2015 won’t go down as a vintage year for Gaelic football and so it was more than a bit apposite that the biggest football day of the year should be spoiled by the incessant rain that fell in torrents all afternoon at Croke Park today. Not that Dublin, who comprehensively outthought and outfought what looked a very ordinary Kerry side to claim their 25th All-Ireland title, will care. Today was their day for singing in the rain as they captured Sam for the third time in just five short years.
Everything I’d reckoned – and written in my preview – in advance about today’s final I got pretty much completely wrong. I’d thought that, man-for-man, Kerry would be a match for Dublin and that their ability to get quality ball inside would cause Dublin all kinds of problems. I thought they’d do a better job on Cluxton’s kickouts and that they’d be dominant on their own. I thought they’d win. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Ten minutes in, the Cluxton bit seemed on the money. The Dublin keeper made a hash of his first four or five kickouts and twelve minutes were played before he finally managed to land a restart into blue-shirted arms. Although it wasn’t being translated into scores, the defending champions were going better at that stage, with Dublin labouring a little.
But Kerry’s misses soon began to add up – with five wides after fifteen minutes – and it was obvious that Dublin weren’t going to spend the whole day soaking up pressure from the Green and Gold. They should have had a goal as early as the fourth minute but Kealy saved well from Rock.
It was Rock, with his second free of the day, who levelled it up after Cooper put Kerry in front for what ultimately would be the only time in the game. Geaney got them level again on four points each ten minutes before the break – after a long-range Cluxton free edged Dublin one clear – but the next ten minutes belonged totally to Jim Gavin’s team as they moved to claim a decisive hold on this contest.
They went in 0-8 to 0-4 in front, with those four unanswered points leaving Kerry with a huge task in the heavy, soaking conditions. For me, the pick of those four scores was the third one, when Denis Bastick turned over a ball inside his own half and seconds later Paddy Andrews – who was having a frustrating time of it up till then – arrowed the ball over the posts at the Davin end. Kerry were attacking at full-tilt before Bastick’s interception and that score looked worth far more than the single point they got on the board for it.
Kerry needed to come out with greater purpose after the break and two quick points, from Lyne and sub Darran O’Sullivan, halved the deficit facing them. Andrews went close to goaling at the other end, though, and soon Kerry’s good work was undone, with points from Bernard Brogan (a free) and Paul Flynn restoring Dublin’s four-point lead.
O’Donoghue – who I felt flattered to deceive today and was ultimately called ashore – and the impressive O’Sullivan pointed to chop the lead back to more manageable proportions. By now, Fitzmaurice had decided to go for Plan B, replacing Geaney with Donaghy, but a clear insight into their mounting panic came when Paul Galvin was sent in for David Moran. It was at that moment that I finally realised just how well cooked the Kerry goose was.
Paul Flynn, putting in a storming second half, then knocked over his second point of the day. With less than ten minutes left to play now, Sam was coming into focus for the Leinster champions and when sub Alan Brogan galloped upfield and fired over into the Hill they were all but home and hosed.
Kerry repeatedly tried to unlock the Dublin rearguard with a series of Hail Mary deliveries but none of these met with any success, though Kerry could arguably have got a penalty from one of them, as Donaghy was wrestled to the deck inside the square. All day long, though, ref David Coldrick gave the defenders on both sides the benefit of the doubt, which, in the horrific conditions, made life tough for the two forward lines, and on this occasion too he kept to the same script.
In truth, Kerry didn’t deserve any such break, with their ponderously slow build-up, forever looping back for another lateral pass when what they really needed to do was take the Dublin defence on head-on, making it easy for the Dubs to keep them at bay.
There was only one other score before full-time – a Brian Sheehan free – as Dublin shepherded the game safely to the ending they wanted. They won by three points, but it was a decisive three-point win.
I’m glad they did it, partly because of the good GAA-loving friends and neighbours I know up here but also quite simply because they deserved it more. Both teams had to cope with the horrific conditions – and there was an enormous quota of handling errors today as well as an alarming amount of slipping and sliding – but Dublin were the only team playing ball out on that skating rink. And when all the tough questions were asked of them in the second half, they had enough answers at the ready to enable them to dethrone the champions.
Dublin’s victory today means that, for the fourth year in succession, we come away from the championship with the bridesmaid’s bouquet, having once more been beaten by the team that won Sam. Cold comfort that is to us, I know, but it does at least show that we were, once again, agonisingly close – but once again not close enough – to being good enough to go all the way.
This year, though, Dublin are deserving All-Ireland champions. While we had our chance to do them in the drawn game and could have pushed on too in the replay, ultimately they beat us fair and square at the semi-final stage and we can have no complaints about how that one ended up. What today’s match provided further proof of, though, was the extent of the larceny inflicted on us in Limerick last year. Today showed that Kerry are no more than middling – even after they won out last year I reckoned they were no better than the fourth best team of 2014 – and with the raft of retirements that are sure to come in the wake of today’s defeat, it could be the case that their future isn’t as bright as it was almost universally thought to be.
But the future is for again. Today, in the rain, the day belonged to Dublin. Well done to them on a fully merited All-Ireland success.
My attendance at today’s All-Ireland final was courtesy of Chill Insurance. My thanks to them.