Even before a ball was kicked in yesterday’s All-Ireland football final at Croke Park the barometer had been raised considerably for the Kerry and Galway teams.
Last weekend’s hurling final for the ages had temporarily transported fans to a sporting heaven where the quality of play, sheer commitment and unrelenting drama on offer virtually defied belief.
Yesterday, on a weekend during which Brian Cody took his leave after 23 years in charge of Kilkenny’s hurlers after stockpiling honours of almost embarrassing proportions – 11 All-Ireland crowns, 18 Leinster championship titles and National League honours – and in which Pat Spillane said farewell after 30 years as an analyst on ‘The Sunday Game,’ the hope was that the football decider would not disappoint.
It may not have borne the hallmarks of the hurling classis which preceded it, yet it held 82,000 fans enthralled until Tyrone referee Sean Hurson sounded the final blast on his whistle.
In a period when phrases such as ‘the cost of living’ tend to dominate our vocabulary, one indeed could have been be forgiven for easing football onto the back seat, yet the opposite was the case at Headquarters yesterday.
A throbbing, raucous, pulsating stadium rocked to a contest that was rich in endeavour, spliced with skill, high on flair and garnished with a generous ration of sublime scoring.
If the ongoing threat of Covid-19 played havoc with fixtures, impacted heavily on finances and savaged morale for the best part of two years, then the ability of the GAA to bounce back in such spectacular style has proven a timely tonic.
To see family groups resplendent in their team colours seated in the stands while the more youthful brigade commandeered the terracing was in itself a gigantic boost given that when Tyrone won the All-Ireland title by beating Mayo last year there was precisely half of yesterday’s attendance in the stadium.
Yesterday a ‘real’ All-Ireland final atmosphere prevailed, a fact warmly acknowledged by GAA President himself Larry McCarthy, one of quite a number of dignatories who were present.
For Kerry, victory meant the end of an eight-year barren spell in terms of All-Ireland wins while for Galway defeat was a particularly bitter pill to swallow given the backdrop of optimism which had accompanied their arrival in the decider.
The tension, closeness of the exchanges and ceaseless efforts on the part of both teams slowly but surely transported the game from being a slow burner to morphing into a spellbinding second-half in which the initiative changed hands before Kerry ultimately took charge.
The depth of emotion released at the finish was exemplified by none other than Kerry manager Jack O’Connor, a veteran of the All-Ireland stage, who was clearly overcome by what his side had achieved.
For Galway followers, who roared their side on throughout, there was only bitter disappointment at the end after the ecstasy triggered by their recent victories over Armagh and Derry in particular. Yet they can still be proud of their team who gave everything to the cause and certainly did their jersey proud in the process.
Yet their enthusiastic followers offered sympathy and comfort in abundance, conscious that their side had fought the good fight.
The curtain may now have come down on the inter-county season yet over a period of recent weeks it could be said that gaelic football as we know it has been given a huge kiss of life.
If nothing else, the endless discussions on the sport have proven a welcome distraction from everyday travails – and, as well all know, there is no shortage of those.
Yesterday’s final not only proved a spectacular occasion in its own right, thankfully it sent out a strong message of encouragement for the future.