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Dessie Farrell laments Dubs' defeat: ‘A plan is all well and good until you’re punched in the nose, as Mike Tyson said’


Killian Spillane of Kerry in action against James McCarthy of Dublin at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Killian Spillane of Kerry in action against James McCarthy of Dublin at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Killian Spillane of Kerry in action against James McCarthy of Dublin at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

If this was the end of an era, it didn’t quite feel that way as we ventured down the home straight of this titanic race.

James McCarthy playing like a man chasing his first Celtic Cross, not his ninth. Ciarán Kilkenny sniping points under the type of pressure that would turn mortal legs to jelly.

Dublin doing what Dublin always did in the rare old times when they owned Sam Maguire.

From the embers of potential disaster, six adrift early in the second half and perhaps lucky it wasn’t more, they had summoned up a performance that had their supporters daring to dream that one of their greatest ever victories was about to materialise.

Deep in stoppage-time, back level, and going full-court press on a Shane Ryan kickout, chasing a turnover that might propel them into All-Ireland final heaven and consign Kerry to the flames of hell.

And then, just like that, it was over. Flattened by a Seán O’Shea missile launched from a different postcode.

As a player, Dessie Farrell endured far more crushing defeats like yesterday than he savoured landmark victories.

Yet even he might struggle to recall the last time Dublin lost in this fashion – to the last kick of a straight knockout battle, a monster free into the wind converted with unfathomable bottle and technique by a player who had earlier fluffed a penalty that could have finished off Dublin even before half-time. By the time Farrell arrived in the media auditorium under the Hogan Stand, he was still wincing from that long-range dagger to the heart. Yet the Dublin manager also spied hope in the wreckage of defeat. He didn’t put it so bluntly, but this was a better way to lose than their unravelling to Mayo last August

Maybe the no-longer superhuman Dubs, for all their flaws, aren’t finished just yet. “We’ll all remember – some of the young lads in there won’t – the wilderness years in Dublin,” Farrell reflected.

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“Even after ‘83, ‘95, there were some barren years to follow. I’m hoping those days are gone. The challenge for the group is to try and keep evolving, that it doesn’t fall off a cliff.

“While you might not necessarily be winning titles, we set our stall out this year that we want to be really competitive for championship. And I think we were.

“We came up short today but for the group, the character, the resolve, how they carried themselves … that fighting spirit was evident in spades and I think that’s a great platform for the team.

“Even for some of the young lads, even in defeat there’s great strength to be taken in terms of what lies ahead for their own inter-county careers.”

Farrell kicked to touch on his own future after three years, declaring: “You may say I’m talking through my backside, but that hasn’t come into the equation at all. We’ll have a couple of weeks to reflect on that … that old cliché, there is going to be no decisions made tonight.”

But whoever is managing Dublin in 2023, facing that uncertain vista of a second consecutive year as the hunter, no longer the hunted, Farrell made it clear that he hopes the old guard don’t walk away just yet.

By the time next year’s championship dawns, Mick Fitzsimons will be 35, James McCarthy (left) and Jonny Cooper will be 33. That’s 50pc of Dublin’s starting defence. No country for old men? Not if you’re to take McCarthy’s second half tour de force as the benchmark.

Exhibit A: the skipper’s three turnovers for the price of one on 55 minutes. Exhibit B: his sumptuous point from the Hogan Stand wing in the 62nd minute, cutting Dublin’s deficit to two. Exhibit C: his soaring charge at the very next kickout, leading to a Kilkenny point.

“Some of that crew have a lot of miles on the clock and have given the most immense service to Dublin football,” the manager noted.

“But I’d be hoping for Dublin football that they – James in particular – stay around because the group dynamic has changed demonstrably over even the last year, but definitely the last number of years.

“A lot of young players, new players, many of them got game time today. But those players need the likes of James McCarthy and the Jonny Coopers and those lads to stay around and lead the way, because they follow brilliantly, to be fair to those young lads. And having that type of leadership at the helm is really important.

Next season, too, Dublin will have Con O’Callaghan back. In a game of inches, it’s hard to escape the suspicion that a fit and firing O’Callaghan might have pushed Dublin over the line.

They had known earlier in the week that he wouldn’t make it. “Time ran out for him. He did everything possible,” Farrell explained.

“Look it, Con is special, we all know that. But we discussed it during the week. We were either going to be good enough, or we were not going to be good enough … you get to play 15, you get to bring on five. And we came out the wrong side of that unfortunately.”

The wrong side of a watershed moment that had echoes of Stephen Cluxton in 2011. That free ended 34 years of championship suppression by the Kingdom – and kickstarted a run of five victories (and one draw) for a Dublin reborn. All changed.

“We just came up shy,” said Farrell, “and it’s a bitter pill to swallow. I’m gutted for the lads … they died with their boots on.”

One second, just like Jack O’Connor, his mind was in “overdrive”, racing with strategies for extra-time. “But a plan is all well and good,” a rueful Farrell concluded, “until you get punched in the nose, as Mike Tyson said.”

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