Sport GAA

Sunday 15 September 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Let's wait to see what the replay brings before buying into mystique of a new Kerry golden era'

Killian Spillane of Kerry is congratulated by team-mate Paul Geaney after scoring his side's first goal during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Killian Spillane of Kerry is congratulated by team-mate Paul Geaney after scoring his side's first goal during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Do you remember the drawn 2005 All-Ireland football quarter-final between Tyrone and Dublin? Probably not. Or at least not very well.

Yet immediately after that game, it was hailed as an all-time classic, one of the best matches ever played in Croke Park, fit to rank with the eternal benchmark which is the 1977 semi-final between Kerry and Dublin.

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When Tyrone easily beat Dublin in the replay a fortnight later, everyone changed their minds and embarrassedly admitted that the merit of the first meeting had been somewhat exaggerated.

Replays put draws into context. The result of the second match is required before we can discern the true meaning of the first.

That's why anyone who's insisting that this year's drawn football final shows that the championship is competitive once more, that the balance of power is tipping away from Dublin and that Kerry have become serious challengers is probably being a bit previous.

Let the hare sit.

The over-reaction is understandable. We've become so used to the idea of this championship as proceeding to an inevitable conclusion that any evidence to the contrary was always going to be seized upon. You can understand why people might want to gild the lily a bit.

That's why there's surprisingly little mention of the way Jonny Cooper's sending-off changed the game. What makes this particularly odd is that it comes just two weeks after the dismissal of Richie Hogan at the same stage was supposed to have 'turned the game Tipperary's way' and 'ruined the final.'

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Hogan's sending-off apparently accounted for the entire 14 points which eventually divided Tipperary and Kilkenny. Cooper's, on the other hand, supposedly didn't contribute at all to the five-point swing which followed in its wake. It was just one more incident in the game.

Yet, up to the sending-off, this year's final was beginning to look a lot like last year's. Some 12 months ago Tyrone led by four points after 15 minutes before Dublin took control after a Paul Mannion goal, built a seven-point lead by half-time and strolled home from there.

This year Kerry were one up at the end of the first quarter before Dublin took control after a Jack McCaffrey goal, built a five-point lead coming up to by half-time and . . . then Cooper got sent off.

Tyrone didn't trouble the Dubs' defence the way Kerry did last Sunday but Galway did in last year's semi-final. Back then Damien Comer scored a goal in the tenth minute and won a penalty after being fouled by Cooper which Eamonn Brannigan had saved by Stephen Cluxton in the 13th minute. Dublin still ran out easy winners in the end.

This year Cooper fouled David Clifford for a penalty which Cluxton saved from Paul Geaney in the 12th minute. Dublin looked likely to weather the storm again before the sending-off changed everything.

Because, despite all those old wives' tales about the mysterious power accruing to teams with 14 men, possessing an extra man is a big advantage. Hence the opprobrium showered on Donal Vaughan when he was sent off seconds after Joe McQuillan showed John Small the red card in the 2017 final. There were only 22 minutes left then but the consensus was that Dublin would never have held off Mayo if they'd been a man short.

The 2016 Mayo team would probably also have lifted the Sam Maguire if they'd had a spare man for the entire second half. In fact, it's interesting to ponder what the reaction would have been had a Mayo team playing against a 14-man Dublin side failed to win after leading at the end of normal time. Chances are they'd have been derided as bottlers who'd thrown away their big chance. Their draws against full-strength Dublin teams in 2015 and 2016 weren't greeted with half as much ballyhoo as Kerry's last week.

This double standard owes a lot to the mystique which still adheres to Kerry football and to the national longing for someone to break the monotony of Dublin dominance. I think it's led to an over-estimation of Kerry's achievement in the drawn game and wouldn't be surprised to see the replay panning out a bit like that of the 2005 quarter-final which Tyrone won by eight.

I might be completely wrong of course. You can't tell till you see what happens second time out. Perhaps Dublin will have another man sent off.

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