The Championship

All-Ireland SFC: Dublin do their talking on the pitch in classic

Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara and Kerry’s Aidan O’Mahony tussle for possession during yesterday’s pulsating clash at Croke Park 
Picture by Seamus Loughran
Brendan Crossan at Croke Park

LET’S be clear from the start. Jim Gavin is a polite, civil and respectful individual. He conducts himself impeccably well in his post-match press conferences.

But, rest assured, there is no danger – absolutely none – of him getting carried away with the hype that swirls around this Dublin team.

He may be in charge of one of the most exuberant, self-expressive teams that Gaelic football has ever witnessed but Gavin’s guard never loosens – not even after such an incredible spectacle such as yesterday.

Thirty minutes earlier 80,000 supporters were entranced by an epic encounter between two old foes. But if you were beamed down from Pluto and afforded a seat in the dank press conference room under the Hogan Stand you would have thought the Dublin manager had won a preliminary round game in an Indoor Bowls competition.

The Dublin manager’s press conferences are always sombre affairs. Hyperbole is halted at the door. It’s always refused entry. Yesterday, it was given a right good hiding and thrown under the Dublin team bus. This brilliant Dublin team mounted a fabulous comeback against Kerry to book their place in next month’s All-Ireland final against Mayo.

They trailed by five points at half-time and won by two. They are unbeaten in 27 games. Just like the 2013 Championship clash, yesterday’s semi-final was another game for the ages. But, for Gavin, the game isn’t over until the last tape-recorder is switched off and he leaves the room.

There’s a grudging admiration among press reporters for the way in which Gavin deftly kills any sense of occasion. And it’s worked for them up to now.

Give the Dublin manager his dues though. He resists praise at every juncture, preferring to shower his players and their opponents with gushing compliments.

For all of Dublin’s class and tactical nous, Gavin cuts the figure of an innocent bystander in all of this. For him, the most pleasing aspect of Dublin’s display yesterday was their collective resilience. Always the collective.

“The mental resolve is something these players have demonstrated time and time again,” said Gavin.

“I see it every time I’m with them.

“In a game like that when there are so many questions [being posed]… they kept in control and I’m particularly pleased with the players that came on.

“There was obviously a lot of emotion in the crowd behind me and they [the Dublin subs] were in the middle of it. But they were very impressive when they came on and they were the guys that saw the game home for us.”

Kerry pinched two goals before half-time after two rare errors from Dublin ‘keeper Stephen Cluxton while the variation in the Kerry attack caused the Dubs problems.

Gavin added: “In some respects we are open and vulnerable but that’s part of our game-plan and we accept against a team like Kerry they’re going to score against you, but we stuck to our values and that’s what saw us home in the end.”

The Dublin manager didn’t recollect anything profound occurring in the dressing room at half-time, even though they were five points down.

“For me, half-time is just a break in play. What counts is when the referee blows that final whistle. I suppose the team demonstrated again great composure. There was never anything other than the right intentions from them at half-time; they knew what they wanted and they stayed in control of the situation.”

Kerry were still ahead with four minutes of normal time remaining before Kevin McManamon and Diarmuid Connolly’s late, late show.

McManamon’s untidy barge on Peter Crowley should have been blown up for a free as Kerry mounted one last attack in search of an equaliser, but the Dubs broke clear and Connolly nailed the insurance point to sink the Kingdom.

“To go back to the physicality in our games,” said Gavin, “that’s what we want… It was a shoulder [on Crowley]. That’s what we want in our game. That’s an outstanding Kerry team, an outstanding Kerry management team,” said Gavin.

“We have huge admiration for them up in Dublin. The result could have been very different but it was a fantastic test from a team that play similar to ourselves; they played football and all the skills of the game were demonstrated today.

“There was some great fielding, great score-taking, great kick passing, great goals. For players – amateur players – to be putting their bodies on the line like that, it was a great testament to the spirit of our game and I think it’s one of the best field sports.”

But we weren’t roused by Gavin’s words yesterday. Maybe that’s the design of them as Dublin did their talking between the white lines.

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The Championship