Kingdom's latest All-Ireland is proof positive the back door doesn't work
Jack O'Connor's team is better this year and that's the key factor, writes Colm O'Rourke
B y the middle of last week, it was all done and dusted. The Kerry players were probably back with their clubs and the local championships are being lined up for a conclusion. With normal service restored, it is time to move on.
It hardly took this season, or last Sunday, to tell us all that in this decade, Kerry have had individual players who were at least the equal of any others that played in that famous jersey.
It may have been the most competitive era too, but in getting to six finals in a row Kerry benefited from the back-door system and used it to suit their own ends perfectly. The Munster championship is debased currency now, as indeed are all provincial championships, unless it is a new team who wins. How many even remember who contested all four provincial finals this year? The real business begins in Croke Park in August and if Kerry stagger there like a sailor on shore leave, all that has gone before counts for little.
In many ways then, the introduction of the back-door system -- and I was part of the committee -- has been a complete failure in most respects. Alright, it does give extra games and there is the occasional great odyssey but in general all that it has done is to reinforce the old order. Kerry or Tyrone may be beaten once but rarely twice in the one year. It is now time for at least 20 of the 32 counties, who have no realistic chance of winning the All-Ireland now or any time in the next 100 years, to stop acting like turkeys voting for Christmas. A championship based on a group system, similar that which is run in practically every county, is the only way forward.
At half-time last Sunday, it looked like we had one of the best finals for a long time. By the time it was over, the match had become absolutely forgettable. Kerry had played their football early on when needed, and in that second half they just strangled Cork. In so doing they merely demonstrated a completely ruthless approach, an iron fist in the velvet glove. Kerry showed that while the public crave entertainment, it is well down the list of priorities with the team. Their only interest is winning. If people like their style in carrying that out, then that's fine but there is no compromise on the end product.
In many respects it was a pity that Cork did not push on and get a bigger lead in the first quarter because it forced Kerry to play their best football of the year to reel them in. When they hit the front, the Kingdom became cautious -- a packed defence with the odd rapid response to Cork's lateral attacks and wild shooting, much of it from distance.
So while Kerry had a very organised defensive screen, they also had much more individual class than Cork. This was especially so up front and good forwards win All-Irelands more than good defenders.
As it was, Kerry had all the bases covered. All their backs were more than competent, Tom O'Sullivan (pictured) deserved man of the match and showed that at 31 good things come to those who are patient enough to wait. After a couple of hairy encounters against Tyrone, he was one man being counted out. Now he is looked on in an entirely different light. Putting him back in the corner was liberating for him so the management's decision to go with different middle men paid rich dividends. Especially so as Mike McCarthy kept Pearse O'Neill completely out of the game.
In fact, all the big Cork players hit a wall: Anthony Lynch, Graham Canty, Alan O'Connor and Nicholas Murphy were not even able to win their individual battles, never mind give assistance elsewhere. It seems to be part of their history -- Cork's leaders were all taken out.
They did not help themselves either. Conor Counihan has had a great year but it was a serious mistake putting Kieran O'Connor on from the start and leaving him in a losing battle with Declan O'Sullivan for so long.
Michael Cussen would have been better employed at full-forward as so many Kerry players were packing their defence in the second half that a long high ball was the only way through. But the glass is half full; they should not be too disappointed. They need a couple of really natural forwards as there is no one in the class of most of the Kerry front three. And the Cork public got behind this team, obviously people admired the bravery shown on and off the pitch. They will be back.
Some of the red army were not too happy with the ref and felt that The Gooch got a few very handy frees when Kerry needed them most in the first half. That may be so, but taken in the round Kerry showed they could play football of an entirely different class than Cork could ever manage in this game. That is the real question Cork must seek to answer and it has nothing to do with the referee.
If this was the end of Darragh ó Sé, then he went with the blessing of his people. In the modern era of small families, we will hardly ever see three brothers play so often together again in big games. Not only that but they were all brilliant in their own right too in most of those matches. If Darragh was part of the holding operation last week, then Marc and Tomás were truly outstanding -- as they nearly always are.
Kerry were a much better team this year than last. The centre of defence was much stronger but it was in the half-forward line that they struck gold this time. Against Tyrone last year they did not have workers in key positions; now they have the best in the country. Tadhg Kennelly was the outstanding player on the pitch in the first half and it was just as well that Kerry won or Jack O'Connor might have had to field a few awkward questions about taking off one of the fittest players on the team. All is well
that ends well and the substitutions worked. Time now too for Kennelly to stay at home and mind his mother. Any wet day in Listowel is surely much more attractive than Bondi Beach.
But the year belonged to a man called Paul Galvin. Last year was a personal disaster for him and at the start of this year he was on more wanted lists than Billy the Kid. He has had to endure plenty of players drawing on him. Mainly from behind too. He is still no altar boy, but in the dark days of the qualifiers he became a leader and last Sunday he fought for his team like a man who felt he owed them one. The slate is wiped clean now. He is the footballer of the year and it just goes to show that even when he lost the run of himself last summer, you should never kick a man when he is down.
On this Sunday last year, I wrote that only two of the certainties of life remained, death and taxes, but that sympathy for the other, Kerry, was misplaced as they would probably be back very quickly. Looks like none of the three are going anywhere now with the amount of talent on the Kerry bench.
Next summer we will probably have another round of rumours -- who is not getting on with the manager, who is drinking, who is fighting in training and so on. The only thing that is missing is a money or sex scandal which could make for an award-winning film.
Even with that, Kerry would hardly leave the football stage for anyone else.