Friday 20 September 2019

Billy Keane: 'Football returns to good health with pulsating contest'

Dublin's Jack McCaffrey scores his side's first goal. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin's Jack McCaffrey scores his side's first goal. Photo: Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

This is no field for ordinary men.

Yesterday was the day when the young and the old, the brave and the bold fought for the glory of the game that was written of and reviled, but is now revived.

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Kerry and Dublin is no myth made up by marketing gurus or by old men who only hold sway because there is nobody left to recall the events of yesteryear. It is real, alive and the rivalry moves all of us to realms beyond the recorded highs of emotion.

We are who we are. Yesterday I was proud to be Kerry just as thousands more are proud to be Dublin. We were written off by the bookies and our brave young men rode their luck at times, but they never gave in.

They go at it again on Saturday week. Another 12 days, then, of kicking the duvet, when dream-time for us old boys will become game time.

Dublin's number-one old boy, Stephen Cluxton, made two superb saves. The cutest of them all was well off his line for the penalty save.

Jack McCaffrey was faster than turning on the light. He had the game of his life. His goal was the best team goal seen at Croke Park for a good many years. And it was Cluxton who delivered a kick straight out of make-believe. His delivery record is better than Santa Claus.

Tearing

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Up to the goal Kerry were the better team, with David Clifford tearing Dublin to pieces, ably assisted by Seán O'Shea. The kids became men.

The red card was, alas, deserved. Clifford spooked Dublin and it was game on coming into half-time.

Kerry conceded the kickout and while we might have got away with turning the game into backs and forwards against a lesser team, the invincibles were delighted with the concession.

David Gough gave the peno when Clifford was pulled, and in one whistle he blew away all those who felt he would not be fair.

PJ McGrath was the referee in 1982 when Seamus Darby ended Kerry's dream of five-in-a-row. I am delighted to report PJ is being cared for with great love and affection in his beloved Mayo. It's tough on his family as PJ is unable to get to Croke Park for his favourite week of the year.

The McGrath family have been so kind to me this past week after I mistakenly reported PJ had passed on. I am so sorry. PJ's daughter Aine texted: "Dad always taught us it costs nothing to be kind. Hope you're ok?"

Son Paraic, who is a referee in Melbourne, wrote: "As a referee myself, standing and officiating in the middle of the GAA pitch is a great honour and privilege which our Dad put up there alongside his family, village of Kilmaine and county of Mayo as a great honour."

I am so sorry for any hurt caused.

To the Gough family, I would say well done. David was the ref, and his four umpires were his own family. Eugene Gough, Terry Gough, Stephen Gough and Dean Gough, all from Slane, backed up David.

Never has a referee been under such pressure. There were mistakes. Kerry could have had another penalty and Dublin a free. Kerry escaped a red. Right at the end he should have given a Kerry free over near the Hogan, but he didn't and Dublin nearly won it. But David Gough, the man who has championed LGBT rights, proved himself to be a man of the utmost integrity.

Kerry need to up their game but they are an improving team who will come on more than Dublin for the experience. Kerry could have had four goals. Dublin will worry. They were efficient but McCaffrey was both brilliant and efficient. But above all, Dublin were brave.

The game looked over for Kerry when Dublin came with that irresistible surge. But then Killian Spillane upheld the family honour with a glory goal. Tommy Walsh did his dad proud with a steal and then showed blue blood courage when he kicked a famous point that curled over the bar like a sausage frying in a hot pan. Kerry had the better bench and Peter Keane played his cards perfectly well.

The endgame was too much for a body to take. Dublin turned over ball after ball. Kerry couldn't break out. But the much-maligned Kerry defence were very good. Dublin were bigger but Kerry threw their bodies in front of the tanks.

A Dublin mom had to leave the main body of the stand and she stood beside our position in the press box. The noise was too much for her baby. We got chatting with Catherine. The baby's name is Clodagh and we watched the last few minutes together. Clodagh with the ear muffs on slept sound. She's a dote and Catherine calmed us all with her serenity.

My heart was pounding though and I rubbed the stone I harvested from the grave of our fallen hero, Tim Kennelly, like it was bead from the rosary.

Dublin missed several scores towards the end. But they kept on attacking, kept on believing.

Kerry are learning on the job. We have more scope for improvement than this Dublin team, who refused to die.

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