Eugene McGee: Dubs saved by the bell - and by their bench
Kingdom go distance but champs edge heavyweight bout by landing late blows
Published 29/08/2016 | 02:30
In football it is not enough to be just the best team in a big game but you must also develop the knack of winning the tight ones when both sides are practically equal.
Dublin gave a classic example of that yesterday in a dramatic, tension-filled encounter that will rank with one of the greatest Dublin-Kerry games even if the overall quality of both teams was not on a par with some glorious encounters in past years but nobody was complaining.
The very nature of the game with so much at stake for Kerry in particular meant that it was sure to develop into a massive challenge for both sides and that is what happened.
At different times in a very sporting encounter that both sets of payers should be proud of, each team looked positively brilliant in their overall execution of movements and scores.
For once the timing of events worked against Kerry because when the game was eventually being won and lost it was Dublin who regained the initiative and in the final 15 minutes they snatched five points to Kerry's two so there can be no argument about the final result.
Dublin were there with cuteness and perseverance at the right time to grab two great scores from Eoghan O'Gara and Diarmuid Connolly and deprive Kerry of what would have been one of their greatest victories over the great rivals.
The manipulation of the subs by both management teams was critical in this game but Kerry were hampered by the fact that some of their changes were forced upon them, most notably Darran O'Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy with injury, but the withdrawal of star forward Paul Geaney seemed very strange as he was their best attacker all through the game and the Kerry crowd seemed upset.
Dublin, as usual in recent years, gained maximum return for their substitutions with O'Gara getting the lead point in the 72nd minute. It will not matter to the loyal masses of Dublin followers but their team did not play anything like their best for long periods, something that also applied to Kerry in the opening 24 minutes when they only managed four points to Dublin's nine.
But sloppiness was banished with a devastating display from then until half-time when they scored two goals with the help of Stephen Cluxton. Kerry wiped out that deficit and went five points ahead at the interval. In fact, one could say Dublin were saved by the bell then because a few more scores from Kerry would have sewn up the result.
Instead Kerry started off even worse than in the first half and only managed a couple of points in the opening 20 minutes while Dublin crashed through with a string of points to draw level with only 14 minutes played.
Realistically that was the kiss of death for Kerry because in most of their former glory days they would drive home that half-time lead and finish the contest early. Not this time which shows how Kerry football has changed.
There are valuable lessons for Dublin to work upon a they as they prepare to play Mayo. The long-held view in some circles that the team was not diminished by the departure of two All-Ireland winners in defence, Rory O'Carroll and Jack McCaffrey, was solidly rebuffed and the two goals Kerry got amid confusing defenders proved that.
It is at least one point of hope for Mayo as they face the final.
This was a really massive football contest, showing once again that perfection in classic skills is not a necessity for great games to unfold. The fans were spellbound all through as it seemed for so long that underdogs Kerry were going to win.
It was not to be but even the most demanding Kingdom supporters should be pleased enough with what they saw. The young talent is very strong but of course the problem is that a team rebuilding session is now required and four or five of yesterday's performers are unlikely to play in Croke Park again.
The most vital thing for Dublin was Dean Rock's freetaking and he scored 10 from placed balls and two from play. But then, it wasn't off the grass he licked it! Dublin deserved their win this time but Kerry always come back and will again. A few refereeing decisions went against them but as always there will be no whingeing from Kerry.
Dublin will be raging hot favourites to beat Mayo, but based on yesterday, Mayo are certainly not without hope.
Time to end era of dummy teams
The organisation involved in staging big games in Croke Park has been very good in recent years and has greatly added to the enjoyment of fans when visiting the stadium.
However, there is one very annoying aspect that upsets a huge number of people - not just those attending the games, but the hundreds of thousands who keenly follow the team sheets all over the country.
Managers are treating GAA followers with utter contempt by playing silly games with team announcements.
Yesterday we had a typical example of this carry-on when no less than five changes were made just before the game started.
This is simply deception by the managers, with no regard for the loyal GAA people, who are being treated like fools.
The Kerry team was announced on Friday night and gave blatantly wrong information regarding the selection of Brian Begley, Stephen O'Brien and James O'Donoghue, who did not line out at the start.
So the match programme, which fans shelled out €5 for, was publishing wrong information.
Dublin, of course, were also at fault by removing Paul Mannion and Denis Bastick before the throw-in.
This sort of behaviour insults the fans, who, mangers might remember, are the people who finance the GAA by their gate receipts and much of that finance ends up servicing the needs of county players.
The GAA has tried to stop this, but to no avail. Stronger action should now be demanded.
Good manners never hurt anybody, but maybe a hefty fine to an offending county board would stop the practice.