Dublin do enough to see off Kerry and mis-firing David Clifford

Dublin celebrate their All-Ireland SFC Final victory over Kerry.
Dublin celebrate their All-Ireland SFC Final victory over Kerry. Dublin celebrate their All-Ireland SFC Final victory over Kerry.

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final: Dublin 1-15 Kerry 1-13

Nothing compares 2 U 2 – or should that be ‘you three’? Dublin legends Stephen Cluxton, new captain James McCarthy, and Michael Fitzsimons were all on cloud nine, elevated above all other Gaelic footballers by collecting their ninth Celtic crosses.

Before the match the emotional rendition of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ by Dublin’s own Sinead O’Connor was played over the PA system and warmly applauded, just days after her tragically early death.

After the long whistle it was Dublin tunes of glory ringing out, having deservedly dethroned holders Kerry with a closing quarter of grit, determination, and their famed composure.

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The Boys Are Back In Town indeed.

Yet Nothing Compares 2 U 2 really should apply to both these counties.

This wasn’t quite the classic that had been hoped for, but it was hard-hitting, intense, and utterly gripping, from first to last.

Kerry could, perhaps should, have won it.

David Clifford had engineered their goal, in first half injury time, with one of the finest foot-passes ever finessed in Croke Park – but unfortunately for him and the Kingdom his shooting boots weren’t quite right, especially in the final quarter.

That was the first Championship goal Cluxton had conceded since the 2019 decider, also against Kerry, the first green flag raised against him in 14 Championship matches.

It was brilliantly taken by Paul Geaney, but the assist, a delicious foot-pass from David Clifford, was even better.

That gave Kerry a half-time lead, 1-4 to 0-6, and they scored four of the first six points in the second half, to stretch their advantage to three – before a crucial error.

The Kingdom’s Gavin White will have nightmares about the wayward hand-pass which Colm Basquel seized upon to set up Paddy Small for a somewhat fortunate goal, the ball ricocheting in despite a flying block from Paul Murphy.

To their credit, Kerry responded brilliantly to that gutting setback, reeling off the next three scores, two of those from Paudie Clifford.

However, as so often, Dublin owned the final quarter, outscoring their opponents by seven points to two.

Even so, Kerry pulled themselves level twice, in the final five minutes of normal time, on the second occasion making it 1-13 apiece with the 70 minutes up.

David Clifford had even looked like replicating Kilkenny’s Paddy Deegan and bursting the net, but the Kerryman’s fierce shot from the left flew wide – fortunately for him he’d been tugged by Fitzsimons so Sean O’Shea converted the free.

In a sense it was the wrong Clifford who fired in the second half. Paudie produced three points from play inside a 10-minute second half spell, outscoring his more illustrious brother David, who managed only 0-3 all day, one of those from a free.

Fitzsimons may be the least lauded of Dublin’s trio of nine-time winners, but the Cuala clubman was very good against the Kerry skipper, although he was helped both by his team-mates and by some wayward shooting from the Fossa man.

David has a terrific temperament, but sometimes his desire to win, his urge to lead his team to victory, results in him trying too much.

Frustrated by the close attentions of Fitzsimons, he sliced one shot into the waiting arms of Cluxton. Worse still, he shot three wides, in the second half, to add to one late in the first half, making for an unusually low scoring ratio by his high standards.

Those misses from their normally inspirational skipper were bad blows to Kerry’s hopes.

In the frenzy of the closing moments Paul Mannion also missed a chance for Dublin, but two minutes later he kept a cool head to point when Basquel recycled the ball after Kerry ‘keeper Shane Ryan flapped out a sliced shot from substitute Dean Rock.

The Ballymun man did get his name on the scoresheet, concluding the scoring from a free after Mike Breen fouled another sub, Jack McCaffrey.

Dublin had done enough, just, but there is the lingering feeling that without Dublin’s goal Kerry could have kept their opponents at arm’s length, or gone even further clear.

Still, although the Dubs might have lost their invincible aura two years ago, it’s perhaps been overlooked that only Kerry had defeated Dublin without the aid of extra time since Donegal stunned them in the 2014 semi-final – Cluxton’s last Championship loss.

Edged out at the death by Kerry in last year’s semi-final, having been relegated earlier in the year, Dublin are definitely back on top.

In fact Dublin become the first team to win the All-Ireland having been in Division Two for 21 years, with eventual 2002 champions Armagh and defeated finalists Kerry having both earned promotion earlier that year.

The opening minutes of this final had hinted at an open classic from that more open era. The lively Dubling wing-back Lee Gannon launched it long towards Con O’Callaghan, but his marker Tadhg Morley got enough of a touch to direct the ball away. Cluxton stepped up to return to the scoresheet, converting the ‘45’.

The next minute his opposite number Shane Ryan sent a superb kick-out to Sean O’Shea on the right flank and Geaney was sent in on goal. On that occasion, though, his right-foot shot was weak and Brian Howard kicked it away from the goalmouth.

Another minute and David Clifford had opened his account, profiting from O’Brien ending a Cormac Costello run by turning over possession.

Yet those first five-and-a-bit minutes were a false dawn.

Both teams eyed each other up… and stepped back, sat back.

Dublin counter-attacked at pace, playing precise pop passes in attack, with Brian Fenton finding room from midfield to send over a score.

Kerry looked more laboured, a lack of movement up front meaning captain Clifford barely got his hands on the ball after his early point.

Dublin’s desire to avenge last year’s semi-final loss was clear. McCarthy got away without a card after clattering into O’Shea. Gannon was lucky too, only yellow-carded for jumping into Shane Ryan with the ball in the air but nowhere near.

Dublin were hitting the target too, though, not just their opponents, and seemed to be set for a two-point half-time lead.

However, a cage can only contain a beast for so long. Deep into first half injury time Dara Moynihan kicked what looked a poor pass out into the right corner.

The genius that is David Clifford gathered the ball, turned, and delivered one of the all-time great kick-passes, bouncing into the path of the running Geaney.

The Dingle man more than did it justice, spinning not once but twice before drilling low under Cluxton and past Davy Byrne on the goal-line.

Kerry’s hopes would have been raised even further early in the second half with another Gannon kick-pass reached Con O’Callaghan, but his effort rattled back off the crossbar, with Ryan rooted to the spot.

Within three minutes, the Kingdom were three up, 1-8 to 0-8 – and it was David Clifford who created that gap.

Then came White’s slip, a loose hand-pass leading to that major score.

Much was to happen after that: a dozen more scores, quite a few misses, some defiant defending from both teams, but that Small score was a massive moment in such a tight, tense tussle.

Dublin: S Cluxton (0-2, 0-1 ’45, 0-1 free); E Murchan, M Fitzsimons, D Byrne; J McCarthy (capt.), J Small, L Gannon; B Fenton (0-2), B Howard (0-1); P Small (1-1), P Mannion (0-5, 0-1 free), C Kilkenny; C Costello (0-1, free), C O’Callaghan, C Basquel (0-2).

Substitutes: J McCaffrey for Gannon (48); N Scully for Costello (54); S McMahon for Howard (63); C Murphy for Murchan (65); D Rock (0-1 free) for P Small (69).

Kerry: S Ryan; G O’Sullivan, J Foley, T O’Sullivan; P Murphy, T Morley, G White; D O’Connor, J Barry; D Moynihan, S O’Shea (0-5, 0-4 frees), S O’Brien; P Clifford (0-3), D Clifford (capt.) (0-3, 0-1 free), P Geaney (1-1).

Substitutes: B O Beaglaioch for Murphy (57); A Spillane for Moynihan (58); M Burns for O’Brien (58); K Spillane (0-1) for Geaney (64); M Breen for Barry (67).

Referee: David Gough (Meath).