High kings dethroned
THEY say the All-Ireland quarter-finals are where the football championship finally takes off. Yesterday it was the place where a couple of old ships pulled into port and shuddered to rest.
Dublin avenging Tyrone and rocking the Hill again in the process. Kerry floundering on the rock of Down football. The gates of the All-Ireland weren't so much flung open as ripped indelicately from their concrete stanchions.
What incredible fare it was. Kerry and Tyrone, bluebloods of the modern game, who had shared the last seven titles between them, toppled off their perch and swatted away like troublesome flies. And by a Dublin side that had been written off by their own fans and a Down team that was equally unheralded. Amazingly, they saw off their vanquished opponents by a combined 11 points. You simply can't script days like these.
The trouble for Dublin now is that, with two of the favourites now dumped out on their behinds, thoughts will surely start racing ahead to the title the city so earnestly craves. And on yesterday's evidence you couldn't find fault with such thinking. They were magnificent throughout, taking the game to Tyrone in a manner that suggested the blend of class and work-rate Pat Gilroy has been seeking may have finally come to pass.
They led by four points after 20 minutes but it was always a breathlessly close contest. When Owen Mulligan fired Tyrone in front after 40 minutes you sensed the game would swing the Ulster side's way but Dublin never stopped coming at them, never stopped believing. So often Dublin have tasted the bitter end of such thrilling encounters, but this time they had the answers.
In Bernard Brogan they had a hero. Brogan kicked nine points in all, four of them from play during a nine minute spell in the second half when Dublin asserted a bit of control. The sucker punch came a touch fortuitously when Eoghan O'Gara latched onto a rebound and blasted Dublin's goal. They were worth their stroke of good fortune, though.
Earlier, an age-old rivalry had been renewed when Down and Kerry squared up earlier in the afternoon. Down are quietly rebuilding under James McCartan and the consensus was that his attractive side wasn't quite ready for the challenge posed by Kerry, even if the reigning champions were without key figures in Tomas O Se and Paul Galvin. That prediction was widely off the mark, however.
Down's championship record against Kerry is a thing of wonder and strange beauty. Before yesterday it stood at a perfect 100 per cent: four meetings, four victories. Their last engagement had come in 1991 so the modern relevance was questionable. Yet of all the Ulster teams, outside of Tyrone, Down are the ones you would bank on not to quiver at the sight of a Kerry jersey. They made it five out of five at a canter.
It was a spiky, sometimes ugly encounter in which Kerry never led or looked comfortable. It took them all of 13 minutes to raise a flag. After 45 minutes they had withdrawn both of their starting midfielders. It was most un-Kerry-like behaviour. Down weren't out of sight by that point but an unlikely panic had set in on the Kerry sideline. The knowledge that they had no Paul Galvin -- or Darragh O Se even -- to rescue them was bracing.
"You're talking about about a current player of the year and a former player of the year missing," Jack O'Connor moaned about the absence of Galvin and Tomas O Se. "Any team is going to miss them, aren't they? Things needed to go right for us but they went haywire for us at times. It wasn't a surprising result."
The surprising thing yesterday was that Kerry played with a scowl on their faces, a telling indicator of a team which has spent too long at the cutting edge. Down contributed their share to the niggly exchanges, but Kerry more often set the tone. They could have no complaints when Donnacha Walsh walked the line for a second yellow card with 15 minutes remaining.
Still Kerry remained in the game longer than should have been the case. Brendan McVeigh twice denied Kieran Donaghy from close range and it was the second of those saves, after 63 minutes, that finally buried Kerry. "Today isn't the day to be talking about decisions," O'Connor said to the inevitable queries about his future. "We're just very disappointed. You need to let these things thaw a bit. Let it thaw a bit and settle. Fellas can make up their minds then."
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