At one stage yesterday the The Fields of Athenry filled the Croke Park air, but as the curtain drew on an epic All-Ireland final, Kerry’s Rose of Tralee eventually stole the show.
As a nervous Kerry energy eventually made way for a relieved sense of joy, Galway supporters, albeit sanguine in defeat, will eventually reflect on what was an opportunity missed.
It could have all been so different for the green and gold, however, had it not been for the individual performance of the mercurial David Clifford.
It is a mark of the player when he can contribute eight points on All-Ireland final day, but still leave supporters thinking he wasn’t at his best. All afternoon, his efficiency with limited possession was incredible, with only one first-half wide to blotch his otherwise flawless final report card.
Much credit has to be given to marker Seán Kelly who didn’t leave his side all afternoon, and could scarcely have done more to quell the Fossa man’s influence.
Aside from his eye-catching marks and trademark points from play, Clifford’s two second-half clutch frees under a breezy Hill were arguably his best scores of the game, such was the pressure Kerry were under at the time to throw a defiant Galway off their heels.
If it was going to take something special for Galway to challenge Kerry, Cillian McDaid and Shane Walsh delivered final performances for the ages.
McDaid personified everything good about Galway in the manner in which he continually drove at Kerry with a display that delivered four points from play.
A consequence of his unmatched effort, his second-half wides can’t be faulted, on a day that he was simply peerless around the middle third.
Alongside him, Shane Walsh sprinkled Croke Park with stardust all afternoon, with one point better than the next.
In the end the two boys could do no more and didn’t deserve to be on the losing side. Ultimately, not enough players in maroon joined them in the scoring stakes.
In the pre-match analysis, I predicted that Galway would need to bulge the Kerry net to win this game. As it had been all year, Shane Ryan’s goal would remain well protected by an organised and disciplined Kerry defence that ultimately kept Galway both goalless and short of the critical 20-point total required to win a game at this level.
Small margins, however, and had Galway pulled off the upset you can be guaranteed the blame would have been placed at Kerry’s largely conservative door.
It will be to their enduring credit however that Jack O’Connor, Paddy Tally and Co stuck with the game-plan they have committed to all year.
Considering how Kerry threw away the drawn 2019 final against Dublin, the controlled and composed way that they saw out yesterday’s close encounter has laid some of those demons to rest.
Much of that has to go down to the impact of Kerry’s bench compared to the inexperience Pádraic Joyce was forced to call upon heading down the home straight.
The Galway manager got little return from his substitutes in contrast to the safe hands of 2014 man of the match Paul Murphy, and the pace and energy of Kerry’s Killian Spillane.
That Joyce and his management team have built a team of such relative inexperience, capable of delivering a peak performance on the biggest of days deserves huge credit.
Unfortunately, the road back is as long and fraught as it was at the beginning of this year, and despite the deserved plaudits, Joyce will know this was still an opportunity missed, with no guarantee that they will be back any time soon.
For his Galway team to go one step further, he will in all likelihood have to conquer a Kerry side that might only be starting their own journey. On a weekend when two All-Ireland final day legends Brian Cody and Pat Spillane left the sideline and RTÉ screens respectively, David Clifford formally commenced his own All-Ireland legacy.
At just 23 years old he has won his first All-Ireland medal, with his fourth All-Star and Footballer of the Year awards all but a shoo-in. In all likelihood, he will go on to amass a haul of accolades without parallel in any era.
What will be will be, but for now it was a joy to witness in person his first Celtic Cross yesterday, with a performance befitting his status in the game.
An All-Ireland final Sunday with an old-school regal feel to it, few former Kings of Sam have worn the crown better. It was a privilege to witness. Comhghairdeas Chiarraí.