GAA Football

Brilliant Dublin see off Kerry to complete 'drive for five'

Five alive-o: Dublin players celebrate after beating Kerry in the All-Ireland SFC Final replay.
Pic Philip Walsh
Kenny Archer at Croke Park

All-Ireland SFC Final replay: Dublin 1-18 Kerry 0-15

GREAT(EST?), unbeatable, brilliant, and unprecedented.

The acronym ‘GUBU’ was coined in 1982, the year Kerry’s footballers controversially fell short of five-in-a-row, but there was no doubt that Dublin deserved to make history this time around, at the expense of the Kingdom.

Thirty-seven years on Kerry are still top of the tree, with 37 titles – but now this Dublin side stand apart, above all others in the football pantheon. Thirty-seven Championship games unbeaten have brought them a first ever five-in-a-row, in either code.

Those ‘U’ adjectives could have various variants – unbelievable, uncontainable, unflappable, unstoppable, unforgettable…

After being below their amazingly high standards in the drawn game, the Dubs hit the heights on Saturday night.

All but one of their 19 scores came from play – and that was the last one, with the match well won, history made. Dublin are somehow simultaneously efficient and exhilarating.

The goal that swung this fantastic final in their favour will go down as one of the greatest too. Once again the replay hero turned out to be a player who hadn’t even started the drawn game.

Even more unexpectedly, the only goalscorer was the diminutive defender Eoin Murchan, who raced from his own half right from the second half throw-in and deftly guided his shot past the helpless Kerry ‘keeper, Shane Ryan.

Like the Na Fianna man, Dublin never looked back. Kerry, who had only equalised for the first time on the night with the last score of the first half, a superb score rifled over by Paul Geaney, never drew level again – and the Dubs relentlessly pulled clear.

While Dublin’s finishing was superb, Kerry’s accuracy figures plummeted after the teams turned around; a first half conversion rate of 78 per cent dropping down to 27 in the second.

The Kingdom ended up with 10 wides, eight of them eminently scoreable, but it’s the goal opportunities not taken which will really rankle.

Peter Keane’s team didn’t even get one of the goals they clearly came for. As good as Paul Geaney was, perhaps he should have gone for goal rather than blazing over after 10 minutes from a Brian O Beaglaoich assist.

Certainly the Dingle man should have had another sight of the Dublin net midway through the second half, but Stephen O’Brien unwisely chose to blast rather than pass after wriggling away from Niall Scully and Kilkenny – but Stephen Cluxton stood up to the fierce shot. The Dublin skipper was inspirational throughout, protecting his defence under the early aerial attack from Kerry.

The night’s only serious talking point came in the 27th minute, when it looked like Kerry might go ahead for the first time.

Kerry full-back Tadhg Morley embarked on a lung-bursting counter-attack but, just as he was about to enter the large rectangle and pull the trigger, he was pulled back.

No penalty, but a card, surely? So it seemed, albeit with Morley’s opposite number Michael Fitzsimons (correctly) protesting his innocence – but he still was ‘ticked’, although the referee quickly made clear he hadn’t brandished the black card.

The identity of the actual culprit was, in some ways, astonishing, but it also summed Dublin up that Con O’Callaghan had tracked all the way back – and Morley wasn’t even his man. Dublin stretch the rules like they stretch defences, but they also stretch every sinew.

Suggestions that the Dublin panel was being stretched to breaking point proved untrue. The icing on the cake for the blue hordes was the involvement of their beloved prodigal son Diarmuid Connolly, who replaced the star of the drawn game, Jack McCaffrey, after he couldn’t continue for the second half.

Cherries on top came with more living legends getting onto the pitch before the long whistle. Dubs boss Jim Gavin may appear cool and clinical to outsiders but he obviously has a heart, sending on Cian O’Sullivan and Kevin McManamon in the last few minutes of normal time, then Michael Darragh Macauley in the fourth minute of added time.

Murchan had been a very different type of replacement for midfield – but a very effective one, with the versatile James McCarthy slotting into midfield.

Kerry manager Peter Keane had been even more ruthless, dropping his captain Gavin White with Diarmuid O’Connor the shock starter on the right side of attack.

Those changes made both sides even better. At half-time we seemed on course to witness the greatest Gaelic football game ever, but long before the long whistle it had been won by the greatest team – so far.

This Kerry team deserves huge credit, but they simply couldn’t live with Dublin in the second half – and for large parts of the first, in truth.

Somehow the sides were level at 10 points apiece at half-time, but Dublin had clearly been better, Kerry helped by some generous refereeing decisions, with obvious fouls on Kilkenny and O’Callaghan not punished.

Dublin had set off in such style that they looked like winners before the end of the first quarter. Having raced into a five points to one lead inside eight minutes, they responded to a Kerry rally with two more scores of their own to restore that four-point advantage, their seventh score coming from corner-back Davy Byrne racing into space to cap off a period of patient possession.

All their big guns were firing again: O’Callaghan, Kilkenny, and Paul Mannion all opening their accounts inside the first four minutes, those last two soon doubling their tallies.

The standard was incredibly high, from both sides – indeed Dublin didn’t record a single wide before the break, although they did drop several shots short, notably Mannion. Even Kerry’s three wides included one long ball that O’Brien couldn’t quite keep in play.

The start of the second half was even better. Kerry’s midfield icon David Moran soared to punch the throw-in into the Dublin half, only for Murchan to seize the ball.

He sped past and away from Moran at a cartoonish rate, like Tom chasing Jerry, and as the Kerry defence backed off, he delivered a delightful dinked finish off the outside of his right boot, leaving Shane Ryan flat-footed and flummoxed.

O’Callaghan fired over a point when he might have gone for goal too but Kerry responded with the grit of future champions.

Indeed, they seemed to be really on a roll when they reeled off three points without reply to narrow the gap to the minimum margin just 10 minutes into the second half.

The Kingdom might even have drawn level once more when Jack Barry, seemingly stranded between McCarthy and Brian Howard for a Dublin re-start, somehow broke the ball to a colleague.

But Diarmuid Connolly stole possession and drilled a peach of a kick-pass towards O’Callaghan, which was collected by Kilkenny, and he calmly clipped a point off his left boot.

Dublin’s voracious appetite for scraps was shown again with the next score. O’Brien robbed Brian Fenton on the run – but Mannion gathered the loose ball and despatched it over the bar.

Then came that O’Brien attempt on goal. Kerry heads dropped a little, Dublin kept theirs, helped by some of those older ones coming on, and Cluxton’s coolness as Kingdom attacks became desperate.

The last score from play was like rolling back a few years, Connolly and McManamon combining to find Dean Rock, who peeled off his marker to score.

It was almost a pity that the last score came from a ‘45’, when really it should have been a second goal for the Dubs.

Connolly found himself leading a three-on-two break but selfishly took the shot himself and Ryan parried it, then flung himself to stop O’Callaghan sending the rebound to the net, turning that second effort behind.

Rock converted the ‘45’ and Dublin prepared to rock and roll.

Afterwards, as the victors were lauded with their tunes of glory, ‘Take Five’ by Dave Brubeck drifted through the balmy night air.

Dublin did that, in unforgettable style. In years to come hundreds of thousands will claim to have been here. The stewards finally cleared the last smattering of true blues from the Hill at half past eight, but the party is probably still going on in certain parts of Dublin.

Delirious Dubs sang and danced – and that was only McCaffrey and ‘man of the match’ Ciaran Kilkenny, spinning around in a jigging hug of delight.

Dublin were in seventh blue heaven, their seventh ‘Sam’ of this decade breaking another record, and taking them onto a quarter of a century since they lost a senior final.

They might succumb to that fate in the next few years, with this brave, vibrant young Kerry side their most likely conquerors.

On Saturday night, though, as for the past five years since their 2014 semi-final destruction by Donegal, Dublin were utterly unbeatable.

Dublin: S Cluxton; D Byrne (0-1), M Fitzsimons, J Cooper; E Murchan (1-0), J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, J McCarthy (0-1); N Scully (0-1), C Kilkenny (0-4), B Howard; P Mannion (0-4), C O’Callaghan (0-4), D Rock (0-3, 0-1 ‘45’).

Substitutes: D Connolly for McCaffrey (h-t); P McMahon for Murchan (inj., 55); C Costello for Scully (58); C O’Sullivan for Byrne (68); K McManamon for Mannion (68); M D Macauley for Howard (74).

Yellow card: Costello (71).

Kerry: S Ryan; J Foley, T Morley, T O’Sullivan; P Murphy, G Crowley, B O Beaglaoich; D Moran, J Barry; D O’Connor, S O’Shea (0-5, 0-3 frees), S O’Brien; D Clifford (0-5, 0-1 free), P Geaney (0-4), A Spillane (0-1).

Substitutes: G White for O Beaglaoich (51); J Sherwood for A Spillane (51); T Walsh for O’Connor (55); K Spillane for Murphy (60, inj.); J O’Donoghue for Barry (65); D Moynihan for Crowley (72).

Yellow cards: O Beaglaoich (38, first half); O’Brien (70).

Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).

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