By Larry Cooney
At Croke Park
Dublin’s ‘drive for five’ came very close to being derailed after the Sam Maguire Cup holders for the past four years were held to a 1-16 apiece draw by a young resurgent Kerry team.
And were it not for a stellar performance from ‘wing-back’ Jack McCaffrey, who scored 1-3 in the number 5 shirt, then Dublin’s hopes of making it an historic five-in-a-row would have gone the same way as Kerry’s famous bid in 1982.
McCaffrey benefited greatly from being employed in a more advanced position and was without doubt the best outfield player on the field. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold.
After a year in which the future of the game came into questions, including Dublin’s dominance, this year’s showdown between two of the greatest names with the greatest traditions proved to be the best possible showpiece.
The replay can’t come soon enough.
But replays seldom follow a similar pattern to drawn games and usually the team who ‘should’ have won the first game, end up empty-handed.
Opinions have been divided. While many who watched last Sunday’s enthralling contest feel Kerry have missed their ‘great’ chance, you’ll find as many who believe that Kerry are now best placed to succeed a Dublin team hailed as one of the best, not just of this decade and generation, but of all time.
It is that fact alone that makes Saturday week’s replay all the more appealing.
After the semi-finals there was little doubt that the best two teams were contesting last Sunday’s decider, with Dublin well fancied to go one better than Kerry did against Offaly in 1982, when they lost out to a sensational Seamus Darby goal.
A moment that remains the most iconic in GAA history.
Last Sunday’s drawn encounter will undoubtedly take its place among the All-Ireland final classics for many reasons.
The occasion and encounter was quite simply brimful of talking points and similar to the recent hurling decider a big ‘call’ dismissal just before half-time was among the leading points of discussion.
While many will hail the outstanding performances of Dublin’s penalty-saving Stephen Cluxton, Brian Howard and Dean Rock, who kicked the all-important equalising point, along with Kerry heroes Sean O’Shea and David Moran, Meath referee David Gough should also be very proud of his performance.
Similar to James Owens’ dismissal decision in the hurling decider, Jonny Cooper can have no complaints after his sending-off just before half-time, for his persistent fouling of David Clifford, including the incident that led to Kerry being awarded a penalty after 12 minutes.
But that ‘call’ which resulted in Dublin having to play for over 40 minutes with 14-men and survive now slightly favours the holders in the replay.
Dublin coped well in third quarter and were it not for the impact of Kerry substitutes Killian Spillane, Jack Sherwood and Tommy Walsh, the holders could well have made history.
Spillane scored the all-important goal that re-energised Kerry and his lead point with just under four minutes of normal time remaining appeared to be giving Kerry the impetus for what would have been an unlikely and indeed a famous victory.
However, Kerry’s inexperience in those closing minutes cost them dearly. They will also rue a number of other missed scoring opportunities earlier in the game, not to mention their insistence of attempting to play down the clock much too soon.
As in all drawn games, the outcome of the replay will come to the team who learnt most about the opposition in the drawn game and how best to counteract those problems the next day.
Kerry will take much satisfaction from the fact that they did their ‘home-work’ very effectively, but the Kingdom’s mentors will surely have to implement some better measures to nullify the threat of Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey.
Likewise, Dublin supporters will also be expecting much more from a number of their underachieving players last Sunday, including influential midfielder Brian Fenton.
Whatever happens on Saturday week – 14 September looks likely to be an historic day in GAA folklore, but will it be a Dublin five-in-a-row or the birth of a new generation of Kerry football.
And that unanswered question is the reason why the ‘FULL HOUSE’ sign will be out again outside Croker.