Sport

All-Ireland SFC: White coats, white heat, blue Kerry

Diarmuid Connoly in front of Hill 16 yesterday
Andy Watters at Croke Park

ANYONE who’s ever done it will know the feeling. Sunday dinner is over and you head up to the match to get out of doing the dishes. Just through the gates, the question gets popped.

“Here, will you do umpire?”

You: “No, sure I’ve the kids with me and my granda and I can’t extend my right arm, or my left one, and I’m allergic to green or white flags and I can’t hold out both my arms at the same time and, anyway, I’m not feeling the best and…”

“Sure do it for the first half…”

You: “Och, alright.”

Next thing you’re leaning up against the post engaging in awkward conversation with the opposition goalkeeper even though he’s roaring ‘WIDE’ even when your team’s shots are going over the black spot.

The umpire on the other post cannot contain himself. 

This man, a man you’ve never met, very quickly becomes the personification of all the ills of this world and then that moment you’ve been dreading comes along. Yes, a borderline call.

If you’ve umpired at any level – Clonduff, Carrickcruppen or Croke Park – you’ll know how the umpire felt when the ball dropped out of the clouds into the Dublin goalmouth in front of Hill 16 yesterday.

Stephen Cluxton jumped, but Paul Geaney jumped higher and flicked it goalwards. Cluxton dived and clawed the ball away. 

Amid the whirr of boots and ball and crowd the brave umpire had to make his call and he had his green flag up in a flash. 

He signalled ‘goal’ and Kerry – who had been outplayed – were suddenly ahead. Cluxton protested, but the goal was given.

The poor oul’ umpire will have taken some stick from the Dubs up on the Hill: “G’wan back to Kerry ye f**&** b @*%*@s ye” or words to that effect.

Anyone, who’s done it will know the feeling. He made the right call, but in the end it didn’t matter.

On Saturday I watched a junior championship match and came away thinking ‘there’s nothing like club football’ – but yesterday’s duel was a reminder that the inter-county game, when it’s played like this, is the top of the tree.

What a game. You forgot about yellow cards and black cards and fixture congestion. You forgot about your worries and your strife.

It was exciting, passionate, thrilling, physical and full of superb skills and scores – another fitting instalment in Gaelic Football’s enduring rivalry.

Kerry wanted to make it a war and they got their way. 

Dublin entered into the may-the-best-team-win spirit to meet them square on and the game – as meetings between these sides often do – developed a life of its own.

At the break, Kerry led by five, but Dublin are a terrific side and they reeled them in as the second half ticked by. 

Brogan, Rock, Rock, Rock and Fenton levelled it, but the Kingdom pulled away once more. 

Keane, Geaney, O’Donoghue and they were three up as the sprint to the line began.

The Dubs came back again – McMahon, Rock, Rock and it was level.

Eoghan O’Gara put the Dubs ahead in injury-time and the square-shouldered St Jude’s forward Kevin McManamon was back in his own half when Johnny Crowley raced forward looking for an equaliser. 

BOOM. 

Crowley was left in a heap and as Dublin broke Diarmuid Connolly stopped and stooped to check if he was badly injured.

Crowley got back on his feet and Connolly joined the Dublin attack. He took the ball and shot with his left foot.

The umpire watched as it zipped over the bar. The Hill roared because they knew the Dubs had it won. 

Kerry’s dream is dead, but football lives again.

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