Monday 21 January 2019

Compulsive viewing

EPIC is a word I normally associate with those fantastic movies of the 50s and 60s – ones like Ben Hur, Spartacus or Laurence of Arabia. Blockbusters like these were lavish productions and provided human drama on a grand scale.

They had enormous casts, included all the top actors of the time and delivered magnificent entertainment from start to finish. Disappointment always descended on theatres when the credits rolled because audiences were usually hungry for more.

Last Sunday afternoon in Croke Park I witnessed another epic. Cormac Reilly's final whistle was greeted with a gigantic roar that reverberated like waves around the stadium as Dublin fans celebrated a famous win. Eighty thousand spectators were treated to seventy minutes of wonderful entertainment that had us on the edge of our seats right up to the closing seconds.

We too were hungry for more. Neutrals in the stands, and there were many of us, would have been happy with a draw and the sequel to follow next Saturday evening. But alas it was not to be.

This was the type of football that we had hoped for. Dublin/Kerry games have always been special - always had a certain romance about them. It's been that way for a long as I can remember. I've always had a soft spot for the Kingdom and I was disappointed for them in the end.

On the balance of play they were just as good, and maybe even slightly better at times, than their opponents. But the final five minutes was just too hot for them. Many of their thirty-somethings were running on empty. The younger Dublin legs and 'eager to impress' substitutes simply overran them in the closing stages.

Kerry led by four points with half an hour remaining but from there to the finish the Dubs outscored them by 2-8 to 0-3. That statistic was not apparent during the engrossing finale. And if Declan O'Sullivan's late effort had gone over rather than narrowly wide then perhaps the outcome may have been different.

Jim Gavin just shaded the battle along the sideline, though it should be noted that he had much greater ammunition available to him on the bench than his counterpart. The half time switch of Cian O'Sullivan onto the Gooch and the timing of the introductions of Dean Rock and Kevin McManamon were pivotal to the final outcome.

Eamon Fitzmaurice did all his good work before the game. He had his charges primed and well equipped for battle. His clever tactics nullified the influence of Stephen Cluxton and their two flying wing backs. You could also see the thinking behind opting for the fit again James O'Donoghue instead of the out of sorts Kieran Donaghy.

But in the white heat of the touchline it was Gavin who made the smarter calls. He reshuffled his pack intelligently to curb the threats that were unfolding before him and this is ultimately why his team triumphed.

All good movies must have a hero and there were lots to choose from. Colm Cooper gave a masterclass of forward play and barely put a foot wrong while the aforementioned O'Donoghue had an outstanding opening half. Cian O'Sullivan and Michael Dara McAuley were immense especially after the break when Dublin needed to dig deep.

But for the second time in two years the Oscar goes to Kevin McManamon. His fantastic late goal put Kerry to the sword just as it did in 2011. My Dad, who was with me at the game, compared the finish to the 1977 semi final when two late goals separated the same two sides. Folklore tells us that game was one of the greatest ever played. In my humble opinion this recent box office release probably surpasses it.

Favs through

In the senior championship on home soil wins went the way of all the favourites with Cooley now facing O'Connells in the semis and St Pats facing the Blues. The Drogheda men were by far the most impressive performers of the weekend running up a huge tally against the hapless Mattock Rangers. They will now really fancy their chances of causing an upset against the champions who were far from impressive in their narrow defeat of Ardee on Saturday evening.

Mighty Lilywhites

Finally the mighty Lilywhites march to their first league triumph since 1995 continues unabated with another win on the road, this time against UCD at Belfield. Remarkably, Stephen Kenny's men have now taken 31 points from a possible 39 on the road this season. The 2-0 win displaced St Pats at the top of the table after they could only draw with Bohemians. With six games to go the title is now within Dundalk's own hands. Local neighbours Drogheda, who are also in fine form of late, are up next on Sunday evening and Oriel Park will be full to the rafters. No quarter will be asked or given for this one.


I cursed Eoghan O'Gara's late late goal as it pushed Dublin's winning margin out to 7 points and rendered last weeks 4-6 point bet useless. This week we go for €20 on Declaration of War at 5/2 in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

The Argus