Dublin snatch late glory from Kerry in classic at Croke Park
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final: Dublin 0-22 Kerry 2-14
WHY did we ever doubt them? Either of them? Kerry proved they still had quite a kick in them and yet Dublin showed their supreme quality and character to pull away in the end.
The old rivals produced another classic contest with a memorable finish, just as they had done in 2011 and 2013, if not so much in last year’s final.
Dublin have dominated the Kingdom in the closing quarter of recent contests and they won that period yet again. Only by two points this time, but those were enough to separate the sides after an enthralling encounter.
The Dubs deserved this victory, but those decisive scores only came in added time, from substitute Eoghan O’Gara and Diarmuid Connolly, to finally settle a thriller after first half goals from Darran O’Sullivan and Paul Geaney had threatened an upset.
Dublin’s predicted comfortable progress to their third final in four seasons was knocked out of its stride by those major scores after an opening third of the game when Jim Gavin’s men appeared to be strolling to victory.
Strolling wouldn’t be an accurate description, though, as Dublin’s pace and movement up front was tearing gaps in the Kerry rearguard, despite the presence of Aidan O’Mahony as sweeper.
Manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice had gone for experience, also starting with Colm Cooper, Anthony Maher, and Darran O’Sullivan, with Maher’s inclusion allowing Kieran Donaghy to go up to the inside-forward line.
However, they did not deliver enough long balls in towards him, and he increasingly dropped deeper, whereas the Dubs were swiftly switching possession to create openings and force frees, which were confidently converted by Dean Rock.
The Ballymun forward was lively in general play, ending up with a tally of 0-12, although eight of those came from frees and Kerry may quibble that Dublin came more easily by those opportunities.
Four points in as many minutes took Dublin into a 0-9 to 0-4 lead by the 24th minute, and although Kerry kept in contention with a couple of scores, there was no sign of the drama that was to come.
This game then turned on its head with an ironic twist, though: Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton is regarded as the best, or at least most influential, goalkeeper of modern times, due to the accuracy of his kick-outs - but a dreadful one lifted Kerry back into this match.
When times get tough, pundits often suggest that big players need to ‘put their hands up’ and the Kerry forwards literally did that on the half hour.
Their sudden press seemed to spook Cluxton, and his dragged kick-out was seized upon ravenously by Geaney. He fed it to Donnchadh Walsh, who brilliantly palmed it into the path of O’Sullivan, and he gleefully kicked it to the net before being bundled into it himself by Jonny Cooper.
Suddenly the Dubs were rattled, with Cluxton sending his next kick-out straight out of play, and Croke Park was rocking.
Kerry should have been delighted to be level but they wanted so much more – and got it.
Men in green and gold were throwing their bodies in the way of attempted Dublin clearances, throwing themselves towards the ball wherever it was, and their burst of energy brought more reward.
A huge hoof from Maher came down with summer snow on it and Cluxton could not catch it as Geaney challenged him, the Dubs skipper only flapping at the ball. The officials and technology agreed that the ball had crossed the line and Kerry were flying.
Cooper converted a free and suddenly, somehow, Kerry were five points up at the break, 2-8 to 0-9. But the All-Ireland champions responded superbly, outscoring Kerry by 0-13 to 0-6 after the interval.
Most attention will be focussed on the final few minutes, understandably, but the real damage was done earlier for the Munster champs, in the third quarter, sometimes known as the ‘moving’ or ‘Championship quarter’, when Dublin turned around that worrying looking half-time deficit.
In the first 14 minutes of the second half the Dubs rampaged to six scores, with Kerry managing only one in response, and that from a Cooper free.
Dublin’s desire was evident, with several scores resulting from interceptions followed by rapid counter-attacks.
Kerry, to their credit, hit back with a flurry of scores, substitutes Barry John Keane and James O’Donoghue notching either side of a good point from Geaney and Dublin had to dig deep again.
Their big names certainly did so.
Corner-back Philly McMahon powered forward to finish off move made by yet another cute kick-pass from Kevin McManamon to one of his inside line, Bernard Brogan on this occasion.
The latter was fouled for a Rock free, and another followed when Paul Murphy was forced to touch the ball on the ground by a swarm of blue shirts.
Dublin were back on terms but this team of winners settles for nothing less than victory.
That man McManamon did not let a slip deny him, springing up and spinning to send over a score – but Kerry levelled through sub Stephen O’Brien.
The balance of the match had swung decisively in Dublin’s favour, though, with Kerry desperately hanging on for most of the last 10 minutes, almost all their players driven back into their own half.
Ciaran Kilkenny freed wing-back James McCarthy to set up O’Gara for a lead point, but still Kerry came at Dublin in a frantic finale, including their centre-back Peter Crowley running into a huge hit from McManamon as the number six surged forward in search of a levelling score.
Instead Dublin broke away and Connolly concluded this brilliant match with a sweet left-foot effort.
Dublin are not only in the All-Ireland Final again, they are in dreamland. Having only beaten Kerry three times in SFC combat in the century before 2011, they have now won four times in a row, an unprecedented achievement for them in this pairing.
They’ve also taken their unbeaten run to 27, with their last loss coming against Donegal at this stage in 2014.
Dublin have had their battles at the penultimate stage, including Kerry in 2013, then Mayo taking them to a replay last year, but back in the decider against the westerners they’ll be strong favourites to retain their title.
Dublin: S Cluxton (capt.); P McMahon (0-1), J Cooper, D Byrne; J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, J Small; B Fenton (0-1), M D Macauley; P Flynn, K McManamon (0-2), C Kilkenny; D Rock (0-12, 0-2 45s, 0-8 frees), D Connolly (0-3), B Brogan (0-2). Substitutes: P Andrews for Flynn (45); P Mannion for Small (50); E O’Gara (0-1) for Macauley (60); M Fitzsimons for Cooper (67); C Costello for Brogan (71). Yellow cards: Small (38, first half); Connolly (73). Black card: Costello (76).
Kerry: B Kelly; S Enright, M Griffin, K Young (capt.); A O’Mahony, P Crowley, T Morley; A Maher, D Moran (0-1); P Murphy (0-1), C Cooper (0-5, 0-4 frees), D Walsh; P Geaney (1-4), K Donaghy, D O’Sullivan (1-0). Substitutes: S O’Brien (0-1) for O’Sullivan (39); J O’Donoghue (0-1) for Donaghy (inj., 50); B J Keane (0-1) for Walsh (52); B O Beaglaoich for Morley (56); B Sheehan for Maher (58); M O Se for Geaney (67). Yellow cards: O’Mahony (44); Donaghy (49); Crowley (57); Enright (65); O’Donoghue (75).
Referee: David Gough (Meath). Attendance: Full house.