Wednesday 18 September 2019

Billy Keane: 'This is our field too - let the battle for Jones' Road begin'

Kerry defender Tom O’Sullivan celebrates a job well done after the final whistle. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kerry defender Tom O’Sullivan celebrates a job well done after the final whistle. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The winner's journey up Jones' Road is like no other. Yet this street is like so many others.

There's a pub on the corner with the pre-match crowds hanging off the sides like an Indian train. Down a bit you'll see a lock-up or two, a garage, even a fancy Italian called Wallace's.

The rows of red-bricked terraced houses with bright curtains are homes to families. One of the residential side streets is named after Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington who was born Irish but truly hated us.

The terrace next to the Duke's street is named after Holy Mary.

And yesterday in Croke Park, Kerry were saying their novenas at half-time.

Here's one I baked earlier. This sentence was written during the break when Kerry were four down: "Kerry were too young and not strong enough. You could see the built-up backs of the Tyrone players as they ran out on to the field. It was wide backs versus narrow backs."

Most of those watching the game were full sure Kerry were going to be well beaten.

Mickey Harte is the master of subterfuge. He made three changes at the start. Conor Meyler, with 15 on his back, man-marked Sean O'Shea. Meyler plays like a bounty hunter. There were 33,848 witnesses but none of the four umpires, the two linesman and the one referee spotted the pulling.

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Torrid

But that said, Tyrone's defence was well on top. And fairly. Kerry were pushed out to places where points were harder to kick. Mickey got it right in that torrid first half. Kerry just gave Tyrone the ball from the kick-outs.

There was a tactical deficit. Our sweeper was too far away from the Tyrone inside forwards. There was no support for Jason Foley, who was isolated on Cathal McShane. Foley did his best but when Tyrone played the ball in laterally to give McShane the edge, he made the most of it. Kerry's top forwards were too far out from goal. We looked beaten.

The half-time consensus was it's as well to be put out of our misery now, rather than on All-Ireland final day. We will come back to the second half shortly. But we must bid goodbye to Mayo.

Thank you Mayo for bringing us with you on the journey. And what a journey it was. Marty pointed out that Mayo supporters spent their money in three different currencies this summer. They are the faithful and the indefatigable.

The Mayo players, though, are flesh and blood. The blood boiled but the flesh was weak. Mayo just wore out. They were asked to play too much.

Dublin were superb. Even with a longer break between games, it's unlikely Mayo would have won. A senior GAA figure expressed serious concern to yours truly on the player welfare issues involved for Mayo.

These men who have given so much to our game deserve much more than the sweat shop designed by the fixture fixers and the Congress biscuit-dunkers.

But now it's time for the miracle of the second half.

David Moran is a quietly spoken man off the field. But he led Kerry along with Stephen O'Brien, whose place in the final is in doubt due to a rash pull-down late in the game.

O'Brien is neck-and-neck with Con O'Callaghan for Player of the Year.

There is talk of an appeal. I wonder will Joe Brolly take the brief. Kerry, it seems, will concentrate on the Meath black card, which was very dubious.

Kerry were magnificent in that second half. There was none of the lateral passing. Peter Keane's changes worked so well.

My old flatmate Sean Walsh took a while to get fit. So, too, did Sean's son Tommy. He's nearly 100pc, and come the final Tommy will be an even bigger threat. Tommy is running freely now for the first time in more than three years.

Stephen O'Brien's goal was vital, but what won it for Kerry was the long-range points under pressure. Paul Geaney, O'Brien, O'Shea and Brian Clifford - who has the ability to live in the moment and forget earlier misses - kicked sweetly.

Any time Kerry win the All-Ireland, big points are kicked. Tyrone looked good for so long.

Cathal McShane was unmarkable. Niall Morgan ensured Tyrone won 25 out of 27 kick-outs. Colm Kavanagh from The Moy caught a high one when all seemed lost.

Kerry, though, showed they are a second-half team. The Kingdom have a really good bench and will stay every minute of the 70.

The Dublin five-in-a-row victory song is a rousing enough ditty, and all the evidence points to the making of modern Irish and GAA history by this team of our time who have unified their city.

Dublin play nearly every game at home but we also own the playing rights to the field at the top of Jones' Road. Dublin, on all known form, are the hottest favourites ever in an All-Ireland final. This is no Kerry blather. Check the prices. Dublin are just so good - maybe the greatest.

Kerry are still learning but we are learning on the job, the best education of all. We are still alive and we have a chance. Today on our road, in that rousing second half, Kerry found the heartbeat of home.

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