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Dublin 1-18 Kerry 0-15: 'What a debt the city of Anna Livia owes to Jim Gavin's authors of these five untouchable and eternal acts'

Brian Fenton of Dublin celebrates winning a free during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay. Credit: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Brian Fenton of Dublin celebrates winning a free during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay. Credit: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

By Roy Curtis

On a night like no other, the air crackling with the thunder of immortal deeds, Hill 16 a rich, Sky Blue wonderland, a powerful realisation pierced the historic, blood-stirring dusk.

As Kevin Heffernan and Anton O’Toole peered down from some celestial Hill 16, as the gates to history opened to the city boys, an indisputable truth announced itself.

It was the one that emphasised how a team – one touched by greatness, capable of going again and again to the very limits of endurance, investing all of itself in pursuit of glory - can define and enrich and hold spellbound an entire tribe.

What a debt the city of Anna Livia owes to Jim Gavin’s authors of these five untouchable and eternal acts.

Here Dublin – and Kerry, too, in as great a game as has ever been played, the ultimate, gripping, titanic duel in the sun - touched a moment that will forever shine like gold.

Gunning for the most extraordinary pinnacle in the history of their sport, the Leinster giants found the very best of themselves:  It was a signature moment from the finest team in the 135-years of the Association.

Write it in indelible ink: Five-in-a-row legends walk amongst us.

Incredibly, all bar one of Dublin’s 1-18 (an injury time 45 from Dean Rock) of their scores came from play; more than 44 minutes passed before they kicked a wide.

Eoin Murchan raised a green flag – an Eoin goal – with a surge from the heavens; Paul Mannion, Con O’Callaghan and Ciaran Kilkenny combined for 12 points from play.

On the night the gods summoned them to Olympus, Dublin were mesmeric, unstoppable and beautiful.

Yes, beautiful.  Truly, extraordinarily, incomparably beautiful.

It was so powerful that, as Conor Lane signalled a final ceasefire, in the moment of euphoric detonation, even the inscrutable Stephen Cluxton turned to Hill and raised his arms to the heavens.

As a sense of exhilaration swept over the Drumcondra palace, it seemed reasonable to evoke a lovely line from that most poetic of old-school English broadcasters, John Arlott.

"He had no predecessor, no successor. He was unique."

Arlott’s words could rest easy on the shoulders of any of Dublin’s platoon of magnificent one-offs:  But they ought to be tattooed above the hearts of Gavin and Cluxton.

Cluxton’s relentless ambition, his ability, at 37, to draw down still from a talent that has blazed so brilliantly for two decades, is a wonder of the natural world.

On this momentous hour, he was immaculate with his kick-outs, assured when the ball soared into his airspace.

His manager, selfless, meticulous, insatiable, has pushed out the boundaries of what any boys of summer might achieve.

If either chooses to walk away, what a legacy, what a well of imperishable achievement they leave in their wake.

What a stirring of the blood seized the capital city:  Pet conditions, Irish sport’s greatest rivalry about to unspool under Saturday night lights, a heaving, fevered coliseum.    Territory without footprint standing before Dublin.

Fully four hours before throw-in, the Marlborough Street bars were bursting their banks; Gardiner and Dorset Streets transformed into twin tributaries of sky blue and green and gold streaming towards Croke Park, the bay of dreams.

Might there be one last day in the late September sun for Bernard Brogan – who roused an already bursting Hill as he dashed onto the battlefield 30 minutes before throw-in, socks up, game face on, ready, if called upon, to rework time?

But it would be the next generation, Mannion, O’Callaghan and, the ginger Modric himself, the Castleknock laureate, Kilkenny who seized the day.

Kerry, precocious, a team unruffled by the prospect of raising the handbrake on history, had taken Gavin’s team to the edge of ruin 13 days earlier.

But there is something unbreakable about Dublin, a champion’s resolve, and it came rushing to the surface as they declined to let go of five years of ascendancy.

For all the frightening beauty of their third quarter blitzkrieg that did for Mayo in the semi-final, the closing 12 minutes in the final might have been even more impressive.

A man down, facing into the abyss, they effected five turnovers, had six shots while keeping Kerry pinned in their own half without a chance to add to their total.

And here all Dublin’s warrior defiance, grizzled know-how, unity of purpose, sublime class and unshakeable belief spilled into the arena.

And you were reminded again that here is not just an exceptional group of athletes, but a special collection of men.

In the drawn game, O’Callaghan, Mannion and Kilkenny – the same serrated trio who had combined for 4-24 in their previous four games – were held to just three points.

Here though, they rediscovered the best of themselves.

Gavin’s triple-barrel Sky Blue shotgun came out locked and loaded.

Kilkenny was a portrait of accurate intent; Con offered wolverine hunger; Mannion’s left foot was dialled in. 

Dublin’s three amigos delivered three scores in a shade over five minutes; they had doubled that tally by the 14 minute; and onward to eight scores after 24 minutes.

Yet, in one of the most vital contests ever staged within this coliseum’s boundaries, Kerry declined to bend the knee.

David Clifford didn’t touch the ball until the 13 minute.  Genius, though, can thrive in tight quarters.  Seven minutes later this very special footballer had kicked three scores.

Paul Geaney, too, had been largely muzzled in the drawn game.  Here he showed the bite of a pit-bull.

It was epic, breathless stuff.  Dublin led 5-1, Kerry recovered to 10-10 at the break.  Remarkably 18 of the 20 scores – including each Dublin score – arrived from play. 

Then Murchan, in a devastating impersonation of  his fellow lightning bolt, Jack McCaffrey delivered the moment of a lifetime.

And upstairs, on top of the sporting world, Anton O’Toole and Kevin Heffernan nodded their blessed approval.

Irish Independent

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