Updated: Sep 13, 2019
Five points up in the second half against an exceptionally skilful, determined young Kerry team, Dublin looked to be cruising to their 5th All Ireland title in a row when a Killian Spillane goal changed everything.
As the momentum swung in Kerry’s favour, Dublin were forced to dig deep into their vast reservoirs of experience to come from behind and force an equaliser in the last few minutes of the game.
Brilliantly and bravely contested by both teams, it was yet another breathtaking instalment of Dublin Vs Kerry, the grudge match. The age old enemies will have to do it all again on September 14.
It was a mixed day at the office for Dublin, but four Dubs in particular put in a performance for the ages.
One of the great All-Ireland Final displays in Croke Park, Jack McCaffrey accounted for 6 of Dublin’s 19 points and turned the opposition over on multiple occasions in the back line. It was a tour de force from the 2015 Player of the Year who proved yet again why he is the most lethal left half back in the game.
McCaffrey punished Kerry’s high press severely with his first half goal, leaving scorch marks on the Croke Park turf for a hapless Gavin White to gape at. Left foot, right foot and fist; there are no gaps in Jack’s armoury.
Every time he got the ball in hand, you could feel the electricity crackle in the stadium as 82,300 onlookers anticipated his every next exhilarating move. McCaffrey may have had a difficult day out against Mayo’s Paddy Durcan in the semi-final but like a true champion, his response was emphatic.
This performance puts him squarely back in the frame for Player of the Year 2019.
What more can be said about Stephen Cluxton; this quiet, humble leader of men, the greatest of goalkeepers ever? 6 All-Ireland titles, 5 as captain and surely a nailed on winner for his 6th All Star, Stephen Cluxton is one of the most influential Gaelic footballers in history.
Few observers of our beautiful game would challenge Cluxton’s rightful place as the greatest keeper of all time, but many put this down to his tactical prowess from restarts.
While his kick-outs have changed the game forever, this doesn’t paint the full picture. Last Sunday Cluxton proved yet again why, at the age of 37, he is still one of the best shot stoppers in the game.
A stunning penalty save from Paul Geaney set a tone of resilience for his team and he backed it up in the second half with another finger tip save to tip Paul Murphy’s cannonball onto the cross bar.
It was yet another pivotal moment – had it gone in, Dublin’s next game would have been in the O’Byrne Cup next January and the glorious quest for five in a row would have ended.
Crucially, Cluxton’s part in Jack McCaffrey’s goal should not be underestimated. In the first quarter, he faced down the claustrophobic high Kerry press, which was starting to look like it could yield dividends. Cluxton chose to be brave and launched a monstrous kick right over the heads of the 12-man Kerry forward line.
Brian Howard soared like an eagle and Jack was on his way. Kerry will think twice the next day.
History will record that Jack scored 6 and Stevo saved 6. Both contributed to more than that in general play, but their combined 12 point contribution was simply monumental in a game where just 19 points were scored.
Is there a more technically gifted wing forward in the game right now? What a delight it was to witness the dancing feet and giant leaps of Brian Howard last Sunday.
The 21 year old showed outstanding leadership and precocious maturity in his second All Ireland final, controlling the pace of play, skipping, jinking and dancing his way through multiple Kerry tacklers, never once getting caught.
Howard seems to combine the legendary fielding of Cork’s Teddy McCarthy with the pronounced sidestep of Galway’s Ja Fallon, two of the best ever to play in Croke Park, yet he appears to be more naturally gifted than either.
He should have won Young Footballer of the Year last year but was deemed by others to have been eclipsed by David Clifford. Not by this writer. Both were on display last Sunday. Howard, every single time.
Add to his exceptional skills an engine that Ferrari would die for and you have the complete Gaelic Footballer. In just two short years, Brian Howard has become one of the most important players on the Dublin team.
In those last soul-searching, dying minutes of last Sunday's All Ireland Final, we needed a hero. Who stood up to level the game? Dean Rock.
It’s not like he licked it up off the stones. His father, Barney, was one of Dublin’s greatest forwards ever, and if Dean Rock hadn’t spent the last decade playing in the same team as Bernard Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn and Paul Mannion, we’d surely be saying the same about him.
The tedious refrain from commentators that he has ‘improved his all round game’ and is ‘no longer just a free taker’ is as metronomic as the frequency of his scores. This kind of equivocation just doesn’t do Dean justice.
His contribution to the chemistry of the Dublin attack is immense, and with 3 points last Sunday, Dean was the highest scorer from play in the Dublin forward line.
Time and again we have seen him stand up and take responsibility in Dublin’s biggest games this decade.
The ice-cool full forward nailed 10 vital points in last Sunday’s All Ireland final – the second highest in history for a Dublin footballer after Jimmy Keaveny (2-6 against Armagh in '77).
Dean scored 7 against Tyrone in the 2018 final and the same against Mayo in the 2017 decider. In the 2016 replay, he scored 9.
That’s 33 points in the last 5 All Ireland finals.
Now THAT is simply incredible!