All-Ireland Championship: Dublin’s long wait is over
Dublin 1-12 Kerry 1-11: The Holy Grail has been reached, the gnawing hunger has been sated at long last.
Yet not even the most fanciful scriptwriter could have penned the astonishing narrative that unfolded at Croke Park yesterday when a line was finally drawn under Dublin’s 16-year All-Ireland title famine.
In the pantheon of great games, this will rank up there with the very best of them — as a stellar sporting occasion it will live long in the memory bank of those privileged to have been in the enraptured 82,300 gallery.
Dublin came to Headquarters primed for war and left not only with the the spoils of victory, but in the process wrote a new chapter in the history of the game.
This was haute cuisine fare — a succulent All-Ireland final dish flavoured with exquisite skill, garnished with thunderous hits and in the end lavishly decorated with an admirable brand of heroism.
No wonder the normally unflappable Dublin manager Pat Gilroy looked overcome by emotion at the finish as he savoured his team’s stunning feat.
“The character and belief the boys showed even when they were swimming against the tide was unbelievable. They came back when people thought they were gone,” said Gilroy, relief coursing through his features.
That was a clear reference to Dublin’s remarkable recovery when they overturned a four-point Kerry lead in the last seven minutes to breast the tape ahead of a team that skipper Bryan Cullen was to hail in his victory speech as “one of the best of all time”.
And it was the combative Cullen who perhaps best encapsulated the litany of heartbreak that Dublin have endured in successive All-Ireland campaigns up until yesterday’s dramatic breakthrough as he absorbed the magnitude of their success.
“This team has been to hell and back but they have got their just reward at last. The efforts of all the players have been simply fantastic,” he declared.
Yesterday indeed was redemption day for the boys in blue. They may have had handcuffs placed on them against Donegal but this time their more adventurous approach and courage helped them to sign the decisive warranty.
Yet Kerry’s ability to recycle the ball, devour possession at the breaks, elicit frees in the most innocuous of circumstances and compress space even as the game entered its crucial final phase suggested that their experience, craft and finishing expertise would carry them over the line.
It was not to be though and manager Jack O’Connor refused to wallow in excuses.
“We are devastated but we have to acknowledge that this was a tremendous display by the Dubs in the end,” he said.
By half-time, Dublin enjoyed a tenuous 0-6 to 1-2 lead and if Kerry only scored three times up until then, Colm Cooper’s 18th minute goal had hinted that the Kingdom scoring machine might deliver more on quality than quantity.
Alan Brogan’s two early points from play highlighted Dublin’s hunger to keep the tempo high and with Kerry forced to concede ground, Stephen Cluxton and Bernard Brogan (2) plundered points that thrust the Dubs two points in front before Cooper reduced the deficit to a point.
But with Donaghy moved up to full-forward after starting at midfield and Kerry exuding considerable patience in retaining possession, points from Sheehan (2), Cooper and Donaghy created stalemate, Bernard Brogan and David Bastick having added to Dublin’s score.
It was then that Kerry mounted their takeover bid. Sheehan, revelling in his role as free-taker, put daylight between the teams again with a brace of conversions before Cooper made a similar contribution and suddenly at 1-10 to 0-9 Kerry were on the periphery of the comfort zone.
In contrast, Dublin were being pressed into little eruptions of panic and in danger of suffering meltdown up front.
But once again their messiah was at hand — and this time Kevin McManamon helped to deliver Gilroy’s men to the promised land.
If his contribution as a substitute against Donegal was immense, then his input in just 22 minutes on the park yesterday was nothing short of miraculous.
When Alan Brogan steered the ball into his path in the 63rd minute, McManamon rounded Declan O’Sullivan as if he wasn’t there and rippled the Kerry net with a text-book shot that changed the course of the game.
His golden goal proved the cue for Kevin Nolan to pot a majestic point and for Bernard Brogan to steer over a point to which the often truculent Donaghy replied for the Kingdom.
At 1-11 each we were checking our diaries for the replay date but when referee Joe McQuillan awarded Dublin a free from out on the right in injury time, keeper Cluxton casually ambled up and effortlessly stroked over a 40-metre effort that propelled both himself and his side into the history-books.