Friday 15 November 2019

Colm O'Rourke: Worthy champions do it the hard way and prove thatgood organisation and perseverance always pays off

Pat Gilroy's men rode their luck but when their chance came, they seized it, says Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Last Sunday was one of the greatest sporting occasions anyone could hope to enjoy. Perhaps not for the Dublin minors or Kerry seniors but for the neutral, there were two marvellous matches with drama heaped upon drama in both, and a level of bravery and endeavour which excited a watching nation, not to mention thousands overseas.

I am party to giving the GAA at the highest level the odd short-arm tackle over the way they do business yet this was one time when it was a pleasure to be a member, and to admire the organisation of the day and the manly qualities of those providing the entertainment.

The sky has rained blue since Sunday as Dublin showed that with resilience and courage you can eventually get there. It was only by reading the programme that I realised the enormity of the task. Players like Bryan Cullen, Alan Brogan and Barry Cahill with seven Leinster medals had never played in September. There was a time before the back door that seven Leinsters would have translated into at least three or four All-Irelands.

For these players and others well decorated at Leinster level there was nothing but sickening defeats in August and accusations of being chokers and not being up to it when the heat was turned on. Now they are liberated and will play even better as a result.

A lot of credit for this must go to Pat Gilroy and his management team. Perhaps Gilroy quoted to his players from a famous speech by Theodore Roosevelt to show the importance of keeping going, no matter what the critics said. "It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds, who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."

Nelson Mandela gave a copy of this speech, given at the Sorbonne in 1910, to South African captain Francois Pienaar before they won the World Cup in 1995, but the speech could have been about the current Dublin team. Now they will appreciate winning all the more.

While Dublin celebrated and the game captured the imagination of the city, Kerry went home with serious regrets.

The initial sting will mellow with time but the Kerry players will remember this match far, far more than many of their greatest victories. That is the nature of players and deep in the recesses of their minds this one will last forever. How a game which they had total control of was lost will haunt them. And if Pat Gilroy and his players all said afterwards that they still believed they could win when they were four down with seven minutes to go then all I can say is God bless their belief, because it was something that was not shared by many. At that stage of the game, Kerry were in absolute command. Even Stephen Cluxton, who is so accurate with kick-outs, could not find a man. Kerry were gobbling up possession and had scored eight points to Dublin's one from the 42nd minute to the 63rd.

The Dublin tackling was fraying at the edges and bad fouls were given away by Ger Brennan, Kevin McManamon and Cian O'Sullivan which led to points. Gooch had moved outfield and was helping to control the whole tempo of the game. Dublin were the better side in the first half but now, nearing the death, Kerry looked more composed, more skilful and just better footballers.

Then the most valuable sub in the world struck. Kevin McManamon can rightly claim that he was the single biggest influence in winning both the All-Ireland semi-final and final. What may be forgotten in all of this too is that Kerry were still in front when the goal went in but the Dubs were like sharks and sensed blood in the water.

What happened after the goal was some of the best football ever seen in Croke Park -- it was highwire stuff with no safety net. Dublin got three brilliant points to win the game while Kieran Donaghy's point was incredible in the circumstances. Few could have experienced such tension in those last few minutes.

It was a day for Dublin to have new heroes. Not least among them were the two Brogans who worked for the common good from start to finish. If Alan follows his brother as Footballer of the Year then there will be few complaints. He has served a long apprenticeship and the 'man in the arena' could have been written for him alone. Close in the value stakes was Cluxton, calm in his primary job and impeccable in the execution of additional responsibilities. Not far behind were Michael Darragh Macauley, Kevin Nolan and captain Bryan Cullen while Diarmuid Connolly paid for his reprieve with real effort and hard graft.

And all other Dublin players kept up a punishing shift which stopped Kerry playing until the second half. As they tired slightly it looked as if the class of Gooch, Donaghy and Bryan Sheehan was going to be enough. It was then that fortune favoured the brave.

It must also be said that the Dublin players in victory were well-spoken, humble and gave a great example of how to carry oneself on such an occasion. This was something that was always associated with Kerry and manager Jack O'Connor was very gracious in defeat. As is the norm, the manager of every defeated side always comes in for criticism and so it was with O'Connor for moving Donaghy out, taking off Brosnan and so on. It seems a peculiarly GAA thing to always look to lay some blame at someone else's door and it is something which is particularly unattractive about football in general.

Yet while Kerry were generous in their praise of Dublin they had smoke coming out their ears about the performance of referee Joe McQuillan, something of course none of them will mention publicly in case they are accused of sour grapes.

They have a case too. McQuillan had a very good year but unfortunately had a bad final. Most of the big decisions went the way of Dublin. There were at least three close-in phantom frees, and in the first half one such free yielded a yellow card for Aidan O'Mahony, another against Paul Galvin for a very good tackle while in the second half, the supposed handling of the ball on the ground was either a penalty or nothing.

Then Ger Brennan was fortunate to get off with a yellow card for the tackle on Declan O'Sullivan even if the ref was probably right as O'Sullivan was falling, it did seem to affect O'Sullivan for the rest of the game especially for the Dublin goal. Brennan obviously believes in taking things beyond the edge as he struck his hand into Donaghy's face at the end of the game. It had come about after the bravest act of the day as Brennan threw himself onto a loose ball after Cluxton's last kick-out.

Yet what really irked Kerry and rightly so was to blow up the game just after the two minutes' injury time had been played. It took Cluxton the most of a minute to kick over one of the greatest points in history but it was a very strange decision to end the game as Kerry were on the attack. They should have had at least another 30 seconds to try and equalise.

On such decisions empires are built and sometimes fall. Kerry will probably be back in a year or two as even if there are changes the class players are still young. Yet Dublin are the kings and deservedly so. They have worked diligently over many years with some great disappointments, and losing some brilliant servants like Ciarán Whelan before they struck gold.

The Dublin victory is a lesson to all counties that good organisation, honesty in application and team before self can eventually pay off. This time round the light at the end of the tunnel is not the next train. And it is not just a cliché -- this Dublin team as worthy champions are good for the game.

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