Saturday 25 November 2017

Kerry reaction: 'To lose like that is devastating'

O'Connor credits Dublin intensity after title snatched away

David Kelly

David Kelly

Jack O'Connor hauls himself into the media room freighting a luggage-load of regret. Only minutes before, he had imagined himself as the titular head of another Kerry All-Ireland success.

Four points up with seven minutes left, it seemed inevitable that their Kingdom cometh. But the fateful Gods had ink left for another page of dramatic script.

When Kerry go to the well, one doesn't expect them to leak water like a sieve.

Yet, so suddenly, so dramatically, Dublin's cup overflowed.

"It's tough to lose an All-Ireland any day but we looked like we were in control of that situation there," says O'Connor, skulking beneath a cloud of regret, manfully ignoring the blaring 'Walking on Sunshine' tune blasting from next door.

"I'm not too sure what was left, eight or 10, four points up. We had come back from three down. To go four up took a huge effort out of our fellas. Maybe that effort took its toll in the last five minutes.

"The two or three scores that Dublin got to win were turnovers, you know. So maybe the intensity and the pace of the game took its toll on our legs in the last five or six minutes.

"But in the general scheme of things, I have to be very proud of the way our lads played. I don't think many people would give us a chance of lasting with the Dubs the way we did.

"They played well and we rolled with the punches for a long time, played a lot of good football in the second half but of course to lose the way we did was devastating."

For nobody more than Declan O'Sullivan, whose hapless turnover, forced by a confection of Kerry hubris and latent, desperate Dublin hunger before Kevin McManamon's goal, unleashed a comeback that had seemed incomprehensible only minutes earlier.

"I'm not going to be hanging any guy out to dry, but of course the goal was a huge momentum-changer because we couldn't see Dublin getting it back on points. We were quite solid at the back, we had kept it tight at the back all day.

"We reduced them to the odd point or a few frees. But the goal was worth more than a goal really, because it just gave them life and gave them energy in the critical last five minutes to let them go on and win the game."

It wasn't just that it was galling to lose with such an agonising late flurry. More, Kerry had untied the Gordian knot that was Dublin's pressure game and had seemed to emerge in freewheeling style by the final quarter.

For Dublin in 2011, read Armagh in 2002.

"I'm not sure, I wasn't involved then," says O'Connnor. "It's not a great feeling now to lose it. I thought we played well, I'm not sure what ye thought, I thought we played awfully well in the second half.

"Dublin went three up. For us to turn that around and go four up, that's a seven-point swing. And that in a situation where Dublin were very good defensively. So for us to put that much effort in and to see it snatched away from us in the end is obviously tough to take."

Mercifully, O'Connor refuses to snatch at the bait offered by the evidence of a clearly contentious gimme free awarded to Bernard Brogan when Aidan O'Mahony purportedly played the ball on the ground.

Well, he accepts it in a Kerry sort of way.

"Well, there was one I saw on the replay, a free in for a hand on the ground against Aidan O'Mahony. It just showed on the big screen that it wasn't actually, he just pulled on the ball.

"But look, I'm not going to go down that road. We had that game in our hands with seven or eight minutes to go and a couple of errors ... that may be down to the pressure Dublin put on us.

"They put us under severe pressure at different periods of the game and maybe that told on us at the end, I'm not sure."

In essence, it's the second time he has intimated that his side arguably succumbed to greater physicality and fitness; particularly when Dublin belatedly discovered that running at the Kerry defence could cause problems.

But O'Connor, like the rest of this city's startled witnesses, wouldn't be human if he revisited an afternoon that will raise so many metropolitans on its songs and stories.

"It's a tough one to take," he says, repeating for emphasis. "It's hard to take -- 15 minutes to go, we thought we had it won. That's life though, you know? Who said life is fair, like?

"I'd have to say, we can look ourselves in the mirror and hold our heads high. We gave absolutely everything and prepared thoroughly. We trained very well and hard, really hard. It showed today, we had plenty in the tank.

"Maybe it looked like Dublin's name was written on it. They got one or two breaks. They got a sniff. 'Twas snatched away from us and we have to live with it. When you've one hand on it ... "

His sentence did not need completion. Dublin had already applied their own startling punctuation.

Irish Independent

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