Kildare's traditional approach should be good enough
Páidí ó Sé is tipping a Cork v Kildare final but says Pat Gilroy and Dublin will have regrets
T oday is one of the rare occasions when the managers of both teams have done it all themselves on the field of play. The track records of James McCartan and Kieran McGeeney have earned them the respect of the players, no small thing when you are in charge of a group of super-fit, highly motivated footballers, if I may say so myself.
Neither team today will be short of that crucial hunger required but if anything, Kildare need an All-Ireland even more than Down. There has been a huge upsurge of confidence in Kildare, especially since the win over Meath, and old Kildare footballers are walking tall again.
I have noticed even in West Kerry that tourists from Kildare are bubbling in a way that hasn't been so for quite a few years. This was illustrated last Monday evening when I had the entire O'Loughlin family from Rathangan in to see me in Ventry. They are the family of Lilywhite legend Paddy O'Loughlin, who won All-Irelands with Kildare in 1927 and 1928.
The strong bonds between Kerry and Kildare football were brought home to me when the O'Loughlin family told me that one of their proudest moments was when six-time All-Ireland winner Bob Stack called to their home to have dinner during the farmer protest to Dublin in 1966. These connections are still as strong as ever.
Today, Down will be fit, motivated, pacey and streetwise in their football. The experience gained by James McCartan when he won his two All-Ireland medals in the early 1990s, along with years of advice from his legendary father, also James, will stand to him today. There are few tricks of the trade that he doesn't know about and his brother Daniel will be putting this nous into practice.
Kildare will probably play a more traditional game and might even be caught out once or twice by the mobile Down forwards, but I am putting my vote with the Lilywhites to win by three or four points. What does that say about Kerry? Well, they were caught on the hop on that wet Saturday in Croke Park. I believe they were too complacent and they were without two key players in Paul Galvin and Tomás ó Sé.
As for last Sunday, I agonised long and hard before opting -- wrongly as it turned out -- for Dublin. To be fair, they were the better team for three-quarters of the game. In fact, they surprised me with their determination, their skill and their football panache. But they faded away in the last quarter when they committed what Dr Eamonn O'Sullivan used to call "foolish fatal fouls around the goals". Ross McConnell's foul was unbelievable in the circumstances; the ensuing penalty made the outcome inevitable. In my view, the best Colm O'Neill could have hoped for in that situation was a point. I'd have put the odds against a Cork goal at 25/1.
Pat Gilroy is a perfectionist, and if anything, from what I hear, he goes into so much detail that it could do your head in. But he will be raging at McConnell's temperamental flaws -- traits which he surely thought he had schooled out of the team. Later McConnell paid the price for his rashness when he was sent off after another foul but, again, he has plenty of time ahead to rue his hasty errors.
The best player on the field was, as I expected, Bernard Brogan, but even he showed a lamentable lack of know-how at the end. Gaining possession of the ball on the left-hand side of the pitch, he went for his own point with his left leg. As the world knows, the ball went wide and Dublin lost by a point. Heartbreaking.
I can't help but observe that Colm Cooper would have done it differently under similar circumstances. Cooper would have checked himself on that side of the field, and recycled the ball to a player in a better position with every probability that the outcome would have been a point and a deserved draw.
At such eternal moments the destiny of the Sam Maguire can often be reshaped, and it may be discussed on winter nights for the next 50 years, but what is done cannot be undone. My good friend Jo Jo Barrett will never forgive himself for missing a great chance
of a goal against Galway in 1964. Jo Jo, a fine footballer and son of the great Joe Barrett, was haunted for the rest of his career by that unlucky few seconds.
So too will Bernard Brogan -- a terrible pity in view of the superb game he had played up until the last ten minutes, but in all fairness Dublin were fading towards the end and Cork were gathering momentum and if the game had gone on for longer, Cork would have won by more.
I reluctantly tipped Dublin last Sunday and, as I said it was probably against my better judgement but, all in all, I think a draw would have been the fairest result.
I believe Cork are now certainties to win the All-Ireland but unfortunately the odds at Celtic Bookmakers are only 2/5, with Kildare 7/2 and Down 9/2.
Last week I heard Mick O'Dwyer's name being linked with the Mayo job. I think Micko would be a good choice. With an able management team by his side, he would inspire and motivate the Mayo players and give them that vital belief in themselves that would fulfil their latent talent.
But Micko's career could take a totally different direction if the mood in the Kerry County Board is to build for the future. An eminent North Kerry football authority is urging the appointment of O'Dwyer as CEO in charge of underage football in Kerry. This, to my mind, would be a very shrewd investment and I would urge the county board to go for it.