The rest of the country looked on with envy last Sunday as the two best inter-county football teams battled it out for a place in the All-Ireland final decider on Sunday 18th September. Dublin and Kerry did not disappoint.
Dublin were by far the more superior team until the last few minutes of the first half. They were cruising. Then Dublin ‘keeper Stephen Cluxton gifted Kerry two goals from poor kick-outs. Now we had a game. This was a totally unfamiliar position for Dublin since no team had got in front of them in this year’s championship. The interval came just at the right time.
As a neutral onlooker I was impartial but wanted to see a contest. Kerry led by five points at half-time. Dublin rallied in the second half with Kerry hanging on but Dublin’s classy forwards proved too good for a gallant Kerry team. This was a great game which encapsulated everything that is great about Gaelic football. Unfortunately, we do not have enough of these games. Had Dublin not erred in the concession of two soft Kerry goals, Dublin would have won this game by a considerable margin. Don’t shed any tears for Kerry though. They have a conveyor belt of youngsters coming through as was evidenced in the minor game last Sunday. They thrashed Leinster champions Kildare.
The referee David Gough came in for a bit of abuse from a minority of disgruntled Kerry fans after the game. To be honest, I thought he had a great game. Referees should go unnoticed in games if they are doing well. Gough had a tough challenge on his hands because there was so much going on off the ball all over the pitch. I believe that the Kerry supporters were annoyed that their centre half back Peter Crowley may have been fouled in stoppage time. Had a free been awarded and converted then Kerry would have tied the game. Dublin broke from this incident and Diarmuid Connolly slotted over a point.
Yes games do pivot on referees’ decisions. In this year’s Ulster final Donegal’s Frank McGlynn was upended in the second half when Donegal were four points ahead. It was probable that Donegal would have scored if a free was awarded. It wasn’t. A five point lead at that stage of the game would have been hard to pull back. Tyrone went on to win and were ultimately beaten by Mayo who now contest this year’s All-Ireland final. It could have been us. That’s how close it is.
Mayo will need a supernatural miracle if they are to win the ultimate prize. The last one they got was at Knock in 1879. I believe that they will need Divine intervention again. We saw the real Dublin last Sunday when they were pushed to the brink. The players who came in as substitutes were equally as good as those they replaced. Their first three subs Paddy Andrews, Paul Mannion and Eoghan O’Gara would step on to any other inter-county team from the outset.
This hard fought victory will serve to strengthen Dublin’s resolve which makes Mayo’s task all that more difficult. The men from the west have huffed and puffed their way to a litany of defeats at the business end of the season in the recent past. We would all like to see Mayo win an All-Ireland title with this group of players who have endured massive disappointments.
This current Mayo team is not as good as it was a few years ago and have scraped their way to this year’s final. Dublin have beaten their most dangerous rivals Kerry and I believe that they are unstoppable now. It matters not how Mayo set up their team for the final. This Dublin team after conceding two goals to Kerry now know how to win when in arrears. We always wondered how they would respond when they weren’t in control. They gave a resounding second half performance that silenced their most ardent doubters.
As for the rest of the inter-county teams, including Donegal, we now know the standard that needs to be reached in order to compete for national success. We, too, can look to the future with optimism. Our minor team had a fantastic year winning the Ulster title and just falling short in the All-Ireland semi-final. It’s not that long ago that our minor team contested an All-Ireland final. Donegal has an abundance of youth ready to step into the senior arena having contested numerous provincial U-21 finals in recent years.
Despite the juggernaut that Dublin is, the rest of us must prevail in the hope that we too can reach their benchmark. Donegal are one of a few teams who can challenge them in the future. For now though, Dublin seem to be unreachable. They are the team that we love to hate. There is no denying their superiority though and I must admit that I admired their overall display last Sunday.
Keeping the faith!