Ciaran Kilkenny: Nothing beats this, nothing

As always after an All-Ireland final, the stories come out bit by bit. The personal challenges. The obstacles that have been overcome.

Ciaran Kilkenny took a minute by the Dublin team bus to put his Celtic cross in the context of overcoming a cruciate injury, for instance.

“It’s a surreal feeling, it’s unreal. It was a dog eat dog battle at the end of the day, wet, slippy conditions, but lads just emptied it out on the field. It’s a surreal feeling. After doing a cruciate, personally to come back and win an All-Ireland is just an unbelievable experience. Hopefully we can push on now and keep the train going.

“Definitely (all the work is worthwhile). The first few months were tough, a real mental challenge, but in the gym on the own and with Kevin O’Brien there, winning with this group is sweet. It’s a special group — it’s like a family in there. Hopefully we can go and celebrate it before the club championship kicks off.”

Kilkenny felt the champions were “comfortable enough” even when under pressure in the closing stages.

“With 10 minutes to go we were all about keeping possession. They bombed a few balls into Donaghy and we were lucky enough onto the breaks, the half-back line was serious, and the lads who came on picked off breaks and controlled the play a lot. And we saw it out towards the end, we were comfortable enough.

“We stuck to the game plan all year long and it paid off in the end. Even against Mayo, and the replay really brought us on. We’re delighted now.”

Further back the field, Cian O’Sullivan was happy with his posting at centre-back this season: “I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s probably my natural position in there, at number six. I’m just glad I could make a positive contribution to the team this year and help us to win an All-Ireland.

“That’s what it’s all about, not the individual but the team, and being able to share this moment with thirty other lads — backroom included, fifty other lads. We’ll have some fantastic celebrations for the next few weeks and months.”

One of the men alongside him in the half-back line acknowledged that Dublin had done their homework on the Kerry attack.

“In the lead-up to this game as a defensive unit we set our targets,” said Jack McCaffrey, “The few men we wanted to look after. Obviously that was a big focus for us.

“The forwards don’t worry about the opposition as much, but you do the same for every team. You focus on the players and really get to know them.

“Even Clucko [Stephen Cluxton] on a day like today, a few of his kick-outs slid away and the Kerry lads were putting serious pressure on. Stephen’s top class and it’s an area we really thought there was room for improvement in as the year went on, we kept working on it, and luckily he gave us enough of a platform today.”

It was a far cry from Dublin’s exit at the hands of Donegal in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.

“Each year is a different thing as far as we’re concerned. We took the lessons that we could very quickly from the Donegal game and then we parked it — there was no bitterness or enduring disappointment. It was done, we were beaten by a better side on the day, set it aside and learn the lessons and move on.

“There’s no point in not saying it — one of our goals every year is to get here and give it a good lash. It was earmarked but you never take your eye off the next game, that’s the only way you can do it in this championship, because there are so many teams which can take a scalp.

“All-Irelands are always the ones you want to win, it doesn’t matter how you win. Serious satisfaction, because it was a test of our character, really, we had to put our shoulders to the wheel and everybody had to buy into it, and they did. Luckily we came up trumps.

“Today was just about working really hard and the rub of the green that we got at a few stages. Nothing beats this, nothing.”

As McCaffrey said, a four-point lead at the break was no guarantee of success.

“The Kerry lads, you mark them as best you can. They’re all top quality. Our aim was to try to try to put people on the back foot from the word go. Luckily it turned out that way.

“On a day like today, four points isn’t much at half-time at all. There was always a liability that something would slip or something would go wrong. We had to keep driving on.”

That they did.

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