Wednesday 23 October 2019

Pat Spillane: 'Amazing Dubs deliver historic achievement, but impossible to say if they are the best ever'

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts The Sam Maguire Cup following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts The Sam Maguire Cup following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Pat Spillane

CONGRATULATIONS Dublin on a historic achievement.

There is a lot of hyperbole in sport about breakthroughs and special moments. But what we witnessed under the lights in Croke Park was truly historic – not just in the GAA but in Irish sport. Dublin went where no other team had gone and won the fabled five-in-row.

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It is a magnificent triumph for this group of wonderful footballers and a brilliant management team led by Jim Gavin. I thought that perhaps the burden of history might inhibit them as they came down the final straight but listen, from the moment Eoin Murchan scored a magnificent individual goal 11 seconds into the second half half, there was only going to one outcome. Mind you, he did take 11 steps during his run and the referee should have awarded a free-out.

But listen I’m not cribbing about the decision. It most certainly didn’t cost Kerry the game. They battled bravely and lacked nothing in effort as evident by their first half performance when they fell four points behind after just eight minutes. They were level at the break having dominated the second quarter when they repeatedly turned over Dublin in possession.

While they didn’t looked exactly rattled at the break, there was cause for concern nonetheless with Jack McCaffrey having to retire after picking up a knock towards the end of the first half. But Murchan’s goal changed the dynamic of the contest and when Con O’Callaghan, who was far more effective in the replay compared to the drawn game, hit the next point to extend Dublin’s lead to four, Kerry were in deep trouble and they never really looked like saving the match. \the replay went more or less as I had anticipated.

The bottom line is that in championship football the underdog – in this case Kerry – gets one chance to beat the favourites. They don’t get a second bite of the cherry. The last day the Kerry defence kept the Dublin marquee forwards at bay. Ciaran Kilkenny was held scoreless; Con O’Callaghan got one point and Paul Mannion scored two before being substituted. Between them this trio scored 0-12 from play last night – each contributing four points and that was the first big difference compared to the drawn match.

As anticipated Dublin came with a lot more energy, drive and commitment, which they unleashed right from the start. This was the first time in their seven All-Ireland final appearances that they were in the lead after the first quarter. Their big players stood up and some of Dublin’s attacking play was magical.In one passage of play they kept possession for three minutes before Paul Mannion kicked a point.

As I have repeatedly written Dublin do not do panic and invariably they take the right option when they are in possession. They totally dominated possession from their own kick-outs but perhaps the most remarkable statistic of the final is that they won without scoring a single free. This is surely a first in the history of All-Ireland finals. Seventeen of their 18 points came from open play – with Dean Rock kicking a 45 deep in injury time.

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I have been raving about this Dublin team ever since I saw them in action on a raw February day in Killarney early in Jim Gavin's tenure, when they taught Kerry a football lesson. They play football the right way. End of story. They have leaders all over the field and they are wonderful role models for the next generation. Ultimately it was a harsh learning experience for Kerry though a valuable one nonethless.

As I wrote last Sunday they needed to get three things spot on if they were to pull off a shock win. They needed to win their own kick-out but they were under pressure once Dublin pressed up on them.

They needed to dominate again at midfield but Dublin were much better in the centre of the field on this occasion and finally they needed to score goals. They simply couldn’t afford to miss the two chances they created via Paul Geaney and Stephen O’Brien. But scoring goals has been an issue all season. They managed one in their first six league games and hit eight in their eight championship games.

Meanwhile, Dublin got 19 in their nine championship games this summer. They are definitely a coming team and both David Clifford and Geaney had super matches in the first half in particular. Defensively they got it right for a long time. But their strategy was based on a running, counter-attacking game. It was virtually impossible to sustain this kind of approach for the entire match particularly against as good a team as the Dubs and so it proved. Overall, it was a great final – particularly the first half when the standard of football was exceptional. Today is not the moment for getting into a debate over whether Dublin are the greatest team of all time.

It’s a bit like the debate over whether Messi is better than Pele or Woods is better than Nicholson. Different eras so it is impossible to say. But let’s celebrate a brilliant team that we have been fortunate to witness at their peak.

Read Pat Spillane every week in The Sunday World.

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