Wednesday 18 September 2019

Colm Keys: 'History shows the balance of power second time around lies with the team more accustomed to winning'

Analysis

Jim Gavin and Peter Keane both have plenty to learn from their drawn encounter ahead of this evening’s replay. Photo: Sportsfile
Jim Gavin and Peter Keane both have plenty to learn from their drawn encounter ahead of this evening’s replay. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Thirteen days ago, the drawn All-Ireland football final had just finished when the first psychological shot was fired from a Dublin gun.

Jack McCaffrey had smiled and laughed as he marched behind the band in the pre-match parade, free-spirited as ever, before following it up with a performance for the ages that earned him the official man-of-the-match award.

But when it came to accepting the award afterwards - a presentation brought forward from the traditional banquet slot on the night of the final - Dublin insisted the handover would be conducted covertly. No interview, not even a camera rolling for posterity. GAA president John Horan did the honours out of the public eye.

Maybe footage of a smiling McCaffrey again, and the message they felt it might have transmitted, was too much of a trade-off for the convention of a ceremony. The thinking may have been 'what had anyone to celebrate, even a half-back who had scorched the place to score 1-3, when the honours were still even, when it was only half-time?'

It doesn't amount to much, but it offers an insight into Dublin's thinking at that time. As a spectacle, as an occasion, the drawn game was already behind them.

Retreat

If anything, Jim Gavin's counterpart, Peter Keane, beat an even hastier retreat, again conveying the impression that if you are reflecting too deeply, you're already losing.

Had Kerry, as outsiders, blown their chance? With the odds so heavily stacked against them, history would suggest that they have. Reach into the vault of replays over the last 20 - even 30 - years and cases of upsets second time around are few and far between.

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Take Dublin for example. They've been involved in six championship replays since the turn of the century and each time it has gone with expectation: losses to Kerry (2001) and Tyrone (2005) in line with consensus, while they were expected to win against Donegal (2002), Meath (2007) and Mayo (2015 and 2016), and duly obliged.

For Kerry's two All-Ireland semi-final replays with Mayo in this decade, 2014 and 2017, favouritism was a matter of choice. Kerry's 2015 Munster final replay with Cork went according to plan.

Of course, the reign of the great Kerry team of the 1970s and '80s was brought to an end in a replay with Cork. After Mikey Sheehy's late goal had thrown them a lifeline in the drawn game, they were fully expected to press on but were spent.

And there have been some isolated reversals 'against the head': Down beating Tyrone in an Ulster Championship match in 2008 before Tyrone went on to win a third All-Ireland final of the decade that summer, and Donegal beating Galway in an All-Ireland quarter-final replay in 2003. Also, in hurling, Wexford's taking down of Clare in a 2014 qualifier replay, and Dublin tying up All-Ireland champions Kilkenny a year earlier in a replay.

Favourites, though, rarely feel as vulnerable second time round. Their sense of the threats around them tend to be much keener. No matter how much they seek to convince themselves otherwise, human nature is such that outsiders will always carry a heavier weight of regret that they didn't seize the moment when it presented itself.

Balancing that against the knowledge that they competed so hard and created so many goal chances has been Kerry's greatest mental challenge this week.

Bad blood that simmers in a drawn game can often come to the boil in a replay, though there has been no evidence of this so far.

Between the 2016 drawn game and replay, former Dublin footballer and current selector Paul Clarke raised the temperature when he urged officials to get tougher on Mayo defender Lee Keegan, claiming he was "pulling and dragging" Diarmuid Connolly.

"I actually think Lee is conceding his footballing ability by pulling and dragging rather than pitching himself against him as a footballer," said Clarke.

As it transpired, Keegan was black carded for pulling down Connolly after scoring a goal. In the aftermath of defeat, Mayo boss Stephen Rochford was in little doubt that there had been an "agenda" in the number of Dublin players singing off the same hymn sheet, following similar comments made by Ger Brennan.

In 1988, Meath were fortunate to escape with a draw against a physical Cork side that had laid down a marker with their approach. For the replay, Meath took a much more aggressive approach as one of the most brutal finals unfolded.

There was no obvious trigger in the drawn 1996 final that set off the infamous brawl in the early stages of the replay between Meath and Mayo.

However it develops today, the balance of power second time around lies with the team more accustomed to winning. History rarely deviates from this trend.

Irish Independent

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