Kerry’s final kick was reminiscent of Dublin their pomp, plus four other things we learned from Sunday’s victory over Galway
We learned that the eight-year mini famine is at an end. We learned that title number 38 has been achieved. We learned that the relief Kerry fans felt at the full-time whistle was well worth the wait.
Here are five other things we learned on a brilliant weekend for the green and gold, its players and people...
Kerry’s final kick reminiscent of Dublin
It wasn’t that long ago that we were left to lament the Kingdom’s scoring return down the back stretch of the biggest games.
The contrast with the great Dublin side of the last decade – the Kingdom’s most obvious and consistent adversary – couldn’t have been starker. As the Sky Blues kicked for the line, Kerry’s rate of return often seized up. Not just in terms of their conversion rate, also simply for chances created.
Well that was then and this is now. This Kerry team are a different beast entirely. As a matter of fact the way the green and gold kicked for home against Galway on Sunday afternoon was more than a little reminiscent of Dublin at their very best.
Kerry’s bench had a massive impact – more of which anon – but more than that the way Kerry turned around a fairly ropey record in front of goals from the first half to the second was hugely impressive.
Kerry converted a fairly paltry 50% of their first half chances, whereas in the second they upped that to 77%. Meanwhile, Galway from a frankly remarkable 89% conversion rate in the first half saw theirs dip to just 53% in the second half.
Kerry thrived under the pressure at the end. Galway, meanwhile, stuttered a little at the last. That’s the difference between champions and runners up. To be fair to Galway, it took Kerry a while to develop that attribute.
Rounding out the game with four points unanswered – all in injury time – was in fairly stark contrast to the 2019 final when Kerry went over ten minutes without a score at the end, despite having a numerical advantage over Dublin.
Kerry’s bench lives up to its billing
After the Dublin match there was a bit of talk that the Kingdom’s bench maybe wasn’t all it had been cracked up to be.
We swooned after the Cork match in Páirc Uí Chaoimh when Paul Geaney, David Moran and Paul Murphy were held in reserve, but as the championship progressed and two of that triumvirate forced their way into the starting fifteen through form and circumstance, the bench didn’t look quite as formidable.
Against Dublin only Paul Murphy and Dara Moynihan really stood out (with the Dubs getting a much greater impact off the bench), and with Moynihan out of the running for Sunday’s final, there was a sense that perhaps the gap between Kerry’s reserves and Galway’s was tightening up. How wrong can you be?
All five of Kerry’s replacements impacted on the game against the Tribesmen, particularly the two introduced at half-time by Jack O’Connor and his management team. What a serious vote of confidence in the two Spillane brothers, Killian and Adrian, that was.
The two Templenoe men repaid their manager’s faith in them and then some. Adrian with a display of tenacity and determination. Killian with the sort of silken skills he’s renowned for, coupled with a real ferocity of intent and purpose.
Micheál Burns did likewise. Paul Murphy as ever was a real calming influence off the bench, while Joe O’Connor made an impact in his short time on the pitch, winning a vital free. Even Jack Savage showed up well in his brief time on the pitch.
The best bench in the game lived up to its billing on the biggest stage of all.
Jack is far from done
He’s some operator. The greatest manager the Kingdom have produced since his neighbour down in South Kerry, Mick O’Dwyer. On the weekend Brian Cody announced his retirement from the inter-county game, there’s a case to be made that O’Connor is the greatest manager currently working in the GAA.
On Sunday he eclipsed his nearest rival, Mickey Harte, moving on to four titles won as manager. He’s half way to Micko’s total of eight. Of course, it’s not purely a numbers game – is Jim McGuinness’s one with Donegal as or more impressive than Jim Gavin’s six with Dublin, for instance?
What O’Connor has done is utterly unique to him. He’s won his four titles over a near unprecedented three-terms in charge. He’s gone to work with underage sides – the vast majority of this Kerry squad went through his hands at some stage even before this season – helping lay the foundations for this success, before coming back around again to finish the job.
He’s also the oldest manager to ever lift Sam Maguire at 61-years-of-age, but he’s as spry looking as ever and is very clearly at the top of his game. The calls he made during this game, particularly the double substitution at half-time taking off two All Stars and key men over the space of a decade for the Kingdom, show he’s as ruthless as ever.
When he talks about hoping Sunday’s victory was ‘the start of something good’ it should put every other manager and every other county on notice. This guy is far from done.
He who dares wins
Shane Ryan is probably the unsung hero of the last couple of rounds of this year’s championship for the green and gold.
There was as much praise for Brian Ó Beaglaoich showing for his kick-outs against Dublin last time out as there was for the accuracy of the Rathmore man’s restarts. After Sunday, though, we think more people are going to take note of just what he did.
It’s not just the overall retention rate of his kick-outs that impressed – at 86% losing just three out of 22 – but the fact he was able to pick guys out from a distance.
In the first half it was much more so a safety first approach for Kerry going short with their restarts, but there was a change to that in the second half with Ryan going long more often (although not excessively) and yet still Kerry’s retention rate hardly dropped. That speaks to the quality of those restarts and to the quality of Kerry’s midfield and middle third play.
It was also key, we would argue, to opening the game up in the second half. Where Galway were quite happy to leave Kerry have uncontested kick-outs, a slightly more unstructured second half allowed Kerry to thrive a bit more up front in the second half.
Some of what obviously was down to the game naturally opening up more as bodies tired, but we wouldn’t be at all dismissive of the importance of Ryan’s role.
Everyone’s back and it feels so good
Some things we could do without. The struggle to find somewhere to park, for instance. During the lockdown we grew accustomed to practically driving up to the door of Croke Park. That was pretty sweet. The lack of traffic equally so.
Still all in all, Croke Park without fans, or even with limited fans, wasn’t quite the same thing at all. More so not even just in the stadium itself, it was the lack of all the usual sights and sounds around it that left you feeling a little empty.
Last Sunday afternoon was the first time since the 2019 final that it felt like the good old days before the pandemic. There was a carnival atmosphere around the city. O’Connell street was absolutely mobbed as was made our way up through it. The Kerry faithful gathering outside their traditional haunt, the Gresham, and all the way up along the route to the stadium.
Down Great Denmark Street and past Belvedere College, across Mountjoy Square, over to the North Circular Road and Gill’s Corner. Hats, flags and headbands. Are you buying or selling tickets? Up the Kingdom. Up the Tribes. And all the rest of it.
People were having a really good time everywhere you turned. It was a genuinely heart-warming thing to see, even for a cynical old hack such as ourselves.