After all the hype and all the chatter – which made it sound like it was the first bloody All-Ireland to be contested in a decade – the day ends with no winner. They go again on Saturday week.
Letdowns don’t come much greater than All-Ireland finals that end all-square. I’ve been in Croke Park to witness such an outcome three times – as well as the 1996 and 2016 football finals I was there the day Kilkenny and Galway finished level in the hurling in 2012 – and it’s as if all the atmosphere and excitement, which has been building all day, vanishes in an instant. 82,500 people suddenly come to their senses, pick up their programmes and head silently for the exits.
That was the fate of Kerry and Dublin supporters today. In those final frantic moments, either team could have nicked it – though Dublin had the great momentum over the last ten minutes played – and both will regret that they didn’t.
Most of the regret tonight will sit with Kerry. A man up for the entire second half, they failed to press home that significant advantage and took far too long to get back on terms with the flailing champions. Indeed, but for a brilliant 1-1 contribution from young Killian Spillane – on a day when Kerry’s more vaunted forwards failed to spark – the Kingdom would never have managed to overhaul their 14-man opponents at all.
When they finally did – with two minutes of normal time left – they were only able to edge a single point in front. With Dublin coming at them in waves from then to the finish, however, it was inevitable that they’d get the chances to level it, or maybe even snatch the win. Eventually they managed to bag the former but not the latter.
David Gough won’t get too many charitable mentions in the post mortems Dublin supporters will be undertaking over their porter tonight. They shouldn’t, though, go too hard on the Meath official, as they’ve been the beneficiaries of a few questionable calls themselves in finals down the years. Indeed, today was the first All-Ireland final I can recall when the decisions broke anything less than 50:50 from their perspective.
Despite the comical blathering of the RTÉ pundits, Jonny Cooper’s dismissal was wholly merited. Lucky to escape a card for the penalty, he picked up two yellows for similar fouls, both involving hands wrapped around his opponent’s arm. The second one was done right in front of the ref and so a yellow for complete stupidity wouldn’t have been out of order for that one.
So there was nothing wrong with Cooper’s dismissal but Gough surely erred in not giving Tom O’Sullivan his marching orders too. Already on a yellow he went in very high with the arm and was lucky to get away with a tick.
But Gough also erred in not awarding Kerry a second penalty early in the second half. Stephen O’Brien was unceremoniously hauled back by Jack McCaffrey as he was about to pull the trigger. It was a penalty all day long but nothing was given. That was a huge let-off for the Dubs.
As the second half went on, it was impossible to see where the extra Kerry player was. Ryan was ropey with his restarts all day but with the extra man why weren’t Kerry able to engineer a smarter out-ball on their kickouts? Time and again, Ryan hoofed it out long and frequently it was a blue shirt that grabbed the breaking ball.
With time running out, Dublin looked destined to win, as they always have done this decade. But, with normal time nearly up, the excellent Spillane edged Kerry back in front for the first time since the 20th minute. It appeared then that Peter Keane’s team might just do it.
But Dublin are never beaten till they’re beaten. A Costello effort that HawkEye ruled wide and a horror wide by Connolly suggested the drive for five might – as it did for Kerry in 1982 – fail at the death. But Rock nailed the leveller and then had a free to win it.
Now all the thoughts were about 2017 when, from an easier position, the Ballymun player converted the free that finally broke our resistance. This time, strangely, he opted to shoot off the ground and he put the free tamely wide.
Fans on both sides may be disappointed at the game’s anti-climactic finish but the GAA will, surely, be rubbing their hands. All that fretting about the 33,000 who turned up for the Kerry/Tyrone semi-final can now be forgotten about, with another full house guaranteed for Saturday week’s replay.
The hype always gets dialled down a few notches heading into replays and, drive for five or not, I doubt it’ll be any different this time. Dublin will be strong favourites and rightly so. It’s hard to see Kerry sticking with them for 70 minutes in a 15 v 15 contest.
An interesting sub-text will be who gets to ref the rematch. That decision could have an enormous bearing on the result, as we found to our cost in the 2016 replay. And, if the same official gets the whistle on the 14th, as Kerry could too.
Finally, a quick word about the Minor final. Congrats to Cork, who finally got past a valiant Galway team in extra-time. Full marks to the young Tribesmen, though, for the huge shift they put in and when they goaled deep in stoppage time it looked like they’d done it, only for Cork to hit back in kind seconds later.
The Rebels took over in extra-time and were full value for their win, their first Tom Markham Cup success since 2000. The Galway lads died with their boots on, though, and can be hugely proud of their battling performance today at the conclusion of what has been an excellent Minor championship.