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I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that Kerry had finally got over the finish line

Brothers Killian Spillane, left, and Adrian Spillane of Kerry© SPORTSFILE

Pat SpillaneSunday World

I have never taken illegal drugs in my life, though I can’t imagine any drug would have given me the high I felt after the All-Ireland final.

I was emotionally drained but still felt ecstatic.

Being honest, I also felt an overwhelming sense of relief that Kerry had finally got over the finish line in an All-Ireland final after eight years.

Readers of this column will know I tipped Kerry to win the All-Ireland at the start of the year. My conviction never wavered.

Ahead of the game I was superbly confident that Kerry would get the job done quite comfortably.

But I got it wrong about Galway. They are a much better team than I had given them credit for.

They are athletic, have loads of pace, are well organised defensively, and have plenty of leaders on the field.

Galway played with real belief and died with their boots on.

I know moral victories and pious platitudes count for nothing.

What I will say is that Galway are a serious team and, with some improvement in attack, could secure an All-Ireland.

Kerry deserved to win – although the first half and, in particular, the first 20 minutes did not go to plan.

Even though all the Galway players were appearing in their first All-Ireland final, they were the far more composed side early on.

In contrast, the favourites gave a most untypical Kerry performance.

They looked incredibly nervous and lacking in belief.

The statistics back up this view. In the first 20 minutes Galway registered 0-5 from six shots, whereas Kerry could manage only 0-5 from 11 shots.

Indeed, the entire set of first-half statistics make grim reading from a Kerry perspective.

They had almost double the number of attacks as Galway – 17 compared to nine – but trailed by one point, having scored only twice from play and kicked seven wides.

The only comfort was that they were just a point behind after a half where David Clifford was the only player to carry the fight to Galway.

As I alluded to already, there was so much to admire about Galway’s performance.

It is very unusual in an All-Ireland final for two of the three outstanding players to come from the losing side.

Shane Walsh was heroic with his nine-point contribution, while midfielder Cillian McDaid scored four points from play.

So effective was their defensive system that Kerry struggled to get a shot on goal.

Their defensive match-ups worked a treat as well; Liam Silke did a brilliant job on Sean O’Shea, while Jack Glynn stifled Paudie Clifford in the first half.

Their Achilles heel was up front. Old fashioned though it sounds, the team with the more prolific forwards always wins the All-Ireland.

The performance of the Galway forwards in their last two games was simply not good enough.

In the semi-final against Derry, between them five of the six starting forwards scored one point – and four of them failed to register a score from play.

Last Sunday, other than Shane Walsh, only Johnny Heaney scored – he notched a point.

The other four failed to trouble the umpires. It was a case of déjà vu.

One other interesting statistic is that Galway had 32 attacks, but only got off 25 shots. Kerry had 37 attacks and got off 35 shots.

Galway’s other problem had been signposted in advance as well – the weakness of their bench.

This meant fatigued players weren’t being replaced with substitutes of a similar calibre.

As a result the team’s composure and game management deteriorated at the business end of the game. They ran out of steam.

As I suggested last week it was Kerry’s resilience, game management and composure which propelled them over the line.

Coming down the final stretch Kerry played the game on their terms.

Credit to Jason McGahon, Head of Athletic Performance with Kerry GAA, for having the players in peak physical shape.

To achieve this level of conditioning probably takes three years of hard graft.

Mentally, the players are much stronger and learned harsh, but valuable, lessons from the gut-wrenching losses they endured against Dublin (2019), Cork (2020) and Tyrone (2021).

Pat Spillane was reduced to tears when he talked about his dad

Seanie O’Shea’s match-winning free against Dublin was Kerry’s ‘Redemption Day’.

Finally, the Dublin ‘monkey’ was off their back.

David Clifford was majestic; he is the best forward and the best footballer in the game.

He was under colossal pressure last Sunday. David has been the ‘chosen one’ in Kerry football since he burst onto the minor team in 2016.

But until he won an All-Ireland senior medal and gave a Man of the Match performance in an All-Ireland final he hadn’t delivered in the eyes of some Kerry fans. Now he has.

What has stood out in all of their performances this season has been what could be described as untypical Kerry qualities.

Their defensive play, both individually and within the system, was outstanding.

So, too, has been the work rate of all the players in terms of tackling, tracking back and, in particular, securing turnovers.

Sixteen of their 28 points against Limerick came from turnovers.

Against Mayo they scored 1-11 of their 1-18 total from turnovers, while in the second half last Sunday they turned Galway over in possession on nine occasions in the second half, and hit 0-8 from those turnovers.

Their defensive record is second to none. One goal conceded in the championship, three – including one from a penalty – in their last 16 games.

Over the years I have often written about Kerry’s inability to produce top-quality man-markers.

Most of our defenders are natural wing-backs, who are very comfortable on the ball.

What’s different this year is how much individual players have improved in terms of the position of their bodies, their feet, hand in and out and the swarm tackle.

Jason Foley has gone from being a pacey athletic full-back into a brilliant man-marker, while Tadgh Morley is now the most effective sweeper in the game.

Their discipline when tackling is top class. They conceded just 0-7 from frees in their last two games.

I have often referred to the fact that in last year’s

semi-final Tyrone turned over Kerry in possession 35 times, with all but five of them occurring in the middle third.

Last Sunday they were turned over on just 11 occasions.

By any stretch of the imagination this is a significant improvement.

They haven’t neglected some of Kerry’s instinctive skills, such as foot passing which is part of the Kingdom’s football DNA.

They deployed it very effectively last Sunday and the simple things – like kicking the ball high into the danger zone – can still yield results.

Kerry scored 0-3 from marks which were the product of these deliveries.

Often in an All-Ireland final, it is the unsung heroes who step up to the plate.

Goalkeeper Shane Ryan has become more influential as the season has gone on.

Last Sunday Kerry scored ten points from his restarts, eight of which went short and two long.

Though he is probably more suited to being one of those wing-backs, Graham O’Sullivan was a revelation at corner back.

Stephen O’Brien did a huge amount of ‘dirty’ work deep in his own half, especially in that first half when the Kingdom were not firing.

Furthermore all of the substitutes introduced made a positive contribution.

Finally, there is the ‘Jack’ factor.

I wrote at the start of the year about Páidí Ó Sé’s famous line that it takes just a grain of rice to tip over a scales.

Bringing back Jack O’Connor for a third term was that ‘grain of rice.’

He is a born winner, a quintessential players’ man – which means the players not only respect him, but they believe in him.

Don’t underestimate how important this is.

Jack was wise enough not to surround himself with his friends.

Instead, he chose Diarmuid Murphy and Mike Quirke, who have serious credentials in their own right as well, of course, as Paddy Tally from Tyrone.

The history books will record that Kerry won their 38th All-Ireland title in 2022.

Neither the quality of the final nor the quality of Kerry’s performance will be noted.

For the record it was far from a vintage Kerry performance. They converted only 57 per cent of their chances – in fact, Galway had a better conversion rate.

The pressure they were under to deliver was off the charts. The consequences of losing were unthinkable.

This group was supposed to be Kerry’s golden generation, but until the final whistle sounded on Sunday they hadn’t delivered.

What about the future? Did we witness the dawn of a new dynasty?

Can this Kerry team be as dominant as Dublin were in the last decade?

Overall, their age profile favours them, though one wonders will David Moran, Paul Geaney, Paul Murphy and Stephen O’Brien – who is getting married later this year – bring the curtain down on their careers now.

On the other hand, three top class defenders Dan O’Donoghue, Dylan Casey and Mike Breen, who was a first-choice wing-back last year, should be back next year having recovered from long-term injuries.

Joe O’Connor has the potential to develop into a top-class midfielder – and players like Killian and Adrian Spillane and Tony Brosnan will push for starting roles next year.

I believe this group can win more All-Ireland titles, but I doubt if they will be as dominant as Dublin were.

Right now, there are far more credible contenders for the 2023 Sam than has been the case for years.

Galway ought to continue their development, while at full strength – under a new management team – Mayo will continue to be a force.

The Dubs haven’t gone away, with a full pre-season training under their belts Tyrone will regroup.

Both Derry and Armagh will feel they could have gone further this season, a new manager could revitalise Donegal or Monaghan, while Kildare could be in the mix as well.

It is a long time since I have included so many counties in the list of possible contenders. So, roll on next year’s championship.

But for the moment down here in the Kingdom we want to celebrate this win for another few days.

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