Posted by Mickey Harte
Friday 23 September 2011
There was a great atmosphere in Croke Park on Sunday, as there always is for All-Ireland final day, and as there always is when Dublin are playing.
The fact that Tipperary won the minor, making a breakthrough after so long, only added to the excitement and it put more pressure on the senior final as Dublin looked to get a win after failing to get a result in all their other finals this season.
But the game played out the way I believed it would, with Dublin being mean at the back and scores being hard to come by. In the first half they restricted Kerry to just three scores. One was a goal but it was a low return for a team like Kerry. Dublin were picking off their own scores at the other end and they must have been very heartened by that at the break.
Though Dublin got there in the end, it could have been very different. It just shows the fine line between success and failure. Kerry went four up with seven or eight minutes to go and it looked like their experience was going to tell.
But then an unforced error, combined with a little bit of pressure, caused the opening for the goal and they needed that to win the game. They won the ball and the direct running of Alan Brogan slipped in Kevin McManamon and that turned the game. Those are the little things that make the difference between being champions and just coming up short.
I have to say think Kerry were unfortunate to lose the game and probably deserved a draw because of their second-half effort. Kerry had taken control but even players as experienced as they are can begin to see the finish line and they would have felt the game was going to the script they had in their heads.
Kerry had a chance to go five up but lost possession at the crucial time and if they had secured that extra point they may well have won comfortably. It was that close. Dublin, of course, had themselves in a position to strike back through their hard work and they made the best of the opportunity when it arose.
Dublin’s system served them well all year and it worked for them in the final too. I felt it would be around the 15-point mark that would do it and funnily enough that was exactly the winning tally in the end.
Dublin had a more experienced and mature bench than Kerry. That back-up strength did have an impact. Kerry’s trump card from the bench was Paul Galvin but as I said last week if he was fit I would have started him. When he came in he found the pace of the game was ahead of him - it was very intense - and he made a few uncharacteristic errors. It left him not as comfortable as he would usually be and he did not have the desired impact that Jack O’Connor would have hoped.
Possession in the middle was at a premium and he did get his hands on some ball but he was just not as efficient as he would usually be. He just didn’t fit in as seamlessly as usual and that can happen sometimes to even the best players.
For Dublin, their midfield duo of Michael Darragh MacAuley and Denis Bastick performed very well, and got themselves forward with purpose. They won a few important frees and Bastick landed a point. Pat Gilroy would not have been counting on that pair for scores but it ultimately made the difference in the end.
That said, Bryan Sheehan was in line to win man-of-the-match if Kerry had held on and he answered those who wondered if he could play that position with a fine display. As I have said all year, the role of midfielders has changed so much and with the exception of Anthony Maher, none of the midfielders on show on Sunday are traditional, high-fielding players. They have to do so much more these days.
It was no surprise to see Stephen Cluxton come up and convert the winning score, he has been doing it all year.
He has put the work in and it is a lesson to all young players and observers that prolific freetakers only get so good by hard work. Yes they have natural talent but they put in the hours and make it look like a gift.
However, Kerry were typically gracious in defeat and Dublin have been coming for a few years now. They took some serious hits and came back. The progression ended at the big prize on Sunday and now they are in a good place to win a few more with a relatively young age profile.
That is the challenge for Dublin now. They will have to work even harder next year. All-Irelands don’t come easy and lots of people will be targeting them next season. They will be up there again and look as capable as anyone of retaining their title.
Back to the minor and I have to say Tipperary were fantastic. It was hard on Dublin, especially for the players who had lost the minor hurling final a few weeks before, but people will always root for the underdog. Both teams were very good but for Tipperary to start so well, fall behind, then claw it back, go behind again and then win it near the end was real Roy-of-the-Rovers stuff.
Like Dublin, their success hasn’t come from nowhere. A lot of work has gone in at underage level and their senior team is improving too. Limerick have been very close to challenging Cork and Kerry in recent times so it would be great for the game to have Tipperary in the mix in Munster, and beyond, too.
Congratulations to Bryan Cullen on his new job with Leinster rugby and we should glad he has landed such a good job but to see the highest-profile player in Gaelic football in 2011 join up with a rival sport is something that will make some think should there not be something to offer him in our organisation.
Who knows, he may bring something from the rugby field into Gaelic games and we will all learn from his involvement. At least he is staying here and not joining the AFL.
Speaking of Australia, I have to say a quick word about Ireland’s win in Auckland on Saturday. It felt so good to be from the same country as these men. It is what Irish sport is all about; backs to the wall, being the underdog, being efficient and effective.
They stifled the Aussie panache, winning their way and they held out at the end with their bodies when their minds must have felt they were there. I am so delighted for Declan Kidney and the squad and I felt so proud to be Irish on Saturday.
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