The top 10 Gaelic Football games of the decade
The irony of a decade that for Gaelic football produced so much adverse commentary, negative reaction and even rule changes is that it produced so many classic games, most on Croke Park’s biggest days and out of reach of the provincial backwaters. Here, Colm Keys reveals his top 10
1. 2016 All-Ireland semi-final
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Gets top billing because Dublin had to be about as good as they have been to get to grips with a Kerry team throwing arrows at them from every direction.
It started on script, Dublin pushing four points clear twice before establishing clear command at 0-9 to 0-4 to reaffirm their superiority over Kerry in their three previous championship meetings and the most recent league final in April.
But Kerry squeezed and scored 2-2 without reply as Dublin, unusually, went 14 minutes without a score.
First, Darran O’Sullivan ran in a goal after a Stephen Cluxton kick-out was intercepted, then Paul Geaney, sublime throughout, beat Cluxton in the air to bat home an Anthony Maher point attempt that had held up.
Dublin, and Cluxton, were rattled, and the crowd sensed it as the team left the field at the break, Kerry five clear (2-8 to 0-9).
But what followed was a masterclass in composure from Dublin and defiance from Kerry.
The champions were level by the 49th minute but Kerry were three ahead again (2-13 to 0-16), 12 minutes later when Paul Murphy sliced over.
Everything Dublin did had to be on the money. Kevin McManamon had one of his best games for Dublin so too did Diarmuid Connolly and they scored two of the last three points in similar fashion, off their left foot on the Hogan Stand side into the Hill end, to bring Kerry to their knees.
There was controversy in the build-up to the Connolly point when McManamon’s high challenge on Peter Crowley was missed by an unsighted referee David Gough. But as they traded blows in that second half, you knew you were in the midst of something special.
2. 2013 All-Ireland semi-final
Closely coupled with the corresponding game three years later, this six-goal thriller also required a late surge from Dublin to see them home with goals from Kevin McManamon once more and Eoghan O’Gara pushing them out for a victory than looked more decisive on the scoreboard than it was.
It electrified throughout, Kerry hitting three first-half goals to lead by 3-5 to 1-9 at the break. Mixed into that was a most sublime Colm Cooper pass to Donnchadh Walsh who laid off to James O’Donoghue for one of the goals.
It was a first-half masterclass from Cooper but with Cian O’Sullivan dropping from midfield to centre-back Cooper was much more contained after the break.
Dublin hit five successive points at one stage in the second half, Kerry got ahead again in the 63rd minute through Darran O’Sullivan but Dublin’s trademark last-quarter strength manifested for a memorable win.
3. 2017 All-Ireland final
The best All-Ireland final of the decade, Mayo’s best performance in an All-Ireland final yet they still came up short. It had a bit of everything. A whirlwind start as Con O’Callaghan cut through the Mayo defence for a wonderful individual goal, an early injury setback to Dublin when Jack McCaffrey limped out with a cruciate ligament tear that offered Mayo hope, a Mayo surge that took them 0-9 to 1-5 up at the break, a double sending-off with Donal Vaughan retaliating after John Small picked up a second yellow, saves in quick sequence from Stephen Cluxton at one end and David Clarke at the other, another goal from Lee Keegan (left), Diarmuid Connolly’s biggest final contribution after a summer of controversy and then the dramatic finale of Dean Rock’s 40-metre free to seal a three-in-a-row.
4. 2014 All-Ireland semi-final replay
The novelty of a first All-Ireland semi-final outside Croke Park, unavailable because of an American Football game, for 31 years created quite an occasion and atmosphere in Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds which the game itself more than lived up to with Kerry pressing on to win in extra-time.
Mayo led by 2-3 to 0-2 early on thanks to two Cillian O’Connor goals but, inspired by Kieran Donaghy who had turned the drawn game with his intervention six days earlier, Kerry recovered and were 2-8 to 2-6 ahead by the 50th minute.
The game was underpinned by a magnificent duel between James O’Donoghue and Keith Higgins. O’Donoghue scored 2-6 but Higgins still won so many one-to-one battles.
A collision between Aidan O’Shea and O’Connor, forcing both off with facial injuries, badly affected Mayo’s rhythm.
5. 2019 All-Ireland final
The hand of history pressed heavily on Dublin but it didn’t break them, instead stifling Kerry sufficiently in the last 12 minutes to prevent them from maximising their numerical advantage after Jonny Cooper’s red card for a third foul on David Clifford.
What made this game so compelling was that sense to everyone present that so much was at stake and even Dublin, so composed in these moments, felt weighted by it.
In the end, an extraordinary rearguard action, as Kerry were not only kept scoreless for that last 12 minutes but prevented from mounting a meaningful attack, was as satisfying to Dublin as an attacking tour de force they have produced.
6. 2012 All-Ireland semi-final
One of the few classics of the decade that Mayo won and one of only three championship games that Dublin lost.
But for a magnificent save by Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke from Bernard Brogan with four minutes remaining when Mayo led by two points, it would, almost certainly, have tilted in Dublin’s favour. Much of the drama was wrapped up in the erosion of Mayo’s 10-point lead in the last 20 minutes, whittled down to one just after the Clarke save, before Cillian O’Connor and Seamus O’Shea made it safe.
7. 2014 All-Ireland semi-final
In 106 games Stephen Cluxton had only been beaten for three or more goals on four occasions and this was one of them as Donegal absorbed Dublin’s best shots, survived some magnificent long-range points from Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn, saw Connolly denied by Paul Durcan and then strike on the counter-attack with a Ryan McHugh goal just before half-time that shook the stadium.
They led by 1-8 to 0-10 at the break and then capitalised with two further goals from Colm McFadden.
8. 2015 leinster semi-final
A first ever championship win for Westmeath over neighbours Meath, after so many heartbreaking moments, particularly in 2001 and 2003, involved a stunning comeback from eight points down at half-time and nine points on the 50-minute mark. But they outscored Meath by 2-8 to 0-1 in the closing 20 minutes.
9. 2011 All-Ireland final
The day the genie escaped from the bottle was one that was high on closing drama with that landmark Stephen Cluxton kick for liberty after Dublin had come from four points down in the last quarter.
10. 2019 All-Ireland quarter-final
Level 14 times – there was never more than two points between them – with a combined 42 scores, this never required a full house or a dry day to thrill. They swapped the last 12 points with Michael Murphy landing a free to bring closure and parity. Breathtaking stuff.