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The Final Word: Dublin Make History with 5 in a Row

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

The world has turned many times since Sep 14, that halcyon fiesta when Stephen Cluxton lifted the Holy Grail for the 5th year in succession.

After such a heart-stopping drawn Final, the opening points of the replay promised a performance for the ages and Con O’Callaghan of Cuala, the boy who became King, was the first to strike. For 70 minutes, he led Tom O’ Sullivan a nightmarish dance that the young full back will not want to remember.

Likewise, Paul Mannion, who rounded off his best season yet with a superb four point tally.

And Kilkenny? To me he is the ultimate maestro. Our playmaker, quarter back, out-half, point guard. This 5-in-a-row has his fingerprints all over it. We’ve never seen a player with an engine like his, not even Paul Flynn’s Ferrari.

And then there was Eoin Murchan, playing with such incredible composure, running the show in the backline like he’d been there forever, all 5’8” of him, grinning his way to immortality. His jaw-dropping solo sprint through the heart of the Kerry defence with David Moran trailing after him was unbelievable to watch and the finish was sublime!

Such was the difference in height and speed between Moran and Murchan, it still looked to me like a Tolkien-esque parody – a giant ogre in hot pursuit of a turbo-charged hobbit zipping his way merrily towards Mount Doom, thumbing his nose at the galloping beast behind him.

In the Dublin rearguard, Mick Fitzsimons was magnificent. His distribution was magical, each pass sprinkled with star dust. He even passed one to himself over the head of an oncoming defender, showing enormous presence of mind to pull it off. He was a worthy man of the match nominee and like the finest wine, just gets better with age.

Speaking of sublime passes, it was worth the price of admission alone to see Connolly’s pass to Kilkenny. Some detractors in the media are suggesting he was aiming to hit O’Callaghan. Eh, what?? Never! We’ve seen Diarmo do this kind of thing before and well, he just did it again. A little ring rusty was our Diarmuid but as always he played his part in the two part saga. He had a vital turnover in the Final that created Dean Rock’s point. He backed it up in the replay when he made Niall Scully’s point.

How does Jim Gavin’s decision to bring him back look now? Pretty damn good, I would say.

Davy Byrne scored a screamer and a highly emotional Jonny Cooper redeemed himself with a sweeping performance, tears of joy but perhaps relief more so, streamed down his face after the final whistle. Jonny made a point of shaking every distraught Kerry hand while Stevo was collecting the cup.

Humility and graciousness are the highest values always for this team.

For their part, Kerry were superb in the first half with Clifford and Geaney showing all the skills of the game.

We were lucky to see a game of such incredibly high quality. The scores were sublime, there were barely any wides and not a single free given away by Kerry in the backline. They obviously took note of Dean Rock’s 10 points in the first game.

Tactically, the battle was won by Jim Gavin, which was great to see, because he lost the sideline in the first game. If there’s one thing you can say about Gavin, he always learns from his mistakes. And he has never lost a replay yet – if you’re going to come at the King, you’d better not miss.

McCarthy went to midfield, Murch to Stephen O’Brien and Smaller would minimise Sean O’Se while MDMA went to the bench - these were all fairly predictable changes and they worked a treat.

Peter Keane by contrast joined a long line of inter-county managers who have found out that Dublin are not, in fact, susceptible under a high ball. Mick Fitz and Davy Byrne won everything in those first 10 baffling minutes as Murch, McCaffrey and Cooper cleaned up the breaking ball. It’s hard to know what Kerry thought they were doing with that tactic but they coughed up 5 points in the opening 10 minutes as a result of losing possession.

Possession, possession, possession…give it away at your peril against this Dublin team. Keane won’t tell his charges to do that ever again.

Keane also seems to have been unnerved by Cluxton’s accuracy in the first game, long-kicking over the 12 man high press to find Howard and Rock. It yielded 1-2 for Dublin the first day out and Kerry thought twice the second time. They conceded the kickouts in the replay as they withdrew into a defensive shell and tried to hit Dublin on the counter attack.

This was the losing of the game for them.

Giving Dublin the ball and inviting them on to you is a huge mistake. It was only a matter of time before Dublin ran the legs of the young Kerry bucks, exhausted at the end as Dublin made hay with their ticka-tacka-kill possession game.

For the Gaels of Bentleigh East in Melbourne, one John Scahill of the North County and yours truly, it was a night to remember. The stout was flowing as were the tears of unbridled pride and joy as we danced around the room, whooping and hollering, at 5 in the morning. It’s no small miracle the police weren’t called by terrified neighbours.

Out came the Middleton Rare whiskey, sure wasn’t it the moment for a fine drop of the pure? ‘Save it for a special occasion’, said my dear friend Jimmy Bourke, when he gave it to me for being his groomsman.

Sure, what occasion could be more special than a 5-in-a-row?

I woke up next day to find out that that I had committed an internet misdemeanour – a TUI – Tweeting Under the Influence. In my heightened state of ecstasy, I had tweeted Mossy Quinn and Kieran Donaghy to agree with them whole-heartedly that Stephen Cluxton simply MUST win Player of the Year.

And so, the season has drawn to a close. I’m delighted to be honest. I’m exhausted from it! I even work up one night after a strange dream where Ronnie Drew was speaking on the Late Late show with a Kerry accent!

Anyway, tis over. Nothing for it but to soak it all in.

I don’t care if we win 6 next year. I don’t even care if we lose for the next few years. If you want my opinion, I think they should all retire together, unbeaten.

Gavin, Sherlock, Cluxton, Brogan, O’Gara, Kevin Mac, Philly, Connolly, O’Sullivan, MDMA – sure what more could we ask of these guys? I don’t ever want to see them beaten. Now is the time, as a new decade begins.

History was made. The drive for 5 is done.

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