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Five-star Dublin flex muscles to earn status as best ever

Dublin 1-18 Kerry 0-15

Fab five: Dublin players celebrate a fifth successive All-Ireland Senior football title
Fab five: Dublin players celebrate a fifth successive All-Ireland Senior football title
Players Cian O’Sullivan and Rob McDaid meet Paul and Tracy Daly, their children Cara age 3, and Ashling aged nine weeks during a visit to Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin yesterday
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

There's no doubting it now, or arguments to the contrary. In a dizzying second half, Dublin buried any lingering suspicion that they might not quite be the best the game of Gaelic football has ever seen by claiming their fifth consecutive All-Ireland title.

In doing so, they and their manager Jim Gavin have redefined the game over the past decade. Stephen Cluxton's haul of six titles as captain will hardly be bettered. Seven All-Irelands in this decade also sets a record.

And how they have done it. Around the time they claimed the 2011 title, the sport was taking an unmerciful kicking from those within and without it. A mean-spiritedness had become the house style but this Dublin team are set up to play in classics, two of which we were treated to in the last fortnight.

At half-time it was all set up. Dublin had kicked five of the opening six scores but Kerry ground their way back in. At one end, Con O'Callaghan and Paul Mannion were dangerous beasts whereas in the drawn game they had been marginalised. At the other, David Clifford and Paul Geaney were in the mood, making light of the fact Jonny Cooper was shifted onto the latter, greeting him with an aggressive squeeze before the game started.

With referee David Gough's brave call of lining Cooper in the first game still fresh in the mind, there were calls for Conor Lane to dismiss O'Callaghan for a cynical foul in clawing back the rampaging Tadgh Morley after a Kerry turnover and a lightning counter-attack.

This kind of foul is what the black card was intended for but critically not defined as, and O'Callaghan escaped any censure as the sides went in at the break level on 0-10 apiece - the highest-scoring first half in All-Ireland final history.

When the teams emerged for the second period at Croke Park, 'Let Me Entertain You' greeted Dublin, out of the traps first, with the mercurial Diarmuid Connolly on as a sub for the injury-stricken Jack McCaffrey.

Kerry re-entered to the strains of vintage Bowie and 'Let's Dance'.

Lane hoisted the ball up and Kerry midfielder David Moran got a hand to it when it would have been just as easy to catch.

The target was Sean O'Shea but Dublin's diminutive Eoin Murchan - who didn't start the first day - was onto it in a flash. He picked his way through the bodies in midfield and his team-mates opened up a chasm of a channel through the middle, while Brian Fenton shut off the route for Kerry's fastest player Stephen O'Brien to chase.

That duty fell to Moran, but the Kerins O'Rahilly's man is a bigger and less nimble unit than Murchan, who kept going until he reached the 14m line and with no Kerry defender in the road, potted his shot beyond Shane Ryan. From throw-in to net, just nine seconds elapsed. Dublin were up by three again.

To come back from that would take something herculean, and still Kerry gathered themselves to hit three consecutive points - a Clifford effort after a long run, Geaney producing it on the loop and a beauty from Sean O'Shea.

Dublin needed inspiration. Cluxton went long with his kickout and though Adrian Spillane caught it, the physical power of Diarmuid Connolly knocked the ball loose before he drilled a pass of exquisite beauty that took out the entire Kerry defence and couldn't have fallen any sweeter for Ciaran Kilkenny, who cut inside and lobbed over.

Was it intended for O'Callaghan instead? We will never know.

Connolly's impact was mixed. He created a couple of points with his vision but he was robbed of the ball half a dozen times when he was in tight confines. He was also guilty of outrageous greed for a goal chance at the death.

On 54 minutes, and Kerry having fallen a goal behind, they needed a goal themselves for a short-cut. O'Brien went for it, his footwork taking him beyond Niall Scully and Ciaran Kilkenny - no mean feat - but that man Cluxton was there to deny another goal in an All-Ireland final. Geaney - free inside - must have been livid that he didn't receive the pass.

Kerry manager Peter Keane went for broke, sending on the towering Tommy Walsh on 56 minutes.

But Dublin had a plan for that too. The veteran Philly McMahon spent the entire game looking across the rows at Walsh, knowing what was to come. He took his place on the sideline and started shoving Walsh before the two were sent on together.

Their first involvement was a Walsh catch and a McMahon foul, converted by Clifford to leave Kerry four down. But from there, their lack of energy and ideas against Dublin's ability to hold possession killed off the contest.

From a conversion rate of 78% in the first half, Kerry went down to 28% in the second. Even when they turned to their spiritual father Moran, he was off it with wides in the 48th, 61st and 65th minutes.

James McCarthy, and then Dean Rock from play, before the latter added the only converted placed ball of the game for Dublin - a '45' - sealed it.

Funding and professionalism have created this team. But those advantages along with their personal dedication makes them the greatest ever.

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