Indomitable Dublin side write their names into GAA history with fifth All-Ireland SFC title in succession
Dublin 1-18 Kerry 0-15
A night of glorious firsts for Jim Gavin’s Dublin footballers, completed at the second attempt.
A capacity crowd of 82,300 were in Croke Park tonight to see history in the making - the GAA’s first ever five-in-a-row at senior level.
After an absorbing first half that finished with our two protagonists deadlocked at 0-10 apiece, the key incision came within 10 seconds of the restart when Eoin Murchan galloped straight through from the throw-in and planted a right-footed shot on the run, unerringly past Shane Ryan.
Kerry had spent the entire first period chasing down the opposition after Dublin exploded from the traps.
Asked to do it a second time, they ultimately ran out of answers as the champions finally edged clear in the home straight to win by six points.
Soon after, exultant Dublin supporters paid raucous tribute to the first man to lift Sam Maguire on six separate occasions, Stephen Cluxton eclipsing his own record.
Victory ushered Gavin and his players into a pantheon of one, leaving even Mick O’Dwyer’s Kerry of 1978-81 in their statistical slipstream.
Dublin’s unbeaten championship run now extends to 37 matches, dating all the way to that shock-and-awe defeat to Donegal in 2014 - a day that seems light years removed this evening.
Unexpected doubts rose to the surface last Sunday week. Dublin were shorts-odds to complete the Drive for Five and they flinched; or maybe it was more down to the impudence of gifted Kerry youth.
Either way, Dublin soaked up the myriad lessons of a strangely out-of-kilter performance and here, against a nerve-jangling backdrop, they delivered.
Both teams had announced unchanged official line-ups; no one fully believed either.
So it transpired, with Murchan parachuted into the Dublin defence at the indirect expense of Michael Darragh Macauley, whose midfield berth went to James McCarthy.
Kerry’s one pre-match switch saw Diarmuid O’Connor, another rangy midfield-type, promoted to wing-forward. Skipper Gavin White dropped to the bench, with Paul Murphy leading out the team instead.
Once Conor Lane threw the ball in, it quickly became apparent there would be no repeat of Dublin’s early lethargy in the drawn game. Instead, from the get-go, they were out of the blocks as Con O’Callaghan ignited an early spell of Sky Blue dominance with a point inside 17 seconds.
By the eighth minute, the holders already led by 0-5 to 0-1, courtesy of a brace apiece from Ciarán Kilkenny and Paul Mannion.
All of which meant that three marquee Dublin forwards who hadn’t brought their A-game to Croker a fortnight ago were all cutting holes in a Kerry defence that was struggling to repeat the touch-tight tackling of the drawn game.
Kerry probably weren’t helped by a couple of factors: firstly, an early policy of pumping high ball on top of the Dublin goalmouth, four such attempts all drawing a blank.
Secondly, unlike two weeks ago, they were standing off Stephen Cluxton’s kickout. This may have left them less susceptible to being punished in behind; on the flip side, Dublin were finding it far easier to get their shots away in their beloved scoring zone.
And yet, despite all this, Kerry bravely worked their way into the contest. After 11 minutes, Brian Ó Beaglaoich’s penetrating run and hand-pass set up a goal chance for Paul Geaney that he blazed over for a point.
Soon after, after Lane waved away Kilkenny protests that he should have earned a free-in, Kerry counter-attacked and it ended with David Clifford engineering space brilliantly for a right-footed point. The gap was back down to two.
Clifford, who was marked by Mick Fitzsimons, grew ever more influential and by half-time had 0-3 from play.
Another quick Kerry counter culminated in Clifford’s through pass creating a goal chance for the most unlikely of colleagues, full-back Tadhg Morley. He was brought to turf just outside the large paraellelogram, it seemed by O’Callaghan, although Fitzsimons was cited as the guilty party.
Seán O’Shea tapped over the free to cut Dublin’s lead to one, 0-9 to 0-8.
Dublin had cause to grumble over a number of contentious first half calls, including a possible penalty as the hassled Tom O’Sullivan grappled with O’Calaghan in the air.
But having spent the entire half chasing down a Dublin lead of varying sizes, Kerry finally drew level in stoppage-time courtesy of Geaney’s third from play, making it 0-10 apiece after a riveting first half.
But then, once more, the centre of their defence was caught napping as Murchan, the most unlikely of goal-busters, plundered.
Soon after, O’Callaghan made it a four-point game.
To their credit, Kerry rallied with their best spell of the second half and a hat-trick of points from Clifford, Geaney and O’Shea cut the deficit to just one.
But then Diarmuid Connolly, on at the break for the injured Jack McCaffrey, turned over Adrian Spillane and immediately arrowed a sublime raking pass through to Kilkenny.
The Dublin centre-forward, immense all evening, clipped over his fourth point before Mannion followed up with his third to make it a three-point game.
Perhaps Kerry’s last chance came and went in the 53rd minute when Stephen O’Brien burst past Niall Scully and Kilkenny. Instead of passing across goal, he went for the jackpot himself and was denied by Cluxton.
Over the final quarter, Dublin outscored their rivals by 0-5 to 0-2 as it became increasingly clear that Kerry had run out of road as their nemesis took the highway to five-in-a-row heaven.
SCORERS - Dublin: C Kilkenny, P Mannion, C O’Callaghan 0-4 each, E Murchan 1-0, D Rock 0-3 (1 ‘45’), D Byrne, N Scully, J McCarthy 0-1 each. Kerry: D Clifford (1f), S O’Shea (3f) 0-5 each, P Geaney 0-4, A Spillane 0-1.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; E Murchan, D Byrne, M Fitzsimons; J Cooper, J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, J McCarthy; N Scully, C Kilkenny, B Howard; P Mannion, C O’Callaghan, D Rock. Subs: D Connolly for McCaffrey (inj ht), P McMahon for Murchan (9inj 55), C Costello for Scully (58), C O’Sullivan for Byrne (68), K McManamon for Mannion (68), MD Macauley for Howard (74).
KERRY: S Ryan; J Foley, T O’Sullivan, T Morley; P Murphy, G Crowley, B Ó Beaglaoich; D Moran, J Barry; D O’Connor, S O’Shea, A Spillane; D Clifford, P Geaney, S O’Brien. Subs: G White for Spillane (52), J Sherwood for Ó Beaglaoich (52), T Walsh for O’Connor (55), K Spillane for Murphy (inj 60), J O’Donoghue for Barry (65), D Moynihan for Crowley (72).
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)