Late League final drama a fitting finale

When most of us look back on yesterday’s drama at Croke Park, it will be the image of Dean Rock’s 75th-minute free cannoning off the Kerry post that will emerge from the fug of time and stand out in our mind’s eye as the last act on a stage that delivered an absurd amount of drama.

Late League final drama a fitting finale

The reality is different.

Paddy Neilan didn’t blow the final whistle there and then. The Roscommon referee waited another second or two so there was still time for Ronan Shanahan to gather up the ball and for Eoghan O’Gara to floor the Austin Stacks defender with the kind of swinging forearm that would make a wrestler wince.

It was, in a sense, a fitting finale.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice spoke afterwards about how this league final didn’t match the meeting of these rivals in Tralee under a month ago in terms of nastiness, or “silliness” as he termed it last week, but his was a vantage point coloured by allegiance and obscured by proximity.

The rest of us can take colder stock.

This was a game played at close to sedentary pace for the first quarter but it picked up speed as the minutes ticked by. Come the last few acts, there was a feeling of frenzy about it that aped anything we are likely to see come September.

For referees, it must feel like the perfect storm.

Kerry went through a patch in the third quarter where they systematically hauled Dublin players down in the opposition half. Dublin had set that tone from the off with Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn giving up nothing more than a free in exchange for acts that robbed the attackers of all momentum.

Stepping back from it all, the wonder is how Jonathan Lyne, Diarmuid Connolly, and Anthony Maher were the only players sent to the line. One snapshot that crystallised on an afternoon that could cause sensory overload bore that out.

Jack Barry was hurtling through the midfield four minutes after the interval having just offloaded the ball when Brian Fenton blocked his attempt at a supporting run. It was a no-brainer of a black card if the referee had seen it. He did, but the card was yellow.

The failure to award anything for Anthony Maher’s blatant foul on Niall Scully as the Dublin substitute went to gather a Kerry kickout in the dying minutes was just as inexplicable and it had an even greater bearing on the result given the time and place of its occurrence.

None of this is to scapegoat an official who was in charge of the biggest game of his life. Fionn Fitzgerald, the Kerry captain, hit the bullseye on the steps of the Hogan Stand afterwards when he remarked that it must have been “a very tough game to referee at times”.

That’s the thing: they all are at this level. How could it be otherwise with teams who, as Fitzmaurice pointed out last week, are anything but whiter than white and where the balance between reward and punishment can be so skewed amid the maelstrom?

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up