A forgetable final they’ll remember in Dublin.
So hands up. Who truly expected that a full-blooded championship encounter between Dublin and Kerry — apparently the last bastions of free-flowing, open and entertaining football — would finish without a goal and with just 21 points scored?
The main reason Dublin were backed so heavily was because they had scored 18 goals in six championship games. Kerry, for their part, blasted seven as recently as the quarter-final win over Kildare.
But the weather ruined this game as a spectacle. Goals have been described as the oxygen of this Dublin team and the last time they won a championship game without a goal was in 2011, against Donegal. That was a dour game for a different reason. This time, both teams were willing to play offensive, attacking football but the skies didn’t play ball and the number of interceptions, mis-kicks, and kick-outs that ended up going over the side line was a frustration.
Dublin clearly took on the lessons from their semi-final ties with Mayo where discipline is concerned. Dublin were penalised for dissent in each of those two games, resulting in four free-kicks being moved up into much easier positions.
Former Dublin forward Ray Cosgrove was prompted to say state that such indiscipline wouldn’t be tolerated at club level let alone at the elite level Dublin operate at. Clearly, those kind of words were heeded. In fact, Dublin could have had one free moved up following Kerry dissent but chose to take it quickly instead. In all, Dublin picked up just three bookings which was impressive in wet, slippery conditions. Kerry, in turn, had the crucial black card awarded against them.
It’s rare that a defender is hailed as the championship’s inspirational performer but Philly McMahon and Jack McCaffrey have a great chance. McCaffrey endured a difficult 2014 campaign after his 2013 breakthrough but has recaptured his best form again this year, defending dutifully and terrorising opposing defences with his lightning counter-attacks.
He clipped a fine point yesterday before being surprisingly called ashore in the second-half. McMahon has been even more impressive in what is his first All-Ireland win as a regular. He held Colm Cooper scoreless and also managed to get forward himself for an important point. His industry, fitness and game intelligence was eye-catching on a dank day that wasn’t conducive to good football. Of the last eight players to be named Player of the Year, just one has been a defender, Karl Lacey in 2012.
Weeks after Dublin’s 2011 All-Ireland final win, their strategic plan for the next six years was released. Entitled the Blue Wave, it contained many ambitious targets including an aim to win the senior football title at least every three years.
It seemed notional at best and plenty of commentators scoffed at Dublin for their arrogance. County secretary John Costello even felt compelled to respond in one of his subsequent end of year reports, asking rhetorically why it was wrong to be ambitious.
The truth is that Dublin have now won three All-Irelands in five seasons and, whisper it quietly, look set for plenty more. It’s always tempting to suggest that the current champions can win back-to-back titles. In fact, a couple of years ago the bookies were offering ridiculously low odds of 3/1 on them capturing the five-in-a-row.
But this is a special Dublin side with a huge depth of talent and back-to-back titles is surely the aim now. Kerry last did it in 2006 and 2007 though no manager since Cork’s Billy Morgan in 1990 has been in place for both. That’s the target now for Jim Gavin and he must feel pretty optimistic about Dublin’s chances. After all, players like Cormac Costello and Eoghan O’Gara hardly got a sniff of action this summer and will be back in 2016.
That old banking term comes to mind when considering Kerry and the vast reserve of talent at their disposal. At one stage last winter, it was tempting to suggest that Kerry had assembled arguably their greatest attacking unit yet, even better than the one from their glory era of the 1970s and 1980s.
Kieran Donaghy had just lit up the 2014 Championship, the gifted Colm Cooper was set to return after his cruciate lay-off and James O’Donoghue was last summer’s outstanding performer. Throw comeback kid Paul Galvin and the returning Tommy Walsh into the mix and it was a mouth-watering prospect.
Nine months on, we can conclude that Cooper never truly found his old form while Galvin and Walsh were used so sparingly as to be virtually irrelevant, on the field at least.
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