Friday 18 October 2019

Ciarán Whelan: 'This Dublin side are a credit to the county, their families and themselves'

Dublin's Philly McMahon and captain Stephen Cluxton celebrate after beating Kerry to win their fifth successive All-Ireland SFC title at Croke Park on Satuirday evening. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dublin's Philly McMahon and captain Stephen Cluxton celebrate after beating Kerry to win their fifth successive All-Ireland SFC title at Croke Park on Satuirday evening. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Ciarán Whelan

Legends, one and all. So much has been written about this Dublin team over the past few years in terms of the superlatives used to describe them that you almost feel you can take them for granted.

But it's fair to say that they earned their place in the history books after Saturday's win.

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I have never been one to compare teams from different eras, as it’s impossible to do in many respects, but one thing that cannot be denied is that are the greatest team that I have ever witnessed and certainly they are the greatest Dublin team of all time. 

They deserve all the plaudits that have been bestowed on them and to produce such an excellent performance on the biggest day of all is a wonderful way to secure their legacy.

They won it in style too, which, while not vital, is an accurate reflection of the emphasis that they place on attacking football and once again, they came up with the right answers to all the questions that were asked after the drawn game.

That has been a hallmark of Dublin under Jim Gavin – they identify the areas that they need to address and come up, more often than not, with the right solutions.

Eoin Murchan was tipped to come in for Michael Darragh Macauley and the switch worked like a dream.

Of course, I'm not sure many people would have had Na Fianna's player down as first goalscorer.

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However, his pace was vital throughout the game and he showed it in spades, albeit with maybe a few too many steps as he burned David Moran before finding the back of the Kerry net with the confidence and assuredness of a seasoned performer.

Murchan’s goal was so crucial in terms of its timing as there’s no doubt that Dublin would have been slightly concerned to find themselves on level terms at half-time despite playing the bulk of the football in what was a brilliant first half.

Some of their scores in that half were superb and they started the game with such energy and intent with their shooting of the highest quality in the first quarter.

Kerry were happy to live off scraps and hit Dublin on the counter-attack and that plan worked very well for them with David Clifford their key man as always.

Tactically, Kerry were sucking Dublin in and looking to turn the ball over and they managed to do that the longer the half evolved.

With Jack McCaffrey also having to go off at half-time, I would imagine that most people were anticipating another tight finish but once Murchan pounced for that precious goal, Dublin were far more assured in retaining possession and they were happy to be as patient as they needed to be in retaining possession.

Turning Point: Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan can only look on as Eoin Murchan’s superb strike whistles by him into the net for the only goal of the game. Photo: Sportsfile
Turning Point: Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan can only look on as Eoin Murchan’s superb strike whistles by him into the net for the only goal of the game. Photo: Sportsfile

Of course, Kerry did kick some terrible wides in the second half and they will certainly rue those misses but it was noticeable that Clifford wasn’t the one doing the shooting on this occasion with Mick Fitzsimons doing an excellent marking job on him in the second half.

Those wides sucked the life from the Kerry challenge as did Stephen O’Brien’s goal chance that Stephen Cluxton did well to save, and in addition to that, I felt that were perhaps too late in bringing in both Tommy Walsh and Killian Spillane, players that could have made life more difficult for the Dublin defence. 

In contrast, Dublin’s forward line was far more potent and the 'Big Three' of Paul Mannion, Ciarán Kilkenny and Con O’Callaghan came up with the goods having been largely criticised after the drawn game.

I felt that criticism was slightly over the top at the time, particularly in relation to O’Callaghan, who was generally bright two weeks ago and was fouled for a number of frees, but on Saturday, Kerry weren’t even able to get close enough to foul him.

He is such an exciting player to watch, one that gets people off their feet, and irrespective of the quality of the ball that goes into him, he has the ability to secure possession and the power to cause problems for the meanest of defences.

He is, in my opinion, the Footballer of the Year and he just puts the fear of God into opposing teams.

Kilkenny may not quite have that threat in his locker but he was no less important and influential on Saturday as he gave a telling reminder of his talents with a brilliant performance right from the first whistle.

He may not have had a brilliant year, by his own lofty standards, but like this Dublin team in general, he delivered at the most opportune time, kicking four excellent points and showing all the leadership qualities that have been evident from the first time we saw him in a Dublin jersey. 

With Mannion also chipping in with four points, their combined tally of twelve points was so important, especially when you consider how difficult it was for Dublin to gain a scoreable free from Conor Lane.

They refused to become frustrated, thankfully, and I feel that their experience was central to their more composed second-half showing.

Overall, their game management was better than that of Kerry and that is something to which we have become accustomed.

Naturally, there will be questions asked about retirements in the wake of this wonderful achievement and there is also speculation about whether Jim Gavin will remain at the helm.

To be honest, I’m more than happy to park that speculation and just bask in the brilliance of this Dublin team.

They are a credit to the county, their families and themselves. All Dublin supporters should be eternally grateful for the entertainment and sheer joy that they have given us this decade.

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