Dublin beat Kerry to claim 25th Sam
A blue hue is draping Croke Park as Dublin celebrate their 25th All-Ireland title and their third in five years. This was a special, special win for Jim Gavin's side.
Dublin has now conquered Kerry in three successive championships for the first time ever – this victory follows on from their 2011 All-Ireland win and their semi-final success two years later.
Now even the legendary team of the 1970s achieved that feat. But they did win three All-Ireland titles in four seasons.
It has taken this team five years to reach that milestone. Furthermore, the fact that the Seventies side captured Sam back to back in 1976-77 still gives they the bragging rights over their successors.
But this is a very special group of players led by a magnificent manager. During his three season stewardship Gavin has managed Dublin to two All-Ireland wins; three Leinster titles and three League successes. And his team has lost just one championship game – last year's semi-final loss – to Donegal in the period.
As often happens in All-Ireland deciders the game was nothing like had been anticipated. Granted, nobody really expected a shoot-out but the contest broke all manner of statistical records at the other end of the scale.
It was the lowest scoring decider since the 1990 final (Cork 0-11; Meath 0-9) and the first goalless All-Ireland decider since 2010 and Kerry's tally of 0-9 was their worst return in a final since their 0-8 total when they lost to Down in 1960.
After a first half which produced 12 scores the general expectation was that the contest would open up. Instead the opposite happened. Incredibly the second half only produced nine scores. But the tension was close to unbearable as Kerry desperately hung on and Dublin was incapable of putting them away despite being far the better team.
But despite emptying the bench the arrival of Darran O'Sullivan, Bryan Sheehan, team captain Kieran Donaghy and surprisingly Paul Galvin – who got the nod ahead of Tommy Walsh – Kerry couldn't prise open a brilliant Dublin defence.
They had one chance to save the day late on when Donaghy brilliantly fielded a throw-in ball and found Killian Young in space on the right but the wing back fumbled the ball and his weak goal bound shot was cleared.
The ball went straight up the field where it was worked to Dublin substitute Alan Brogan, who probably in his last act as a Dublin footballer kicked the insurance point for Dublin.
The Leinster champions expertly played down the four minutes of injury time and an increasing frustrated Kerry were unwittingly drawn into the battle. But had Kerry saved the day it would have been a travesty of justice as Dublin ought to have put the game behind Kerry's reach in the third quarter.
The Kerry goal had a charmed existence as Bernard Brogan was just wide with a decent goal chance in the 38th minute and six minutes later the outstanding Brian Fenton hit the ball off the butt of the upright and the rebound struck Brogan but flew wide.
Statistically the game was a mass of contradictions. In the early stages and throughout the second half Kerry made life a misery for Stephen Cluxton. Of his seven second half re-starts Kerry won five of them but still couldn't make an impact on a day when Colm Cooper never got a look-in against Philly McMahon – who actually outscored him – and James O'Donoghue – despite being Kerry leading scorer from play with 0-3 – finished second best in his battle with Jonny Cooper who was forced to retire injured in the 48th minute.
Dublin did their best to kick the game away in the second half – hitting ten wides whereas Kerry only managed two. But of course the only statistic that counts is the score line when the finals whistle sounds.
As always is the case in an All-Ireland final the losing manager's reputation takes a battering. Even though this was only the second championship match that Kerry has lost under Fitzmaurice; he lost the tactical battle with Gavin.
It won't go down well in Kerry that he has now failed on two occasions to beat the Dubs in championship football and frankly none of his substitutes changed the course of the contest. In contrast when Darran O'Sullivan was threatening to rescue Kerry in the second half Gavin took off Jack McCaffrey – who had a storming first half – and sent on John Small to keep tabs on O'Sullivan.
Against all the odds both sides lined out as selected – in fact, other than Bernard Brogan switching to left corner-forward there were no positional changes either and there were no surprises either in the match-ups.
The weather was the spoilsport, however, with heavy rain making conditions difficult, particularly forwards. Mind you, this was the third time this season that Kerry had played in a downpour but Dublin adapted better to the conditions.
Brian Fenton opened Dublin's account after only 16 seconds and it took a brilliantly instinctive save from Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy to deny Dean Rock a goal after Denis Bastick put him through.
Stephen Cluxton, though, experienced serious difficulties with his re-starts in the first quarter with Kerry winning four of his first five re-starts but uncharacteristic poor shooting from an out-of-form Kerry attack meant that Dublin weren't punished.
The game was littered with handling errors and poorly executed kick passes as both teams struggled to bring their A game to the table. By the eighth minute Kerry had drawn level and James O'Donoghue's second point from play briefly gave Kerry the lead after 17 minutes.
Then Dublin's most influential player in the first period Jack McCaffrey took centre stage winning two frees on the left flank which were converted by Rock – who was making his most productive contribution in the All-Ireland series.
Although a Paul Geaney point levelled the game in the 24th minute, the final ten minutes of the half belonged to Dublin. They hit four unanswered points – with McCaffrey and Philly McMahon getting on the scoreboard to give Jim Gavin's side a commanding 0-8 to 0-4 advantage at the break and one hand on the cup.
The most telling statistic from the first half was that Kerry kicked seven wides compared to just two for Dublin and the body language and energy levels of the Leinster side suggested that they were the team who had all the answers.
Predictably Kerry introduced Darran O'Sullivan at half time at centre forward – he later moved to the wing to keep tabs on McCaffrey and when Kerry scored the first two points of the second half to narrow the gap to two it was game on.
But this was as good as it got for them. With Paul Flynn having his best game of the championship Dublin managed to keep their nose in front. The scoring was sparse and the football was less than enthralling but crucially Kerry couldn't get that crucial opening to test Cluxton who didn't have a save of significance to make.
It was never comfortable for Dublin; but it was a day when work rate, aggression and belief was an important as silken skills and ultimately Dublin wanted it more and got their reward.
Dublin: S Cluxton (0-1, 1f); J Cooper, R O'Carroll, P McMahon (0-1); J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J McCaffrey (0-1); B Fenton (0-1), D Bastick; P Flynn (0-2), D Connolly, C Kilkenny; B Brogan (0-2, 1f), D Rock (0-2, 2f), P Andrews (0-1). Subs: K McManamon for Rock ht,, M D Macauley for Bastick 40m;M Fitzsimons for Cooper 48m; J Small for McCaffrey 52m; D Daly for O'Sullivan 60m; A Brogan (0-1) for Fenton 66m.
Kerry: B Kealy; F Fitzgerald, A O'Mahony, S Enright; J Lyne (0-1), P Crowley, K Young; A Maher, D Moran; S O'Brien, J Buckley, D Walsh; C Cooper, P Geaney (0-2), J O'Donoghue (0-3) Subs: D O'Sullivan (0-2) for O'Brien ht; B Sheehan (0-1, 1f) for Buckley 44m; K Donaghy for Geaney 50m; P Galvin for Moran 57m; P Murphy for O'Mahony BC 58m; BJ Keane for O'Donoghue 62m
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)