Colm O'Rourke: The GAA could make a pitch with some of that Apple money nobody seems to want
If there was a better sporting contest in the world last Sunday I have not heard about it. Maybe there was a more entertaining rugby, soccer, basketball, hockey or cricket match which has escaped my notice, but it would be hard to find a more enthralling or fiercely contested match than the latest thriller between Dublin and Kerry.
This contest was also a timely reminder that the competitive zeal which burns within elite sportspeople is not conditional on money or fame. Winning is all that counts, even if the buzz does not last long as there is always another river to cross. This was evident with Jim Gavin after the match. Job done, move on. If people wanted to drool over the game then so be it, but the All-Ireland final is now the only thing that counts.
Still, when I heard the word 'process' being used by the Dublin players and management I began to wonder if I had tuned in to Tim Cook of Apple and a debate on the missing billions. Maybe the GAA could make a pitch for some of that Apple money that nobody seems to want. It would certainly build a lot of dressing rooms, not to mention all-weather pitches and floodlights.
Anyway, this was as good as any game I have seen between the two great sides. All opinion is subjective, but it was as good as if not better than the 2013 version and a faster, more skilful match than the 1977 one.
The way the game panned out amounted to an examination of the soul of this Dublin team, and the response was entirely positive. They simply would not lie down. True champions demonstrate their greatness when they are under most pressure, and Kerry pushed the Dubs to the limit and could have sneaked it.
Dublin won because they were the better team, they had more possession, more scoring chances and ultimately more scores. And most of the best players were on the Dublin team too - Kevin McManamon, Cian O'Sullivan, James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper, Brian Fenton, Ciaran Kilkenny and Diarmuid Connolly. Dean Rock had the game of his life but did not get nominated on The Sunday Game for man of the match. His game has developed a lot this year. He is not just a free taker and not just a taker of handy scores either, he is now a ball-winner who can score and lay it off. He can tackle too.
The only player on the Kerry side who was as good as or better than this group was Paul Geaney, who caused havoc all through. Killian Young, Paul Murphy and David Moran all had their moments but Kerry did not have enough players playing well from start to finish.
Kerry did most things right and still lost, the substitution of Geaney notwithstanding. Last week I wrote about how some brave team might press up completely on the Stephen Cluxton kick-out but I never thought I would see it. It was like a military manoeuvre and came with a close-in free when all the Kerry players had a chance to mobilise for the kick-out. Two banks of four faced Cluxton and this led to the first goal at a time when Dublin were in complete control.
Half-time was the time-out Gavin badly needed. The ship was steadied and even at that it was a fair achievement to come from five down without any sign of panic. In a big game in Croke Park, it takes an iron will to keep frustration under control. That is what makes players great.
As Kerry slipped away quietly, they kept their views on the refereeing close to their chests. The annoyance was not in the same league as after 2011, but David Gough was in the dock for not giving a free to Peter Crowley after he was flattened by McManamon when Kerry were a point down with a couple of minutes left in injury-time.
At the time I thought it was a good, honest challenge, and it was only with the benefit of replays that it became apparent that it was a foul. A free is a free is a free and should not depend on time, place or score. With Bryan Sheehan on the field, it would most likely have ended up as a draw. Such an outcome would not have disappointed me in the least and it was something I was hoping for in those last few minutes. What neutral would not want to see a repeat?
Kerry were unhappy with the refereeing, in the last quarter particularly, but they certainly benefited from a few decisions early on which helped get them back into the game. Aidan O'Mahony's challenge on Philly McMahon was worse than the McManamon one, yet McMahon got up, did not complain and the tone of the match and the sheer hardness of it was set by the refereeing and, of course, the sportsmanship of the players.
Forensic analysis of any game will throw up a load of debatable decisions, but Gough was firm, calm and allowed a great, tough, honest game to take place. Were it not for that last decision, nobody would have noticed he was refereeing.
If Conor Lane does a similar job in the final then we will see another great match. I think Lane is a good referee but he is more inclined to issue cards quickly. Hopefully in the final he will forget to bring them out of the dressing room.
As an aside, the whole system of appointing a referee for the final is a joke. Just because someone referees the semi-final, that should not rule him out of the final. The best referee should be chosen for quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals instead of the present system where a referee knows that if he gets a semi-final he is effectively ruled out of the big day. This makes no sense.
There are many who will preach that this match shows there is nothing wrong with Gaelic football. Perhaps it demonstrated the exact opposite. If there are only a couple of teams capable of playing at this level then there is something wrong. And if anyone thinks that this also shows there is no need for a secondary competition, then they have only woken from a summer slumber during which the gap in standards was always widening.
Dublin won because they have the best players but also because of their attacking attitude. At one stage of the second half I counted 12 Dublin players in the Kerry half of the field, sometimes leaving forwards behind them unmarked. They trusted themselves to hold on to the ball and work a scoring opportunity. In contrast, when Tyrone, in possession, were chasing Mayo in the quarter-final for an equalising point, I counted 12 Tyrone players in their own half. Fortune favours the brave.
Dublin have had a warning. They showed greatness in running down skilled, hardened warriors from Kerry who played with as much passion as the Dubs. The concern for Mayo now is that Dublin could be even better for this examination and they are unlikely to gift kickouts to Mayo as they did to Kerry in the second half. Seven short ones from Kerry went to Shane Enright. What were Dublin thinking when they were chasing the game? If you give a good team easy possession, it is very hard to get the ball back. Expect Dublin to be less accommodating to Mayo.
Sunday Indo Sport