No grey day for the Blues as the Dubs are the raining champs
Published 21/09/2015 | 02:30
Kerry were the reigning champions, but Dublin are the raining champions. It wasn't merely a gentle autumnal mizzle which fell timidly upon Croker for the duration of the match, it was sheet after sheet of driving stair-rods hammering down on the players, on the grass, on the Hill. It was a West of Ireland downpour, almost as if the Kerry lads had scooped it up from a stormy Atlantic coast and conveyed it to the capital on the team bus.
And inevitably, it wreaked havoc on what it had been hoped would be a classic encounter between football royalty. The ball became mercury, slippery and unreliable, squirming out of hands and sliding off boots, hopping skew-wise off the smooth turf turned into a skating rink.
The deluge belted down on the dug-out, leaving the meticulous game plans of Jim Gavin and Éamonn Fitzmaurice in flitters.
Before the sodden skies emptied on the stadium, the mood among both Kerry and Dublin supporters strolling down Jones's Road had been sunny.
Skelligs man Dermot Walsh, who had been busy this month ferrying the 'Star Wars' cast and crew over to the Rock, was clad in an eye-watering outfit of luminous green and yellow. He had brought his bagpipes and his dog up from Kerry with him, but wisely chose to bring neither to the game.
The Tánaiste Joan Burton arrived with her daughter Aoife.
Joan was discreetly sporting a pale blue blouse.
"I'm on the ard comhairle, so I couldn't wear a jersey," she explained. A passing chap stopped and asked for a photo with her. "Who are you supporting?" she asked him as they posed together. "Fine Gael," he said cheerfully.
There were all sorts of familiar faces streaming into the ground. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams arrived at the Hogan Stand almost simultaneously; businessman Dermot Desmond, golfer Shane Lowry, Ben Dunne, author Cecilia Ahern (her dad Bertie had been spotted earlier) and Westlife's Nicky Byrne.
Everyone reckoned it would be close. Dublin by two points. Kerry by two points. The denizens of the Kingdom were quietly confident; after all, Dublin had never notched up three successive victories against them. But then again, Kerry heads were being scratched over some of the bainisteoir's decisions, such as leaving Kieran Donaghy, captain, man-mountain, four-time All-Ireland winner, fidgeting on the subs' bench.
And there was quiet relief among the Dubs when Cian O'Sullivan scampered out onto the pitch uninjured.
Then the rain came.
It was first blood to Dublin, with Brian Fenton slotting the ball between the posts within the first minute. But if anyone hoped it was the harbinger of a scoring bonanza, they were sorely mistaken. There were wides galore from both sides - Kerry amassed six in the first half, Dublin returned the favour with 10 in the second half.
There were wild wides and narrow escapes; Bernard Brogan had a chance which went so close to the Kerry goal, there was surely white paint left on the ball.
Still, after the teams drawing level a couple of times, Dublin got their soggy noses in front by four points at half-time.
The rain pounded down. The spotlights burst on, breaking through the murk.
During the second half, there were in reality two games under way - the hand-to-hand combat on the field and the fierce battle of wits between Jim Gavin and Éamonn Fitzmaurice on the sidelines.
Both benches emptied. Kerry groaned when their blue bete noir, Kevin McManamon, who stole away Sam from them in 2011 like a thief in the night, took to the field. Then they raised a roar as Kieran Donaghy stampeded on.
And lo and behold, the canny Kerry manager was outfoxed by the wily Dub.
But the boys in blue didn't make it easy for themselves.
Stephen Cluxton set nerves jangling with fumbled kicks and misfiring kick-outs.
Tension rocketed around the stadium. Only a goal in it, with minutes to go. Anything could happen, just like it did in 2011 when it was Dublin who snatched victory in the dying minutes. The whistle went, the Hill went bananas. Kerry players dropped to the ground. Kevin McManamon cried in the rain.
As Sam was lifted, a silver beacon glittering in the murk, golden streamers fluttered onto the grass, forming an ironic collage of green and gold.
Captain Cluxton thanked the team - "they left no stone unturned in trying to get Sam back," he declared. He tried to console the vanquished. "It could've gone either way - keep the heads and you'll be back next year," he advised. But it was way too soon for Kerry consolation.
Meanwhile, the delirious Dubs were en fete.
"We emptied our tank, we were all out, we were all in," proclaimed a hopping Ciarán Kilkenny.
Jim Gavin, who has now equalled Heffo's two Sam Maguires, was turning himself inside out in an attempt to accept no praise.
"It feels great. It's not about me, it's about the players," he insisted. The team did their lap with Sam to the blared soundtrack of 'Summer in Dublin'.
Someone had a sense of humour. But then again, way above the rain-clouds, the sky was bright, bright blue.