Monday 16 September 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Kerry blow big chance and this could be more painful than 1982'

Despite having 14-man Dubs on ropes, underdogs fail to deliver killer blow in frantic closing minutes

=Kerry manager Peter Keane speaks to his players
=Kerry manager Peter Keane speaks to his players
So close, but so far: Dean Rock of Dublin kicks a free late that sails narrowly wide during yesterday’s draw final at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Kerry have thrown away their chance. The 2019 All-Ireland football final will be remembered as the one the Kingdom left behind them.

For eight minutes they were champions-elect. Between the 65th minute when Killian Spillane put them ahead and the 73rd when Dean Rock finally equalised for Dublin, the crown was within Kerry's grasp.

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Spillane's 55th-minute goal began a ten-minute spell when the challengers outscored the champions by 1-4 to 0-1. Not only was the momentum with Kerry but for the first time in their entire reign Dublin were floundering.

Jim Gavin's side hit three wides on the trot, two of them, from Brian Howard and Diarmuid Connolly, hit-and-hope pot shots utterly untypical of the five-in-a-row-seekers. When the third, from Cormac Costello, was ruled out by Hawk-Eye, you believed it could be Kerry's day.

The problem was that Kerry did not seem to believe this. Having taken the lead by carrying the game to Dublin and punching holes in their defence, Peter Keane's men appeared suddenly overwhelmed by the potential enormousness of their achievement.

After Spillane's point they did not create one scoring chance or even mount a seriously threatening attack. Instead they tried to keep possession, engaging in the kind of short, lateral and backward passing that seldom sees out the clock, even against limited club opposition. It was never going to work against Dublin.

Having striven so hard to get into a winning position, Kerry seemed to baulk at the implications of victory. One more score would have sufficed. Instead they sought to be saved by the clock rather than take responsibility for their own fate.

The result is a lost opportunity of epochal proportions. It's up there with Jack Dempsey failing to go to a neutral corner with Gene Tunney on the canvas, with Bonnie Prince Charlie turning back to Scotland when the road to London was clear in front of his army, with the record company guy turning down the Beatles because guitar groups were on the way out.

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Two years ago Dublin trailed Mayo by two points with six minutes left. Mayo did not stall or stumble. They kept going at full tilt but Dublin pegged them back with great scores from Paul Mannion and James McCarthy before beating them with another one by Dean Rock. Dublin needed to be at their very best to foil Mayo.

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Yesterday was different. The old fighting spirit was there in abundance in the closing stages but Dublin seemed oddly low on inspiration, Jack McCaffrey, Dean Rock and Brian Howard aside. For the first time in five years they really were there for the taking.

Kerry will pay heavily for their failure to capitalise. It's unlikely the stars will align so favourably in a fortnight. Or even in the next couple of years perhaps.

Dublin were, after all, forced to play the entire second half with 14 men. They also had to cope with the complete eclipse of Brian Fenton, the fact that Paul Mannion, Con O'Callaghan and Ciarán Kilkenny could muster just 0-3 between them and a general lack of sharpness which suggested the lack of competitive games had caught up with them.

Some of their problems were created by Kerry. Tom O'Sullivan's policing of O'Callaghan enhanced his reputation as one of the game's best defenders, while Jack Barry is to Brian Fenton what Kryptonite is to Superman.

David Moran was imperious at midfield and Seán O'Shea matched the usual extraordinary dead-ball stuff with his finest all-round performance yet.

Had any one of David Clifford, Paul Geaney or Stephen O'Brien matched O'Shea's performance, the celebrations would currently be under way in the Kingdom.

That a triumvirate who notched 1-9 in the semi-final only managed 0-3 in the final despite a plentiful supply of ball will only add to the feeling that this was the one that got away.

You can't really say that Kerry have dispelled Dublin's aura of invincibility. The only way to do that is by actually beating them. We've been down this road before with Mayo.

You also can't ignore the profound effect which the dismissal of Cooper had on the game.

Dublin were five points clear when he went and this year's final was beginning to look a lot like last year's, a feisty initial burst by the underdogs giving way to a clinical reassertion of superiority by the favourites.

The numerical disparity changed all that. Unless it's repeated, chances are the replay will resemble yesterday's first half rather than its second. In which case this draw may become Kerry's most bitterly disappointing final memory since their own five-in-a-row bid came unstuck at the death in 1982.

This was like the 1982 final but with Kerry scoring a late equaliser after the Seamus Darby goal to bring us back to reality. We know who'd have won a replay back then and we know who'll win a replay now.

In 1554, Lady Jane Grey was put on the English throne after the death of King Edward VI. But Lady Jane and her followers were too weak to take their big chance. She's gone down in history as the 'nine-day queen'. This Kerry team may be remembered as the eight-minute champions.

After missing her opportunity, Lady Jane was imprisoned in the Tower of London and beheaded. Kerry will probably suffer the footballing equivalent on September 14.

Come at the king, you best not miss.

Irish Independent

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