They’ve done it. At the second attempt Dublin made no mistake, winning this evening’s All-Ireland football final replay by a comfortable margin of six points. Jim Gavin’s all-conquering team made history at Croke Park by running out winners over Kerry by 1-18 to 0-15 to seal their fifth All-Ireland title in a row.
I was in two minds in the fortnight between the drawn game and this evening’s replay about how this one would go. Straight after the final whistle sounded two weeks ago I was adamant that Kerry had missed the boat, having failed to finish off a rattled 14-man Dublin team. The Dubs had looked well in charge in the drawn match up until Jonny Cooper’s dismissal and so it seemed like a reasonable assumption that in a 15-v-15 contest they’d have sufficient firepower to prevail.
In the lead-up to today’s rematch, though, my reasoning began to shift. I felt that the draw would have boosted the confidence of this largely youthful Kerry team and that a confident Kerry side could well be a dangerous proposition. I thought Kerry might sneak it by a point or two.
At half-time this evening – after a breathless, all-out-attacking opening 35 minutes – that theory was still standing. Although Dublin threatened to pull away early on, when they quickly built up a four-point lead, Kerry did well to battle back and square the contest before the break at ten points each.
It was as good a half of football as you could have wished to see. Both sides’ forward units were on fire and both sets of rearguards had a torrid time of it. All of Dublin’s scores came from play – indeed, the only placed-ball score they’d get all night was a late ’45 converted by Dean Rock – and the champions didn’t shoot a single wide, though three efforts at the posts fell short.
Kerry would surely have been delighted with that opening half. They’d survived Dublin’s opening onslaught and looked well set to have a right go at it after the break.
By now Dublin had Diarmuid Connolly on the pitch but it was an enforced change, with Jack McCaffrey having to retire from the fray with a leg injury.
Right from the restart, Dublin struck for what would prove to be the game’s killer score. Eoin Murchan grabbed possession when David Moran punched down the throw-in into his path and the Na Fianna player took off like a rocket, the Kerry defence opening up like a zip. With only Moran flailing in his wake Murchan bore down on goal, taking a generous number of steps before burying the ball in the right corner of the net.
It was a sensational score and, to be honest, Kerry’s challenge was dead from that point onwards. They did manage to cut the deficit back to two points at one stage but the gap then hovered around the 3-4 point mark for most of the second half, as Dublin increasingly took control of the contest and sucked the life out of Kerry’s challenge with bouts of lateral possession play.
When Kerry did manage to get hold of the ball their attacks were rushed and their shot selection went from bad to worse. They missed a good goal chance, when Stephen O’Brien shot straight at Stephen Cluxton, and their wide count rose sharply as the second half wore on.
In the end, Dublin cantered in rather serene fashion to the five-in-a-row, keeping the Kerry lads comfortably at arm’s length and winding down the clock in leisurely fashion. It wasn’t a hammering but it was an emphatic six-point win.
It’s a win, of course, that makes GAA history and it would be churlish not to acknowledge it as such. This Dublin team is the most successful in Championship history and tonight’s victory seals their place as a peerless team in the game’s history books. They’re a remarkable bunch of players and what they have achieved this decade under Jim Gavin’s management brooks no argument.
The growing concerns that the rest of us might have about where the inter-county game is headed, given Dublin’s all-encompassing dominance, won’t worry their fans tonight. Why should it? Their team has just made history and it’s an achievement they’ll surely celebrate with gusto. Good luck to them.
Those of us outside the blue bubble can do little more than look on with a mixture of envy and admiration, and – in our case – think of what might have been. Oh well – here’s to 2020 and the chance for all of us to dream anew once more.