Friday 18 October 2019

Joe Brolly: 'This Kerry team will win an All-Ireland - but it won't be for a few years. Dublin are a different class'

Brian Fenton of Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Brian Fenton of Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

One door closes. Another opens.

I will never again watch an All-Ireland final sober. After four pints of stout, one sees the game in a deeper, more meaningful light.

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After a few hours of fun and chat with Kerry and Dublin supporters, I took my seat in the stand, and felt genuine excitement. I texted David Gough to say, "This is all your fault." He texted back, "I should have given that free out!"

David remains in danger of giving referees a good name. I went out to the loo before the throw-in only to get a sharp blow in the ribs. It was John McCarthy, James’s dad.

As I turned, he aimed three or four karate kicks into the air around me and delivered a series of karate chops with blinding speed, accompanied by a variety of Bruce-Lee-style whoops and groans. When he stopped to get his breath, I asked him what he thought.

"Dublin by six," he said, gasping. I wonder what it is like to live with him? He reminds me of Cato, Inspector Cluseau's Japanese man-servant, who would jump out of the fridge or a cupboard to launch surprise karate attacks on his master in the Pink Panther movies.

Some years ago, a friend of mine, Paul Bacon, went to see the super fight in Vegas between Floyd Mayweather and Ricky Hatton. Many people thought the bigger, stronger Hatton would be his nemesis.

Bacon said that as soon as the bell went and the fighters moved forward, it was apparent that Mayweather was on a different planet.

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So it was with the Dubs.

From the whistle, they played as though Kerry were not there, cutting through them with feather-light, precision kick passing and finishing with absolute composure, racing to a 0-5 to 0-1 lead by the seventh minute.

Peter Keane had flummoxed Cluxton for a full 10 minutes in the drawn game by using a high zonal press on the kick-out.

But after Kerry turned him over three times, the Dubs, as they do, adapted, Cluxton kicked long over the press three times for 1-2 and Kerry were forced to back down.

They started the replay with an aerial bombardment. If it had been working at Kerry training, it was never going to work against the Dubs.

Five high balls went in in that first quarter and all five came straight back out. After that amateurish start, Kerry settled into a blanket defensive counter-attacking system that Dublin found much more awkward.

Who would have thought a Kerry team would borrow from the Mickey Harte playbook, but this is precisely what they did.

Surprisingly, this worked rather well for a while. Kerry soaked up the Dubs, then hit them on the break, causing Dublin defenders to run towards their own goal with their backs to the play.

By half-time, Dublin had been sucked into this trap and the scores, surprisingly, were level. Then, Murchan went sallying forward, and sallied all the way to the 14 before planting the goal in the corner of the net to the astonishment of the huge crowd.

Kerry stuck with it, but the Dubs were slowly ratcheting up the pressure and were soon three ahead again. Kerry then had a superb opportunity to draw level, but O’Brien, instead of squaring it for Clifford to palm to the empty net, tried to shoot through Dublin bodies, and any slim chance they had was gone.

The rest was a masterclass in winning. Dublin, as they appear to do in the championship moments, began to look as if they had two or three extra men.

As they went harder and faster and stronger, an exhausted Kerry wilted. Sean O’Shea was by now hobbling around the park in the forlorn manner of an exhausted marathon runner coming to the finishing line.

Inside him, Clifford limped about, knowing that all hope was lost. For the last 15 minutes, Kerry did not score, and this improbably brilliant Dublin team strode imperiously to a six-point win, just as John McCarthy had predicted.

For all the fact it was an emphatic win, the game was thoroughly absorbing. Brian Howard has invented a new way of playing the game, where gravity and earth is irrelevant.

His catching, positional sense, courage and balance are a joy to behold. James McCarthy, restored to his favoured midfield berth, was back to himself and long before the end, David Moran’s legs had been run off him.

It is not possible to give Con O’Callaghan a bad ball. Again, he performed stupendously.

Then, there was Mannion, who was impeccable in every way, and that flawless Dublin defence. We laughed at Cluxton’s audacity, with some of his kick-outs whispering past the outstretched Kerry forwards’ fingers.

Dublin could even afford to give Diarmuid Connolly a lengthy, fruitless, run out.

Clifford and O’Shea and their young team-mates will most certainly win a Celtic Cross some day. But it will not be for a few years. There is a gulf between them and the Dubs in strength, endurance, skills under pressure, adventure, selflessness and finishing that will not be closed any time soon.

Dean Rock got his first placed ball of the day in the 73rd minute, from a 45. He kicked it over and the chap beside me said, "The kick of champions."

Afterwards, I wandered over to Mulligan's on Poolbeg Street, where Ger Cusack ushered me upstairs to the back office to write this piece.

As I was writing, he appeared back up again with a pint of stout. "Never mind RTE Joe," he said, "Sure it’s only oul bullshit anyway." The Dubs. What’s not to love?

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