Durcan blunder not the way to round off majestic season
By the time Paul Durcan's kickout inexplicably came within the albatross span of Kieran Donaghy for the Kerry forward to score the decisive goal in Sunday's All-Ireland final, it felt like the accumulation of an afternoon's struggle for the Four Masters stalwart.
All season Durcan has been majestic, with his restarts being talked about as surpassing those of Stephen Cluxton, the somewhat perennial All-Star and original of the ball-playing goalkeeper species.
With Cluxton's kickouts being decoded by Donegal in the semi-final, along with his radar being off from long-range frees, it was expected that Durcan had all but sealed an All-Star for this year with his point blank save from Diarmuid Connolly that kept his side in the game when an insurmountable Dublin lead threatened to engulf them.
However, his blunder with 51 minutes gone on Sunday will, for right or wrong reasons, be regarded by many as the losing of the match.
As early as the first ball in, Durcan had an uncomfortable day.
The predictable tactic was placing Donaghy on the edge of the square battling with Eamonn McGee, but instead Kerry isolated Paul Geaney – all six foot one inch of him and 13 stone 10 pounds of power to push through his hips – against Paddy McGrath, who was giving up not only two inches, but also, significantly, one stone three pounds. That was the story of the goal scored after 50 seconds.
On 13 minutes, Durcan was sufficiently rattled by the presence of Donaghy inside the 'D' that he made his protestations loud and clear to the umpires on either post, picked up by the microphones in close proximity.
Eventually, he dinked the ball to Neil McGee and it was being worked up the field by Eamonn McGee before he lost it to Paul Murphy. James O'Donoghue boomed it once again into Geaney.
Durcan came out to challenge, though both men missed the ball and it almost bounced into the net.
Straight away, he turned again to his umpires to complain about Donaghy's positioning for his kickout.
On 20 minutes, a cross from O'Donoghue met Geaney again who sold the first dummy and had a clear unimpeded strike on goal, but blasted over.
Kerry were intent on ransacking the house equipped with five burglar alarms.
By the 30th minute, a Durcan kickout found Kerry midfielder David Moran all alone on the sideline and a lapse of concentration by Moran saw the ball hop off him and go for a Donegal sideline, which ended in a point for Karl Lacey.
With defences on top, it was always going to take a mistake to settle things. Kerry were effectively pushing up on Donegal kickouts, forcing Durcan to go long seven times in the second half. And Kerry won each and every one of them.
There must have been considerable glare off an object or the dropping sun on the opposite Davin Stand as Durcan shielded his eyes from the sun while taking kickouts in the 48th and 49th minutes.
On 51 minutes, disaster struck. Neil McGee and Lacey were both available for the short kickout, while Leo McLoone was on the edge of the 'D'. All men were facing the ball. Durcan seemed to not spot Donaghy who was lurking and clipped a weak kick.
It actually bounced up invitingly to Donaghy, who collected, took a bounce and passed the ball to the net, with Lacey and McGee despairingly racing back.
Could it be, that for all their gameplans, scientific approach, training camps and nothing being left to chance under the most meticulous manager in the game, that Donegal missed out on a second All-Ireland in three years for want of a baseball cap?
Certainly, Jim McGuinness was not placing any blame on Durcan afterwards, reasonably putting forward his views that: "People have spoken about the goal we gave away with 'Papa' (Paul Durcan). We lost the game over 70 minutes based on our own performance level.
"All those things had an impact on the game, which they did, but I think if we were at ourselves and fully sharp – especially on the counter attack and as how we had practiced with the man inside – then we would've been more competitive during the game. It didn't happen and that's the most disappointing thing."
And for all that, Donegal could have snatched a draw when Colm McFadden palmed a ball onto the base of the post in the last play.
Again, it is hard to argue with the rationale of McGuinness when he said, "Maybe if we got a draw, the performance and the intensity could have been there the next day. For me, that's not something I will dwell on because the game was today, the game was at 3.30 today."
And it was over in a flash.