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My favourite game: Balance of power takes decisive turn in Croke Park shoot-out for the ages

Dublin v Kerry: 2013 All-Ireland SFC semi-final September 1, Croke Park, Dublin 3-18 Kerry 3-11


Diarmuid Connolly celebrates as the Dubs pull clear in the final minutes of the 2013 All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile

Diarmuid Connolly celebrates as the Dubs pull clear in the final minutes of the 2013 All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile


Diarmuid Connolly celebrates as the Dubs pull clear in the final minutes of the 2013 All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile

Of all the life lessons to be learned in this coronavirus world, I have just stumbled upon my own personal number one. Here goes… it should not have taken Covid-19 to coax me into revisiting the 2013 All-Ireland senior football semi-final between Dublin and Kerry.

How and ever: you live and learn. Thus, in a world where all sport has ceased came a glorious task this week - to write about my favourite game.

So many different sports; so many countless contenders. Yet I've chosen a contest that, even while scrambling against deadlines that Sunday night almost seven years ago, I unashamedly proclaimed a classic.

"A breathless, relentless assault on the senses," I wrote. Surely just a hint of hyperbole? Best to watch it again, purely for research purposes!

The bad news is that I couldn't find all 70 minutes via the usual suspect, YouTube. The good news? I unearthed an old DVD recording: if not quite picture perfect, it more than sufficed.

Fussy How good was it? Outlandishly so. When it came to my Monday match ratings, this notoriously fussy marker dispensed four 'nines': to Michael Darragh Macauley, Diarmuid Connolly, Colm Cooper and James O'Donoghue.

It won't surprise that three of those are forwards, one a marauding midfielder. This was not a day when defensive legends were born.

Indeed, Jim Gavin felt compelled to replace one corner-back after 17 minutes and his centre-back at half-time. This was Dublin in their original, spirit-soaring, gung-ho Gavin phase; but their defensive structure was tested like never before in that opening blitzkrieg.

What was meant to be man-for-man frequently became Kerry man all alone as the unruffled genius of 'Gooch' and the ghosting runs of Donnchadh Walsh shredded a Dublin defence operating its 2013 version of social distancing.

Kerry already had three goals banked inside 20 minutes: O'Donoghue, Walsh and O'Donoghue again from a penalty.

But even that breathless first half should not be misconstrued as a one-way onslaught. For all their defensive disarray to begin with, the men in blue only trailed by two points, 3-5 to 1-9, when they retired for tea and smelling salts.

Moreover, Dublin's first goal after 13 minutes could easily have been their third: Macauley was wrong man in the right place when blazing over, while Bernard Brogan toe-poked inches wide. The importance of their first goal cannot be overstated, arriving just after Kerry's second to go five clear. It came with a hint of benign fortune but the venomous execution from Paul Mannion, leaping to redirect Connolly's undercooked attempt, was breathtaking.

It also brought out the best of RTÉ co-commentator Kevin McStay, who lauded Mannion's technique with the most vividly descriptive verb imaginable: "He tomahawks it!"

By half-time, McStay reckoned the Dubs would be happy.

By full-time they were in ecstasy.

That second half may have lacked the same riotous drama but the ever-rising tension and the momentum swings (Kerry surging four clear again, Dublin retorting with 0-5 in seven minutes, Kerry edging back in front) left the congregation of 81,553 simultaneously giddy and exhausted.

How must the players have felt?

Watching back, you got the sense that Dublin's youthful energy was gradually turning the screw as that half moved towards a crescendo.

Cian O'Sullivan had reverted to centre-back, after which Gooch's towering impact diminished. But not entirely so: he still had the assist for Kerry's last three points.

Yet in other ways - the voracious tackling of their forwards, the soaring contribution of Connolly - Dublin were starting to stretch some of Kerry's ageing heroes.

For all that, if Declan O'Sullivan hadn't pulled his 69th-minute attempt to restore the lead, who knows? Instead, from the next Stephen Cluxton kick-out, two rising Kerry men impeded each other and Macauley got the vital flick to release Kevin McManamon into open prairie. Kevin Mac: the ultimate Kerry nightmare.

Did he really mean to lob Brendan Kealy or was he going for a point? The mystery of that watershed moment adds to the mythology.

Connolly's insurance point and Eoghan O'Gara's piledriver via the crossbar made this a seven-point cliffhanger. Go figure.

It would be Tomás Ó Sé's last appearance in green and gold; and Paul Galvin's last championship start.

Even if the process had started in 2011, the balance of power between Dublin and Kerry had now taken an even more decisive turn.

But never mind the context. As a standalone 70 minutes, this had everything.

Irish Independent