Monday 19 February 2018

Billy Keane: Tug-of-war tactics out window as forward-thinking old rivals turn back-passers into Flat Earth Society

Kerry's Tadhg Morley breaks away from Dean Rock during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Kerry's Tadhg Morley breaks away from Dean Rock during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The Kerry-Dublin story never ends. The story is one of heroism, glory, skill, drama, conflict, controversy, victory, defeat and yes, respect too.

Kerry won at last. And yes I know it's only the League but this was the biggest 'only the League' game ever. Dublin were unbeaten for 36 games and were going for five League titles in a row. What is it with the five in a row? Is it cursed or what?

As for Dublin, it was in defeat, on a day when they were some way below their best, that their greatness came through. They never give up.

Kerry won because they were a fresher, younger and faster team. I suspect too that Dublin are not as fit as they were this time last year. Some of their older players were allowed a little bit more time out this winter.

Croke Park is a field and a half. You need the twitch of a sprinter and the doggedness of a long distance runner to survive here in a place with no lay-bys or shallows.

Dublin won four Leagues in a row, a truly incredible achievement. Their team is one for all seasons. You could dress them up in winter onesies in July and they wouldn't drop a bead of sweat. And then send them out in a mankini in the appendage-shrivelling cold of a freezing day in Healy Park and they would take no notice.

It's about mental strength. And although many of us have complained, often justly, about all the home games, it has to be said Dublin won so many of their League games on the road.

They are far from finished. Dublin are still the team to beat. But now we know they can be beaten.

To Dublin I would say - and I hope this is not seen as some sort of patronising winner's plamás - aren't ye better off to be beaten here in Croke Park by your greatest rivals, rather than lose on a bad winter's night in some dimly lit outpost of the GAA?

There's a shared history here, a respect born from never taking each other for granted. And The Hill clapped for a long time for the Gooch when his tribute was shown on the big screen.

And if anyone tells you this is only a game well then they are the last of the righteous among the legions of us who know the GAA is so much more.

We are a territorial people who fight for their own corner. And these two teams didn't spare each other but no one was killed.

This may seem strange but part of me was hoping Dean Rock would get the last free. I like the Rocks. Our guess is the referee told him this was the final play of the game and from about 48 metres at that. There was no blame to Dean and when his kick caressed the post, the final whistle was the shrill elegy for the five in a row.

Kerry had men who drive on up the middle in these days when lateral and backward passing has ruined the game. Some coaches take the tug-of-war approach - the winners win by going backwards - but thanks to Dublin all along, and Kerry today, the back-passers are now honourary members of the Flat Earth Society.

Peter Crowley will be sore tomorrow. No man puts himself on the line as much. He is the team's spiritual leader.

Tadhg Morley is another man who goes as the crow flies. He's a rare find. Paul Murphy erased the memory of a miscue in Tralee on a night when Dublin equalled Kerry's record of successive League and Championship wins.

They know what it is to be Kerry and why it is we are the way we are. We too never give in even when all around us gave us little chance of winning.

I backed David Moran at 25/1 to win man of the match. Today he played all the way through the game. There were no time-outs or check-outs. The new mark rule is excellent.

High fielders are rewarded and a dying art was saved from the ambushers waiting at the bottom of the jump. David is by some way the best in the game.

Young Jack Barry followed every Brian Fenton run and sally. He has gears, has Jack. Barry is a leader in waiting. And we will not be waiting too long either.

Our winning point was kicked by Bryan Sheehan, who made the ball bend from right to left, as if he was using a curling tongs.

I might go on just a little bit longer. There have been so many days against Dublin when I have had to come in here to the sports desk to write up Dublin. It was like in those cowboy pictures when the baddie makes the goody dig his own grave. As if it wasn't bad enough to get shot.

Kevin McCarthy was written off a few years ago, another classy minor who was lost in the glut. But Eamonn Fitzmaurice saw something worth salvaging and McCarthy paid him back.

Kerry had heroes everywhere. Young Jack Savage was playing with the U-16s when Dublin started their run. He has a bit of fire in him and the skill augments the guts.

The two Geaneys were full of movement, guile and skill. Mikey was nearly man of the match and Paul got better as the game went on. Paul's mother died three years ago after a long illness. And today she looked after her boy.

Yes history was made today but the big games of the summer and autumn are yet to be played out, and it is most likely we will witness another epic or two between Kerry and Dublin. Like we said, the story goes on.

All you have to do is turn the page.

Irish Independent

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