Sunday 22 September 2019

Roy Curtis: 'Dublin's defiance banished an old ghost and ensured a Kerry successor to Seamus Darby was denied his day'

Tommy Walsh of Kerry in action against Jack McCaffrey of Dublin during the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Tommy Walsh of Kerry in action against Jack McCaffrey of Dublin during the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Roy Curtis

As the ghost of Seamus Darby hovered over Croke Park, only to be chased away by Dublin’s impressive refusal to be spooked, the questions swirled like confetti around the old coliseum.

A game with no winner, but one that yielded an avalanche of talking points, a snowstorm of debate.

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Where, a man and a score down, their five-in-a-row dreams flatlining, did Dublin locate the jolt of defiance to defibrillate a summer that, briefly, seemed beyond salvation?

If Jim Gavin's team were several rungs of the ladder down from their untouchable peak, still, their character was unimpeachable.

Perhaps Dublin's most overlooked quality is their grit, the manner in which they are enlarged by pressure that would break a lesser group.

Here, they stared into the abyss, but led by the towering Brian Howard and the extraordinary Jack McCaffrey, they refused to tumble into that terrible void that claimed Kerry in 1982.

Brian Howard of Dublin in action against David Clifford of Kerry during the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Brian Howard of Dublin in action against David Clifford of Kerry during the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

The Munster aristocrats seemed to hold all the cards, yet somehow, masters of strategy, Dublin left the table with an equal number of chips.

At the end it was the city team making endless tackles, swarming forward, attacking the green and gold jugular. 

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Just how deep down into their reserves of athleticism, courage and intransigence did they reach to summon the will to hold Kerry scoreless for the final 11 minutes, to conjure Dean Rock’s sweetly-struck equaliser, to stop history taking the high-road to the Kingdom.

For Kerry, despite this epic coming of age detonation, with Sean O’Shea and David Moran lighting the fires of resistance, there will be a queasy sense of anxiety.

Have they missed their main chance, they had the green and gold jackboot at Dublin's throat, but their pistol jammed when they sought to fire the killshot?

Read more here:

They had an extra man for almost 45 minutes, they were awarded a penalty, while Killian Spillane’s deadly incision seized the momentum entering the home straight.

Then, something changed: With the finishing line in sight, the sense of adventure which had Dublin on the back-foot gave way to an understandable but crippling caution.

Between the 54 and 66 minutes, Kerry outscored the champions by 1-4 to 0-1.  Against any other opposition, Spillane’s 1-1 blast might have felt like the tolling of a bell.

But Dublin do not have the surrender gene in their DNA.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin and Diarmuid Connolly during the All-Ireland SFC final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin and Diarmuid Connolly during the All-Ireland SFC final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

And the Sky Blues, though understaffed, dominated a frenetic, breathless, compelling finale.

Howard and Diarmuid Connolly kicked narrowly wide, Hawk Eye rubbed out a point the umpire had initially awarded to Cormac Costello; Rock, after his immaculate equaliser, even had an outside chance to win it at the death.

His difficult free from a tight angle under the Cusack Stand lacked the range, but, despite that, it will be Kerry who will feel they left the contest behind.

David Gough was front and centre as a swirl of controversies fuelled some heated post-match controversies.

Dublin would strongly contend that if Johnny Cooper was to have his afternoon cut short, then consistency demanded that Tom O’Sullivan should have joined him on the sideline.

Kerry's penalty split opinion: Hill 16 screamed injustice; Kingdom supporters countered that a more blatant foul on Stephen O’Brien would later be ignored.

But perhaps the key talking point now is to wonder which way has the momentum swung ahead of Saturday week’s rematch.

Even if this silk and steel exhibition marked Kerry’s resurrection as a serious rival to Dublin, the suspicion is the force may well be with Jim Gavin’s team.

Not only did they decline to fall, not only did their shatterproof spirit come rising to the surface, but their potential for improvement is self-evident.

Brian Fenton, so often Dublin’s imperious, majestic pilot, will expect a smoother flightpath on Saturday week after an unusually turbulent 70 minutes.

Paul Mannion, so precise all summer, will have time to repair the radar which, after an impressive opening, malfunctioned in the second half.

And, of course, Kerry will no longer have a numerical advantage.

Those factors alone suggest the robes of history might still be shaded Sky Blue.

So too does the form of McCaffrey, Howard, Con O’Callaghan and Stephen Cluxton.

McCaffrey was an unstoppable runaway train, scoring 1-3, blazing across Croke Park like a man auditioning for the lead role in Road Runner: The Movie.

Howard showed a beyond his years maturity, his soaring catch in the lead up to McCaffrey’s goal, an athletic highpoint of the summer.

O'Callaghan did not add to his goal tally, but his power and direct running had Kerry pressing panic buttons.  

Cluxton, the pilot light of the city’s decade of imperium, did not look like a man two weeks from his 38 birthday, as he showed gymnastic elasticity to repel Geaney’s penalty.

At the end, there was no euphoric wildfire dancing and flickering across Hill 16.

Just a sense of gratitude that among Dublin’s endless qualities is an ability to reach down a summon the defiance only the greatest champions have on speed-dial .

A defiance that banished an old ghost and ensured a Kerry successor to Seamus Darby was denied his day of raining on another five-in-a-row parade.

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