After the event, we can all, I suppose, claim we saw it coming but we didn’t, you know, which is what makes it all the more thrilling to savour. I recall that I did posit the theory to Mrs WJ yesterday morning that both of the big two could be out before sundown but, deep down, I still felt the old order would be preserved and, of course, I played it safe and went for Kerry and Tyrone in my predictions.
Kerry’s demise was arguably the least surprising of the two earthquakes that erupted yesterday – they were, after all, up against tradition and, Lord knows, they know better than most the value of being able to shake the jerseys at quaking opponents. Once Down hit them with that opening salvo, you could see the psychological impact ricocheting through both sets of players – the Mourne lads perking up in the knowledge that they’d never lost to these guys before and so there was no reason why they should start now while the Kerry lads could see clearly that the same fate that had befallen their feted forefathers would be their lot too.
And so it proved. Jack O’Connor was rather ungracious in his after-match comments, I thought – his players have been throwing balls around the place for years without getting pulled up and, despite Martin Carney’s arguments to the contrary on RTÉ, I though that Joe McQuillan (the bollix) was well within his rights to whistle for the foul pass and disallow that first half Kerry ‘goal’.
The simple fact was that Kerry were beaten out the gate – but for that ludicrously soft penalty at the death (McQuillan’s forte, it would seem), it would, in RTÉ parlance, have ended as ‘a nine-point game’ – and it was Kerry’s indiscipline, both yesterday and throughout the Munster championship, that was closer to the root cause of their troubles yesterday than the ref’s interpretation of the handpass rule.
Whatever it was, the Kerrymen have now got a few truckloads of raw material with which to manufacture the biggest hunger for success the world has even seen so I suppose we can all start preparing now for the backlash in 2011. In the meantime, lads, there’s always the Puck Fair and the Rose of Tralee to enjoy.
My instinctive reaction to Kerry’s defeat (the little lad was utterly stunned, by the way – he’d never seen Kerry lose at HQ before and didn’t realise this could happen) was to utter the hope that the Dubs could do one on Tyrone and blow the whole thing open. Although the sun had come out at Croker by then, it still looked a long-shot and, with their great rivals having just hit the ditch, it seemed all but impossible that Tyrone would pass up on the chance of moving a step closer to what was now looking like a straightforward run to a fourth All-Ireland in just eight years.
But that’s the thing – eight years is quite a while and Tyrone’s game, which yesterday comprised almost solely of teentsy-tiny kickouts and a million handpasses just to get the ball up to midfield, is one that requires a very high workrate. That’s all grand when everyone is in their prime and ready to run their balls off all day but it becomes a bit of a problem when they encounter a team that’s willing to work even harder. Yesterday, Dublin were that team.
Pat Gilroy got precious little credit all year for the way he was attempting to transform Dublin from a bunch of individuals who happen to wear the same jersey (does this sound familiar?) into a committed, hard-working unit and when the wheels came off against Meath, it looked as if the reconstruction project was in tatters. In retrospect, however, that hiding was the best thing that could have happened as it demonstrated that the defensive strategy built up during the league (but then abandoned against Meath) was the correct one and it also freed the Dubs from the suffocating environment of the Leinster championship.
I was in Croker to see them beat Armagh and although they got bugger all kudos for the win afterwards, I was hugely impressed with their second-half display that day. There wasn’t a prima donna in sight and the team worked like crazy for each other to carve out the win. It was the makings of them.
From the off yesterday, they showed the same kind of workrate and although Tyrone’s greater cuteness in the second quarter – where a number of theatrical falls yielded soft frees which were effortlessly converted – hauled them out of the early deficit they had conceded to the high-tempo Dubs, those ageing limbs came out for the second half knowing full well they still had it all to do.
They should, of course, have done it. If that kind of wayward shooting was being done by Mayo lads, we would, you can be sure, have faced the usual post-match hootering about how typical it was of us but Tyrone showed that our lads aren’t the only ones who have trouble locating the posts as they put in a veritable masterclass in that department over the course of the second half.
Better shooting could have seen Dublin overrun. It would surely have seen them lose their shape and forget their game plan. Instead, Tyrone never managed to establish a clear lead and when Dublin eventually lifted the siege they were quickly able to pull level with the winning post now coming into view.
And that was where the age factor really came into play. I texted The Brother at that stage to say that Tyrone didn’t have anyone to play the Brian Dooher role and it was a mystery – as well as a sad little cameo – to see the old warrior still there till the end, a complete passenger for most of the seventy minutes. Meanwhile, Pat Gilroy shuffled his deck carefully and his lads, sensing the turning tide, upped their effort again and kicked for home.
It really was like seeing the tide go out on Tyrone in that epoch-ending final ten minutes as the younger, hungrier Dubs won every loose ball and went for the jugular. There was, of course, an element of good fortune about the decisive goal but teams make their luck and few would argue that the Dubs didn’t deserve their win yesterday. Especially over Tyrone.
Cork’s win today over a game Roscommon today didn’t seem like part of the revolutionary script, even if it did mean that a third provincial champion had just been dumped out. Although they won in the end by a full nine points, it was another disjointed, ragged performance by the Rebels and I’m not sure they deserve their new-found position as 5/4 favourites for Sam.
Cork have plenty of big day experience, for sure, but much of this is of the wrong variety and while their great nemesis no longer features in this year’s championship race, the revolutionistas that have taken the place of the old order are, if anything, even hungrier for success. I have my doubts, despite a panel glittering with talent, about Cork’s ability to live with that kind of raw hunger.
Kildare’s win was a thing of real beauty. I said in advance it had the potential to be the game of the weekend and , despite the previous day’s earthquakes, it lived up to this billing.
Kildare showed real grit to overcome the hammer-blow of Dermot Earley’s loss after just two minutes and they did well to stay in the game during that opening spell when Meath threatened to tear them limb from limb. The two goals came at just the right time for the Lillies, though, especially the second one and they certainly lived up to their billing as a second half team in they way that they defenestrated the hapless Ball Throwers in an increasingly one-sided second 35 minutes.
So it’s the Dubs against Cork and Down v Kildare in the most novel All-Ireland semi-final pairing for a generation. Uniquely, the championship’s penultimate round won’t feature a single provincial champion and while this means that the four survivors have all shown feet of clay at some point this summer, it’s also the case that all four arrive at the business end of the title race with well-honed survival skills. Any one them could win it from here and all four can tonight, with equal justification, dream of doing so. Long live the revolution!