Though it has not aged well, the 1981 All-Ireland final featured some of Gaelic football's best players and one of its finest ever goals. Kerry already had a three-point lead when an elaborate move culminated in a thunderous strike from Jack O'Shea that left Martin Furlong grasping air. Without being at their peak, Kerry completed four in a row.
If those players were to look back they'd find some of the football undeniably sloppy and unsophisticated. But allowances need to be made.
Players moved to the traditional rhythms of catch and kick. The '81 final had 82 hand-passes; last year's All-Ireland final replay recorded 426. In '81 the ball was kicked 146 times outside of scoring attempts. Last year's replay had 97. But those 97 were likely to have been of a high quality, whereas a good many of the 146 are best forgotten.
When talking about the changes in hurling that the recent appetite for past games had highlighted on these pages last week, Eamonn Cregan mentioned Dave Weldrick as being an early pioneer of the modern possession-driven game in Gaelic football.
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Playing a club football match against Weldrick's Thomond College, Cregan spoke of the opposition's high fitness levels for the time. And of a corner back, who was supposed to be marking Cregan, sallying up the field and getting on the scoresheet.
But that was way ahead of the curve. In the 1981 All-Ireland final, a 50-second passage of play in the first half spoke volumes for the witless spirit that prevailed. A kick-out from Furlong was fielded in the middle of the field by Pádraig Dunne.
He kicked deep into Kerry territory where possession was turned over. Paudie Lynch kicked to the middle of the field; Offaly's Tomás Connor won it back. Connor went long - Kerry reclaimed possession. John O'Keeffe gathered and hand-passed to Tim Kennelly.
The centre back drop-kicked down the middle, where Liam Currams intercepted. He kicked for distance - Kennelly won it back. Kennelly chanced another drop-kick, but scuffed his execution, the ball going over the sideline.
The modern possession-driven coach would be aghast. Even then, drop-kicks looked senseless and self-indulgent. Why on earth? Kennelly, who had a magnificent game, drop-kicked three times in the opening half. Noticeably, he didn't attempt any after the interval.
Even the sideline that resulted from Kennelly's drop-kick, taken by Offaly's Pat Fitzgerald, saw possession lost - the ball going straight to Seán Walsh. Finally, Walsh broke the sequence of squander-mania by picking out Eoin Liston with a raking cross-field ball.
Recently, the 1982 All-Ireland final between Offaly and Kerry was shown on television, a much better game and contest than the year previous. But even the best games, what appeared the classics of that era, do not tend to hold up well to modern scrutiny.
We know that it is unfair to be overly judgemental and yet some of the evidence is hard to credit. "You see the miskicks, and I have seen some involving yours truly, and think, 'Oh God, I should have done better there'," says Pat Fitzgerald, wing back in '81 and a year later when they defeated Kerry. "I think some of the guys playing would not have been that accurate, but they had other strengths.
"There was a story about Mick Holden from Dublin, that every time he got the ball and kicked it, it would go out over the sideline. Now, not every time obviously. But they'd say that when it came back in he would get it again. You know what I mean? It didn't matter. It was that type of game. Some of these guys might not have been the most accurate but by God they'd make up for it in other ways."
The late Eugene McGee challenged Offaly to improve their kicking standard in order to overthrow Kerry and Dublin. "He put a huge emphasis on accurate kicking," explains Fitzgerald.
"A huge emphasis. We practiced that a lot. We did the physical training and so on but we practiced kicking. For fellas coming in, who thought they could play football, the first time he introduced that they would have asked: 'What is this about? We know how to kick the ball.'
"But he didn't care if you knew, you practiced till you got sick practising it. Because it has to be accurate. And I think our kicking game steadily improved."
In his student days in Galway in the 1970s, Fitzgerald met Mick O'Connell at a book signing and got into a conversation about football. "He was talking about kicking the ball accurately to your teammates, I suppose the thinking man's game," recalls Fitzgerald. "Using the ball accurately rather than aimlessly." Mad as it seems, that was seen as a slightly radical way of thinking at the time.
Football has undergone various rule changes to help smooth some of its rougher edges. This year is the 30th anniversary of frees and sidelines being permitted from the hand.
A work group set up to examine ways of making the game more fluent found that in the 1989 All-Ireland final between Cork and Mayo, there was only 31 minutes and 19 seconds of actual playing time. Stoppage time amounted to 43 minutes and 16 seconds.
On average, each stoppage lasted 26 seconds. At Congress in 1990 those reforms seeking swifter restarts from sidelines and frees were voted in enthusiastically, among the most enlightened and successful reforms in the game's history.
That year Cork and Meath met in the All-Ireland final. Distinguishing features of a tight and relatively low scoring final (Cork winning 0-11 to 0-9, the lowest winning score since 1969) were the old style duels that hardly exist now.
Niall Cahalane's absorbing battle with Colm O'Rourke. Until his late first half dismissal, Colm O'Neill wrestling match with Mick Lyons. The four midfielders contested virtually every kick-out in the air. That fidelity to traditional field positions has gone.
Nine years on from Kerry v Offaly, there was a noticeable change in the players' physiques. Hand-passing had increased but only once did four hand-passes occur in succession. Rarely did you see more than two in a row. The number of hand-passes to kick-passes was 105 to 100. The hand had, marginally, become the more favoured method of transfer. Now it is over four to one in its favour. The other marked change has been in kick-outs. Of 38 kick-outs in 1990, 36 were aimed long. In last year's final replay only 15 of the 49 kick-outs went long distance.
The rate of change has accelerated in the last ten years. In the 2010 All-Ireland final, the hand to foot pass breakdown was 188 to 82, and only three of 47 kick-outs went short. Ten years earlier when Kerry and Armagh met in the All-Ireland semi-final replay, and drew again after normal time, hand-passing to kicking was 163 to 109. With 426 hand passes in last year's replayed final, the huge jump in the use of the hand is clear.
The greater element of chance that existed in the old game, exciting for all its flaws, had been coached out. Alan Quirke was Cork's goalkeeper in the 2010 All-Ireland final, as well as the finals of 2007 and '09. He finished playing inter-county football in 2013. "I think it is like everything," he says, "you often look back with rose-tinted glasses. In everything, be it sport or be it life. You know some of the football back in the '80s in particular was fairly straightforward. But there were some great matches as well. I suppose what happened back then is that the real natural footballers stood out more. Whereas now I think the skill levels and the fitness levels are probably more even, it is harder to stand out."
As to how it took so long for coaches and strategists to begin tampering and posing existentialist questions, Quirke again turns to natural evolution.
"It was still very much an amateur sport, people maybe didn't have the time or the resources to dedicate to get into the real nitty-gritty," he says. "Then I suppose the phenomenon of the coach, between Kevin Heffernan and Mick O'Dwyer who kicked it off, maybe Billy Morgan took it up when he came back from the States.
"It went from there I suppose. Then into the noughties you had Armagh in particular starting off a really professional approach. I remember people laughing at them when they went to La Manga that time (for a training camp)."
Quirke was sub-keeper when Cork reached the 1999 All-Ireland final, his first year with the county. "If you go back to Kerry and Galway in 2000 (All-Ireland final) that was an extremely free-flowing game. Even Galway and Meath in 2001 (All-Ireland final), Galway went to town on them in the second half. Whereas from 2002 onwards it probably got a bit more tactical again.
"The game certainly developed in the noughties quite a bit. It changed again from probably 2010 on quite a lot. What amazes me nowadays with all the talk about defensive structures the scores in matches are still way higher than they used to be when I was playing, if you are not capable of scoring 1-16 or 1-17, in the big matches anyway, you have no chance.
"The other thing that strikes me is the execution rate of the good teams, they are up to around 60 or 70 per cent when taking scoring chances. I was at the All-Ireland final last year, the first game, and the lack of errors was something that struck me. There was nobody kicking the ball over the sideline. The skill level was really high."
In the 2019 final replay, Dublin had a 64 per cent scoring conversion rate, with Kerry's conversion rate 46 per cent. At one stage Dublin strung 13 hand-passes together in the first half. A Kerry counter-attack 25 minutes in led to Tadhg Morley being fouled near the Dublin goal by Con O'Callaghan who tracked back from his own full-forward line. It is a different game to ten years ago, let alone 40.
But the quality of football is beyond dispute. Seventeen of the 20 first half scores came from play in last year's replay and Dublin didn't clock a wide. There is still room for good kicking out the field, of course, and the appreciation for a well executed foot delivery remains as keen as ever.
In the 46th minute a foot-pass from over 40 metres by Diarmuid Connolly fell with pinpoint accuracy on Ciarán Kilkenny's chest and set up a score. There remains a place for it in a game of 426 hand-passes.
Goalkeepers, as an influence, have become the most obvious shift in the narrative. In the 2010 final against Down, Quirke made himself available for the odd back-pass and showed a willingness to roam out of goal. It happened a couple of times, no more.
Since his retirement the role of goalkeeper has changed radically to the point where Mayo changed their goalkeeper based on kick-out ability for an All-Ireland final replay in 2016.
"Certainly from 2011 onwards the whole Donegal philosophy changed things a lot," says Quirke. "When they won the All-Ireland . . . then of course the copy-cat phenomenon came in. And then a lot of the kick-outs started going short, because you had that option with so many players withdrawn.
"You would be very much focused on the statistics. Maybe you got lured into taking the short option because at the back of your mind you wanted to retain possession. I suppose they are trying to stamp it out of the game now a little bit."
Stephen Cluxton is the accepted leader of the restart revolution in Gaelic football. For Quirke, John Kerins, an All-Ireland winner in 1989 and '90 was an early inspiration and ground-breaker. "He had an incredible kick-out, he was playing in a day when the majority of goalkeepers just drove it out the field. Whereas he could kick a ball 70 metres into your mouth. So he was probably a pioneer in lots of ways."
Donegal's impact under Jim McGuinness was also phenomenal but the system and thinking had the benefit of a set of players with a high level of natural football ability.
At times in the years that followed, as counties put 14 men behind the ball and hand-passed with impunity, it would have been a relief to have Tim Kennelly come back and drop-kick the damn thing.
In last year's final replay Dublin held on to the ball for almost three minutes, ending with a score from Paul Mannion that stretched their lead in the second half.
But the quality of their football and decision making, and the composure and confidence from repeated winning, has left them untouchable for over five seasons.
"I was talking to Paul McGrane in Armagh last year, the one thing you probably do lack is the atmosphere at some of the big matches, it can go flat at times," says Quirke.
"If a team is forced to go lateral or back that buzz goes out of the crowd. Going back to the previous decades and before a team went forward if they had the ball and it was all out attack and all out defence, the crowd were always engaged."
Like Quirke, Tomás ó Sé bowed out of championship football in 2013. Even his own games, from relatively recently, don't always look well, he admits. "Well, I can tell you, I cringe looking back on some of it.
The barometer for everybody is Dublin but you look at Mayo the last few years, you look at Kerry, if you break down the way they play, every sector of the field, the kick-outs, the delivery, the shooting and you look back at my day.
You look at the 2002 All-Ireland final, the misses Kerry had that day, you look at the way Kerry were tactically down the years. I watched one game and the amount of possession I gave away alone.
And it's not that we were bad kickers, it's just that was drilled into us, that you had to get it in long, fast. We were trying to do the right thing but teams were getting clever with the (Kieran) Donaghy thing. I think we overdid the Donaghy thing."
But as to the game now being better to watch - of that he has no doubt.
"Don't get me wrong, there were class matches in the past. But on the whole I am really enjoying the football at the moment. I think we are seeing a lot better matches now than even five or seven years ago. And I am not just talking about the top teams I am talking across the four divisions of the National League.
"When I started off playing football there was no goalie in the country kicking it short. None. You look at the early games, Cluxton was the same. That is the biggest change in Gaelic games, the focus on possession, and that starts with the goalie."
Rule changes, like the arrival of the mark, have tried to restore some of football's old charms. But natural evolution is always the most reliable way for a game to reassert itself. You think and play your way around a blanket defence, as Dublin did. And others will follow.
Ó Sé has an issue with monotonous hand-passing where "they are just trying to mind (the) ball. Going backwards and sideways. I hate that stuff."
In Pat Fitzgerald's day, club training would have a half hour of kicking the ball in high from one group to another and letting them at it. "It was survival of the fittest," he says, not an ideal environment for a player like him, who was not tall enough to be strong in the air. Football, on the whole, is a more cerebral game now.
It will continue to explore new ways and it would seem reasonable to expect that the best is yet to come.
Sunday Indo Sport