Tomas Ó Sé: 'What the season proved is that Kerry will never go away'
A thought struck me as I sat watching the Kerry players celebrate together on the field in Croke Park on Sunday evening, something Darragh has always said.
No one can ever claim ownership to any jersey in Kerry. You only have it for a certain period of time. Then you hand it on. Below me was Paul Murphy in the No 5 jersey that I had worn for 15 years.
He didn't make the squad in 2013 and, I must admit, he wasn't a player I felt would make such a huge impact in his first year.
But by the end of the night he was man of the match in an All-Ireland final and one of the emblems of Kerry's bright future. He is everything you want in a player. I was delighted for him.
It had been a brilliant day for Kerry football with the minors also winning, something none of us could have expected at the start of the year.
The odds on Kerry winning an All-Ireland after the league defeat to Cork were something like 16/1. Faith was in short supply and it was tough when their own county was coming down on them in April and May.
That time that the players have to themselves and their families out on the pitch with the cup after the game looked really special. I was really taken by it.
When they left for the dressing-room I imagined them standing in that circle in the warm-up area. Everyone still in their gear, tight together, management and back-up included, 'Botty' Callaghan and Pat Sullivan, the cup in the middle, Eamonn saying a few words.
In the sanctuary of that room, at that moment, I don't think there is a greater feeling in our sport. You're with the people that you have toiled with all year, you have given every ounce, your body is almost in shock from the effort. But it feels so right.
Every weight lifted, every early-morning session done, every sprint has all been for that 70 minutes. Any county man who has won an All-Ireland medal will know that feeling. It is as close to perfection as you will experience.
These are the last words before you face the madness. Don't get me wrong, the madness is good as well, but it's the last time every one will be together on their own in the same room and there is something poignant about that too.
After that the bus ride through the city to the team hotel, again with the cup at the front, is a special, special time. Watching the faces of loyal and now happy Kerry people go by, there's the feeling that you have done something for them as much as yourself, the sense of relief you feel on that journey.
The consensus from the likes of Marc, Declan (O'Sullivan) and (Aidan) O'Mahony is that this is the sweetest. The ones 'against the head' generally are.
People are giving out about this being a poor final, lacking style and all that. I don't agree at all.
Jesus, what do they expect from Kerry? That they were going to play that open, attacking free-flowing football and possibly face another loss to a defensive set-up?
I admire free-flowing attacking football but, forgive me, that wasn't going to beat Donegal. We've wised up a little. Joe Brolly described it as 'pure shite', the same man who, a few years ago, said that when a northern team looked us in the eye we blinked first. We didn't blink last Sunday.
Now Joe likes to stoke an odd fire and draw a reaction but I don't think people down here jump so high when he speaks. After all, there are a few people down this way we listen to and learn from the experience they have. Still, Kerry fellas enjoy Joe.
We tactically set up our team to be defensive. Maybe it wasn't the Kerry way and it wasn't fancy, but that's what had to be done. We should make no apology for that.
It wasn't pleasant on the eye but the style of football has changed. To me, it's the sign of a great team that they can be so adaptive in just three weeks. Okay, they had been holding the structure in previous games but this was different again.
They played magnificent football against Cork and Mayo. This time the cloth was cut that bit tighter to measure. No one is playing open football any more. Maybe Dublin but, ultimately, where did it get them this year?
For that Eamonn deserves so much credit. We've been saying it quietly all summer that 'Fitzy' could be difference. And he has been. He was brave enough to take on the job two years ago when most people felt he would be doing nothing more than punching time through a difficult transition. But he has transformed Kerry football.
He is one of the most solid football people I know. I went to college with him, I have roomed with him,
I class him as a close friend and he is a man I consider has a solution for almost anything. He had so many solutions here. Victory won't change him.
He brings calmness, organisation, tactical awareness and is tough enough to make the big decisions.
Dropping Marc for the replay in Limerick wouldn't have sat easy with him but he did it. Marc had a bit of a bump but he responded with two of the best performances I have ever seen from him.
I know he was throwing a bit of banter around that he has the same amount of All-Irelands as me now. I'm delighted for him.
He is one of the greatest defenders we have ever produced. It was a sweet victory for him. He has the fitness to go on and win a sixth medal and, if he does, I'll take what's coming to me and gladly move to the bottom of the pile!
I admired so much about the game. The physical exchanges, the level of thought behind every possession, O'Mahony and Murphy. O'Mahony was a colossus, a man that just never takes a step back.
James O'Donoghue sacrificed his game to drop deep but the amount of ball he got onto was phenomenal and he was always looking for it. Donaghy was so energetic. He changed the season.
I could mention them all, Maher and Moran too, but I'd make special reference to Paul Geaney. He's had a tough year losing his mam so I was delighted to see him get his early goal and play well.
I felt for Colm too. He's had a difficult year both in football and personal terms. But I know the guy well, I know the stuff he is made of. His attitude will be brilliant and I know for a fact that he will come back stronger than he ever was.
I lost four All-Ireland finals so I do feel for Donegal. They are wonderful ambassadors and in Neil McGee, Neil Gallagher and Michael Murphy they have some of the best footballers too.
You always try to be gracious in victory but when you are even more gracious in defeat, that takes character and I liked that about them.
I really hope Jim McGuinness and all of these players stay on. Like Fitzy, McGuinness brings something different. Football needs their likes thinking differently.
To me, what the day, and the season, proved was that Kerry will never go away. We won't. There is too much history, too much pride and when you have guys like Fitzmaurice guiding you and the right fellas in charge at underage level, I don't worry for Kerry into the future.
I soldiered with most of the team and the backroom and I am so thrilled at where they have taken themselves to. I really wish them well.
There's an old Irish saying 'Bain sup as an ngeimhreadh'. It means 'we'll winter well'. This Kerry team is entitled to that much.