By Darragh Nolan
Dublin and Kerry played out another classic in the All-Ireland Final replay, as the boys in blue stormed to a record fifth Sam Maguire in succession.
Tenacious Kerry defending in the drawn game kept the danger men quiet; this time Con O’Callaghan took his first score inside 20 seconds.
The opening 20 minutes of the game were typical of this Dublin side. Movement at pace, runners off the ball and unselfish play defined that familiar free-flowing attack. It took just nine minutes for Dublin to canter into a 0-05 to 0-01 lead.
Kerry settled into the game in the latter stages of the first half. Paul Geaney was once again a Colm Cooper-esque distributor, picking out teammates with wonderfully kicked passes. David Clifford managed to improve on a magnificent performance in the draw and kept Kerry in the game, at a time where it could have so easily slipped away.
The inspired play of the Kerry forwards roared the game to life. It became a breathless end-to-end battle, Clifford drawing the Kingdom to within a point, with two fine scores in under two minutes. Where scores had been so easy to come by for Dublin early, they now found themselves hounded by the Kerry press.
The early lead wiped out, the sides entered the break level at 0-10 apiece. Game on. Or so it seemed.
Kerry won the second-half throw-in only for disaster to strike. The ball broke straight to Eoin Murchan, a late inclusion in the Dublin starting XV. He ran through the Kerry half virtually untouched, his goal a dagger through Kerry hearts.
The underdogs remained in touch for much of the remainder, but Dublin weren’t to be stopped this day. The attacking trio of Paul Mannion, Ciarán Kilkenny and O’Callaghan scored just 0-03 between them in the first game. Each of them matched or surpassed that total by themselves in the replay; Kilkenny with 0-05, Mannion with 0-04 and O’Callaghan with 0-03.
That ability to share the load epitomises this great Dublin side. Dean Rock and Man-of-the-Match Jack McCaffrey shouldered the brunt of the load previously. Rock was relatively quiet in the replay, scoring 0-03 compared to 0-10 the first day out. McCaffrey was taken off at half-time.
Kerry simply hadn’t it in them to overcome their brilliance. Too many chances that Dublin would kick for fun were wasted by Kerry. Stephen O’Brien’s goal chance was perhaps the crucial moment where they might have turned the tide.
Ultimately the defeated Kerrymen fell away in the final 10 minutes, as Dublin cruised home to yet another All-Ireland triumph. Perhaps they’ll feel hard done by the eventual six-point loss, in what was a fiercely competitive encounter. This is an exciting young Kerry panel and they’ll surely be back in Croke Park for many Septembers to come.
Regardless, 2019 belongs to Dublin. The fabled five-in-a-row, never done before in senior men’s intercounty GAA, has at last been completed. This group of players had already cemented themselves in the history books amongst the greats of football past. To win five successive Sam Maguire Cups affords them a particularly special place in the annals.
Perhaps even more remarkable is the possibility of six-in-a-row and beyond. Kerry have shown themselves over both finals to be worthy usurpers to the throne, but it will be a monumental task to beat this team at Croke Park.
The young Kingdom team will surely have their day to lift Sam Maguire. How far down the line will they have to wait for the unrelenting all-time greats of Dublin to let their foot off the gas? That very question is what makes Dublin the very best in Gaelic football history.
They are ruthless. They won’t rest on their laurels. They won’t stop. Five-in-a-row may have never been done before, but Dublin will want so much more than that.