Saturday 16 December 2017

Weight of history just too much for Kingdom to bear

DUBLIN and Down swept through to the All-Ireland semi-finals yesterday and the biggest surprise is that many people seem to have found these results surprising.

I have been warning all week that Kerry would have no pushover against Down and that history was on Down's side, but in the part of the world I come from not many people were listening.

Similarly, Dublin have been gathering confidence and self-belief over the past few weeks and Pat Gilroy has been tuning them up like thoroughbred racehorses, and this was never more apparent than in the last 10 minutes yesterday.

Today, I am going for Cork and Kildare, which will set things up for a couple of mouth-watering semi-finals. And, at the end of the day, my forecast is that Cork will lift the Sam Maguire this year.

There is nothing as sad in any sport as knowing that a great team or a great performer has reached the end of the road, and accepting the reality that they'll never come back.

This fine Kerry team was beaten fairly and squarely by Down in a manner that anyone who's been around long enough to know about tradition will not be surprised by.

Down respect Kerry greatly, but they do not fear them, and this was by no means the first time that the Mourne men were inspired by confronting the green and gold at Croke Park. All week I was told by people that things were different now, the game had changed, and that what happened 30 or 50 years ago would not repeat itself.

Those with no sense of history think that everything is happening for the first time. But last night in West Kerry, many wise men of a generation prior to my own told me that yesterday reminded them of September 1960 in Croke Park all over again.

I will accept no excuses about Kerry being deprived of their two best players, Paul Galvin and Tomas O Se, or that the absence of men like Tadhg Kennelly and Tommy Walsh from last year's team left too many gaps to be plugged.

Even if Kerry had their best possible team on the field, Down would have given them a game. From the very start, Down were on the pace and showed flair and confidence that boded ominously for Kerry from the throw-in.

Rising to the big day and the big challenge against Kerry as only a good Down team can, they showed remarkable confidence and intensity, their forwards were prepared to play ground football when it was warranted and they were always that foot of pace ahead of Kerry.

Maybe it was partly due to Kerry's absence from competitive football for the past four weeks, a period in which Down were gathering strength, belief and momentum. Whatever the reason, Kerry were off the pace from the very beginning and as that fine North Kerry full-back Paud O'Donoghue would have said: "This was a team that was less than sharp."

One must never overlook the McCartan factor, again something that only those with a sense of tradition will fully understand.

Down manager James McCartan and his brother Daniel McCartan at right corner-back can take enormous family pride from this great victory, which must have brought joy to the hearts of those great Down players of the Sixties -- James McCartan (James' father), and Dan McCartan.

In fact, only last October, I had the honour of a visit to my Ventry premises by the entire McCartan family who told me, in jest, that Down would give Kerry a run for their money this year. It was no joke, as it turned out!

While nothing can detract from Down's great triumph, it remains the conviction of many in Kerry that officialdom was out to get them this year, possibly in order to spread Sam Maguire around a bit.

I don't agree with this persecution complex, Down would probably have beaten Kerry yesterday no matter what, but I can see where such people are coming from. The suspensions of Galvin and O Se after the referees had imposed no sanctions on them was a heavy injustice, and one that Kerry paid dearly for yesterday.

Dublin swept Tyrone away in the last quarter of yesterday's splendid quarter-final, and again a pattern has been revealed of steady progress and improvement through the qualifiers. Dublin have benefitted enormously from the games against Tipperary, Armagh and Louth and have been completely transformed from the side that was humiliated against Meath.

As the second half developed, Dublin got a stronger grip on the game and in that period any ball that was in the air was almost always taken by Dublin. They also owe a great debt to their goallie Stephen Cluxton, who made some fine saves and excelled with the accuracy and variety of his kick-outs.

Notwithstanding my disappointment over Kerry, I am greatly heartened by Dublin's rapid improvement -- a successful Dublin is great not only for the financial health of the game, but also for the nationwide interest it generates.

Sunday Independent

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