Dublin end 16 years of hurt as heroic fightback sends capital into ecstasy
EMOTION dripping from his voice, Bryan Cullen spoke for the whole of Dublin when he said they had been "to hell and back over the last few years."
But as he stood on the presentation area on the Hogan Stand, clutching the Sam Maguire Cup, he was looking out on a scene which, in the space of 10 whirling minutes, had become blue heaven.
Banked all around Croke Park on stand and terrace, thousands of Dublin supporters were inhaling deeply from a sweet-scented air which hadn't wafted across the capital for all of 16 years, when they last won the All-Ireland football title.
Dublin have new heroes, men whose names will be revered for a very long time, thanks to their exploits in an All-Ireland final which appeared all wrapped up in Kerry colours when Colm Cooper casually clipped over a point to put them four clear in the 63rd minute.
Kerry had outscored Dublin by 0-8 to 0-3 in the second half and were cruising at a speed which looked certain to carry them safely to the finish line.
Indeed, there was every reason to suspect that Kerry would increase their advantage as Dublin had scored only one point in the previous 22 minutes.
Dublin needed a goal to revive them, but where was it to come from?
Enter sub Kevin McManamon, the man who did so much to unpick the Donegal locks in the semi-final.
This time, he made an even greater contribution, popping up to take a pass from Alan Brogan and burrowing his way in on the Kerry goal before driving the ball to the net.
Kevin Nolan brought the sides level in the 65th minute and three minutes later Bernard Brogan put them ahead. Kieran Donaghy levelled it up in the 70th minute but just when it looked as if the first drawn final since 2000 was about to unfold, McManamon made another crucial intervention, winning a free 38 metres from the Kerry goal.
Stephen Cluxton pointed it, crowning Dublin All-Ireland champions for the 23rd time. It was the goalkeeper's 12th point of the championship campaign, making him Dublin's fourth-highest scorer.
As the Kerry squad watched in silent misery as Cullen was presented with the cup, their minds were already on rewind as they tried to rationalise why they had been unable to close out the game from such an advantageous position.
The answer, partially at least, rests not with them but with a Dublin team whose self-belief never wavered.
They had lost only one game (to Cork in the league final) all year and while the odds were stacked against them when Kerry moved four points clear, they never lost faith in their own ability to plot a recovery course.
It's most unusual for any Kerry team to be outscored by 1-3 to 0-1 in the final seven minutes, which is why this success will go down as one of the sweetest in Dublin history.
After all, it's only two years since they were humiliated by Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final and, even since then, they had to endure some very disappointing defeats, including in last year's semi-final and this year's NFL final.
Significantly, though, they beat Kerry in the league in both 2010 and 2011, wins which may not have looked all that important at the time but which may have played their part in constructing a mental toughness that stood to them yesterday.
The first clear evidence that it was underpinning Dublin's approach came after Cooper had slipped through the narrowest of gaps to score a goal in the 19th minute.
It put Kerry two points clear, a small margin in an overall context, but enough perhaps to raise doubt if Dublin were feeling insecure in any way.
Dublin's response was so positive that Kerry didn't score for 15 minutes, a period in which they conceded four points. Indeed, it would have been worse for Kerry except for a fine save from Brendan Kealy to deny Alan Brogan.
Also, Jack O'Connor deemed it necessary to begin repair work during that period, sending Paul Galvin in for Kieran O'Leary. It was a signal that Kerry were unhappy with the amount of breaking ball which was being snapped up by Dublin in the middle third, thanks mainly to the alertness and hard work of Paul Flynn, Barry Cahill, Cullen, Michael Darragh Macauley, Ger Brennan and Nolan.
Dublin led by 0-6 to 1-2 at half-time and when Bernard Brogan (free) and Denis Bastick scored points in the opening five minutes of the second half, Kerry were facing a real challenge. Typically, they rose to it and began to impose their will on proceedings in a number of areas.
Tomas O Se found room to go forward from the half-back line, Bryan Sheehan handled a lot of ball around
midfield, while Darran and Declan O'Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy and Cooper increased the menace factor.
Dublin's discipline, which had been excellent in the first half, broke down somewhat under the intense pressure, allowing Sheehan and Cooper to punish them from frees.
At 1-10 to 0-9 in the 63rd minute, Kerry must have felt that their 37th title was on its way -- indeed it might have been the case against the Dublin team of last year.
The crucial difference this time was that Dublin used the experience gained in the interim in a constructive manner. They stayed with the task, even when it looked as if it might be beyond them, and were rewarded with the match-turning break provided by McManamon's goal.
Even then, they still had a lot of work to do, but they went about it calmly and systematically.
Kerry, in contrast, grew edgy in the closing minutes, losing possession on a few occasions before finally committing the foul on McManamon which gave Cluxton the chance to kick the winner.
He held his nerve and steered the ball safely between the posts. Kerry won possession from the kick-out but couldn't move the ball quickly enough to get into the danger area before referee Joe McQuillan blew the final whistle.
Not that Kerry could have any complaints. They gave themselves every opportunity to win the game but were hustled into submission by opponents who refused to take no for an answer.
Scorers -- Dublin: B Brogan 0-6 (4f), K McManamon 1-0, A Brogan, S Cluxton (2f) 0-2 each, D Bastick, K Nolan 0-1.
Kerry: C Cooper 1-3 (0-2f), B Sheehan 0-4 (2f, 1 '45'), K Donaghy 0-2, Declan O'Sullivan, P Galvin 0-1 each.
Dublin -- S Cluxton; C O'Sullivan, R O'Carroll, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; D Bastick, MD Macauley; P Flynn, B Cahill, B Cullen; A Brogan, D Connolly, B Brogan. Subs: P McMahon for McCarthy (46), K McManamon for Flynn (51), E O'Gara for Cahill (57), E Fennell for Bastick (63).
Kerry -- B Kealy; M O Se, T O'Sullivan, K Young; T O Se, E Brosnan, A O'Mahony; A Maher, B Sheehan; D Walsh, Darran O'Sullivan; K Donaghy, C Cooper, Declan O'Sullivan, K O'Leary. Subs: P Galvin for O'Leary (24), BJ Keane for Walsh (51), D Bohan for Brosnan (63).
Ref -- J McQuillan (Cavan)