionate singing of a packed Croke Park and the hair on my neck standing to attention and wondering how anybody’s legs wouldn’t tremble with anxiety and emotion.
Armagh were attempting to secure a place in the final for the first time in 25 years and our first half display was less than perfect and maybe something about the occasion or the singing affected some of the players.
Sitting in the Cusack Stand yesterday I felt that same passion and powerful emotion from the singing fans and wondered what impact it would have.
Within 20 seconds I had my answer from Dublin as Brian Fenton tapped over for the handiest of scores. Kerry likewise were very focused as Stephen Cluxton will attest. His first kick out went over the left sideline, the next was handled on the ground and resulted in a scoreable free to Kerry, the third he regained possession from the defender and kicked it over the right sideline while the fifth was intercepted.
Kerry were focused certainly but it looked like all they had worked on from the semi-final win over Tyrone was unlocking Dublin’s ability to gain primary possession from kick-outs.
The horror show for Eamonn Fitzmaurice was the performance of his forward division.
The complete lack of shape in both the half forward and inside line was evident from the start. Stephen O’Brien, Johnny Buckley, and Donnchadh Walsh failed to provide outlet options and in possession they were too slow to release ball into the full forward line, on the occasions that someone was in position and looking for a pass.
Indeed, when in possession, these same players failed to break the Dublin defensive line and had absolutely no support from marauding half backs or midfielders.
When have we last witnessed a Kerry team perform with so little movement and flair? Kerry’s inside forward line beggared belief. Did Colm Cooper, in his own words “fought hard this past 14 months” to get in the condition to play as a defending corner forward? In what seemed a complete role reversal Phillip McMahon was the attacker and Cooper the defender. How did this happen? What have I missed?
“Gooch” Cooper, the GAA’s best forward since Peter Canavan , can now be marked out of a game by an attacking corner back. And this was let happen.
With Buckley out of sorts surely a spell at centre-forward would have afforded the Kerry genius with more opportunity to get on the ball and make things happen.
Alongside him Paul Geaney lacked enough movement to cause Rory O’Carroll difficulties and his inability to retain or get a hand to long balls meant that O’Carroll could continue to mark him from in front resulting in a lack of options for the Kerry attackers as they looked up to see if a pass was on. With no fulcrum of attack it was surprising that Kieran Donaghy didn’t enter the game until the 49th minute.
If all else fails then do what you do best and the plan of putting the early ball on top of Donaghy almost paid dividends.
The Munster final was the last time I saw James O’Donoghue actually play in the full forward line and he was sublime. Of course he suffered a nasty shoulder injury which probably has a lasting effect, but his talents are in winning possession and finishing with scores or taking on defenders. While his role of playmaker against Tyrone yielded some dividends, against Dublin he had no one to pass to.
The problems didn’t stop there. Although disappointing in the semi-final, it was expected that Anthony Maher and David Moran would provide a strong platform for primary possession for Kerry.
Moran continued his poor form and from memory didn’t catch a single clean ball, while Maher was uncharacteristically too slow moving the ball and repeatedly opened himself for tackles.
In summary, with one ineffective target man, a sluggish midfield and a leaderless half forward line, the four-point half time score was a fair reflection of how poor Kerry had been.
However, had the referee David Coldrick awarded Kieran Donaghy a questionable late penalty Kerry may actually have won this match.
Put the penalty decision aside for a moment and let us be clear — Dublin were significantly better than Kerry. It would have been a travesty had the Munster champions won this match.
The Dublin dominance was in almost every position. The full back line was superb. James McCarthy and Jack McCaffrey likewise.
The midfield pairing of Brian Fenton and Denis Bastick were functional, dynamic and extremely hardworking.
Their forwards were aggressive in the tackle, fought for every ball, kept their shape and made space in the inside line for fast direct ball where Paddy Andrews, in particular, retained an excellent first touch despite the conditions.
This may have been Ciarán Kilkenny’s quietest game but it was a welcome return to form of Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly as both players worked extremely hard to overturn possession and constantly looked for ways to penetrate the Kerry defence.
Living with expectation is something this Dublin team have had to cope with. Last year they succumbed to the pressure and fell at the second last hurdle. They must be congratulated for the way they reacted to last year’s defeat, changing aspects of their play and driving forward to be All-Ireland champions again. They are also a team who are capable of performing back-to- back success.
The pressure isn’t going away and neither are they.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved