By Darragh Nolan
It was an All-Ireland Final for the ages, as old rivals Dublin and Kerry played out a draw.
Kerry were the better side early doors, but failed to capitalise on a period during which Dublin went over 10 minutes without a score.
Kerry had early success kicking into star David Clifford, but the 20-year-old corner forward failed to convert on his first two attempts, perhaps an indication that the pressure of a first senior decider was weighing on the youngster.
The Kingdom could have solidified their early dominance had Paul Geaney converted from the penalty spot. That, along with several poor wides from his teammates, could come back to haunt him.
Scores came much easier for Dublin, with Dean Rock as consistent as ever over free kicks. Movement off the ball and the ability for runners to come free at pace saw Dublin take the advantage, through a wonderfully worked Jack McCaffrey goal.
So often does an early goal set the Dubs on their way to a dominant victory, but Kerry kept in touch. Despite going in down 1-09 to 0-07 at half-time, there was a glimmer of hope for the green and gold.
The high ball into Clifford may not have been leading to scores, but it put Jonny Cooper in a world of trouble, including the penalty incident. Already on a yellow card, another foul on Clifford saw Cooper given his marching orders just before the break.
The second half saw Kerry press the man advantage. The Dublin full back line were exposed routinely, particularly under the high ball. Paul Geaney failed to score, but his playmaking from a deeper role set up several points for his side.
The game roared into life when Kerry clawed back to within two, but it was goal scorer McCaffrey leading Dublin on once more, scoring three magnificent points to restore the five-point lead.
Killian Spillane’s goal gave Kerry a second wind. Tommy Walsh, in his first final in a decade, made a huge difference and picked a fine score of his own. Peter Keane’s charges took an improbable lead into added time. Dublin pressed on with fresh legs as Kerry tired.
Dublin’s experience shone through in the latter stages. Leading men Con O’Callaghan, Paul Mannion and Ciarán Kilkenny had been quiet for the majority of the contest but saw more possession in the seven minutes of injury time. Dean Rock had a chance to snatch it from a difficult free. Another potential winner from Cormac Costello was ruled out by Hawkeye.
Rock and McCaffrey scored 1-13 between them. They answered the call while many of their teammates were kept out of the game by excellent Kerry defending. Rock has been severely underrated in recent years. He’s so much more than just a free taker, he’s a leader on the pitch and a cool head able to find a way to score in the most difficult of situations.
For Kerry, the late inclusion of Jack Barry in centre field proved a stroke of genius, as he marked reigning Footballer of the Year Brian Fenton out of the game. Between kickouts and turnovers, Barry repeatedly won the ball and broke up Dublin’s usual free flowing attack.
Questions will be asked in preparation for the replay. Have the underdogs left it behind them? Will Dublin find another gear? Kerry have shown they can stand up to their mighty rivals and the experience will be vital for such a young group.
As many positives as they can take from the game, Kerry can hardly hope for such luck again. They hung on for a draw against a 14-man Dublin side. The exploits of O’Callaghan, Mannion and Kilkenny all year long have made it hard pick a Footballer of the Year between them. They scored the remaining 0-03 between them. Kerry’s inexperienced backline will find it difficult to keep them to a score that low again.
It’s all to play for once again on September 14. Dublin remain on the brink of a historic five-in-a-row that could cement their place in GAA annals as the greatest football team of all time. Kerry have proven that they’re capable of spoiling the party.
Dublin’s forwards will surely reach another level, as they so often do in the biggest moments. If Kerry can put in a similar defensive shift in the replay it’s anyone’s game. The big question heading in; how will Dublin look with 15 men?