Saturday 19 October 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'It's time to end the begrudgery and accept that the future remains Blue'

No team deserved to win the five-in-a-row more than Sky Blues, writes Eamonn Sweeney

Dublin manager Jim Gavin acknowledges the cheers of the supporters after watching his side win a fifth successive All-Ireland title. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach
Dublin manager Jim Gavin acknowledges the cheers of the supporters after watching his side win a fifth successive All-Ireland title. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach

Rumours of Dublin's demise were greatly exaggerated. After a fortnight when it was claimed that crucial chinks had been revealed in the champions' armour and that they were there for the taking, the replay turned out to be as ultimately predictable as it was entertaining.

You could say that there was only going to be one winner after Eoin Murchan's spectacular solo goal just 13 seconds into the second half. But the truth is that there was only going to be one winner after Kerry failed to push on when leading by a point with injury-time approaching a fortnight ago.

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That simple truth was partly obscured afterwards by a fog of optimism. In the rush to acclaim Kerry as heirs apparent and denigrate Dublin as a team who had been found out in some way, the significance of Jonny Cooper's sending off was largely ignored.

Yet Dublin's fourth-quarter travails in the first game resulted in a large degree from their having to play the whole second half with a man down. Restored to parity, they became their familiar inexorable selves. In this game's fourth quarter Kerry were not able to trouble them anymore than Tyrone were last year.

It's time to end the begrudgery and give Jim Gavin's team its due. Quibbles about who got what funding when and pointless demographic arguments seem unbelievably petty when set against the achievements of this side.

In the end this turned out to be Dublin's joint easiest win of their record-breaking five. It's a dozen years since a team enjoyed a bigger one. After all the talk about Kerry posing problems Dublin hadn't faced before, you have to say that Mayo gave them more trouble over two games in 2016 and were stronger in 2017 than Kerry were this year.

The orgy of wishful thinking which followed the draw was perhaps not just understandable but inevitable. For two years the destiny of the championship had seemed such a foregone conclusion it was hard to resist the temptation to claim that it had been blown wide open.

But this wasn't the case. Perhaps it would have been better for Kerry and for neutrals had Dean Rock landed his last-gasp free a fortnight ago. They could have taken solace in having been pipped at the post and feel they might have won had further breaks gone their way. We could have spent the winter thinking that Kerry were practically Dublin's equals and licking our lips at the renewal of an historic rivalry.

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Instead we were rudely hauled back to reality. The weaknesses which Kerry managed to camouflage the first day undid them second time out. After the semi-finals it looked unlikely that their full-back line would be able to contain Paul Mannion and Con O'Callaghan. Having somehow managed to do so in the drawn game, they were badly exposed in this area, with the duo landing four points each from play.

Kerry are a good team but are they really heirs apparent to Dublin? Donegal, Tyrone and a fresh Mayo team would probably have done as well yesterday. They might even have profited similarly from playing against a Dubs side short one man for one whole half.

The future does not belong to Kerry. It belongs to Dublin for as long as they can maintain their focus and hunger. For all the talent of their players, I suspect that the only real obstacle to their doing so will be the retirement of Jim Gavin.

As great a manager as Brian Cody and Mick O'Dwyer, Gavin has been monstrously under-rated. You feel he'd be quite happy with that. Yet the one change he made yesterday, bringing in Murchan for Michael Darragh Macauley, proved as clear a masterstroke as you could wish for.

Murchan's goal might be the ultimate example of how Dublin always find a way to get things done because there is always someone to meet the team's needs at the most vital stage. When Jack McCaffrey limped out of the game just before half-time, Kerry must have breathed a sigh of relief.

Not only was McCaffrey Dublin's best player, but his ability to attack at blistering pace from wing-back had exposed Kerry's Achilles heel, their porousness down the centre. Yet right at the start of the second period there was Murchan, who'd never before scored in the championship, attacking with blistering pace from wing-back.

His pursuit by David Moran was like the old cartoon duel between the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. Murchan didn't just keep one step ahead of Moran's grasping paws, his finish with the outside of the boot was exquisite enough to suggest that inside this wing-back a frustrated corner-forward yearns to burst forth.

Dublin have been great for football. One reason Kerry looked so good over the two games is that Dublin always give the other team a chance. They are more concerned with their own strengths than those of the opposition.

This has made them a beautiful anomaly in an age when, for a long time, it seemed that negativity was the prevailing creed. We were enjoined to accept that football was evolving towards a zero point of defensive obduracy and attacking caution.

Dublin have torn up that script. Jim Gavin's lack of personal flamboyance should not hide the fact that he is one of Irish sport's great romantics. When less imaginative managers and pundits stressed the necessity to follow an 'Ulster style' form of football which had become obsolete years ago, Gavin's teams played a kind of Total Football.

That's why Dublin's two goals in this year's finals came from wing-backs and why David Byrne came up from corner-back to score a great point yesterday, as Philly McMahon had done in the decider which began the drive for five. Dublin are tough and fit and skilful but above all they are adventurous.

Under Gavin they have always heeded the better angels of their nature. It's likely that in the end, his vision of football, rather than cruder and more fearful ones, will prove most influential.

No team deserved to make history more than they did.

We've been lucky to have them.

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