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blue giants Why we must salute the finger-licking brilliance of Dublin's KFC - Kilkenny, Fenton and Con

Kilkenny, O'Callaghan, McCarthy and Fenton soar to new heights in true era of greatness

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The Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire Cup following their victory over Mayo

The Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire Cup following their victory over Mayo

The Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire Cup following their victory over Mayo

In the gallery of the immortals, their portraits hang ever higher: Ciaran Kilkenny next to Brian Fenton; Con O'Callaghan beside James McCarthy.

Sky Blue brothers in brilliance, siblings in splendour.

A quartet of footballers from another planet of high achievement.

For Mayo - immense for so long, but again, ultimately, bereft, forced once more to breathe the air of All-Ireland final defeat - these all-time great quadruplets will seem like an exact facsimile of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

James Horan's side declined to be bruised by past failures, they were ambitious and fearless, but still, against this team of a thousand lifetimes, it was not nearly enough.

So, Dublin advance further into the territory of legend - invincible six-shooters, pushing out the boundaries, their thirst to drink from the cup of immortality insatiable.

Led by the unceasing McCarthy - Dublin's Roy Keane, the very definition of a leader - and the tasty, finger-licking brilliance of KFC - Kilkenny, Fenton and Con - Dessie Farrell's team continued their advance across the sporting Giant's Causeway.

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Dublin's Dean Rock and Ciarán Kilkenny lift the Sam Maguire Cup

Dublin's Dean Rock and Ciarán Kilkenny lift the Sam Maguire Cup

Dublin's Dean Rock and Ciarán Kilkenny lift the Sam Maguire Cup

Kilkenny kicked two wides in the first half, but if the measure of greatness is the capacity to deliver at the hour of greatest need, his closing quarter (kicking two points to bring his game total to three, fouled for a third) franked his Footballer of the Year credentials.

Fenton, the graceful midfield swan, makes the game seem so absurdly easy, like Pythagoras reciting his two-times tables.

If O'Callaghan was not a footballer, he might have made his fame as a vampire: His natural-born instinct is to go for the jugular, to seek to draw blood.

Just as in the 2017 final, the Dalkey Dracula opened a Mayo vein, linking with Dublin's most under-rated footballer, the outstanding Niall Scully, before sinking his teeth to deliver a goal that felt like the deepest incision.

Dublin v Mayo is the Lion King of Irish sport - a long-running Broadway blockbuster, epic-in-scale, box-office gold.

Here, another pulsating, high-octane, exhilarating opening 55 minutes delivered one more thrilling night at the playhouse.

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Brian Fenton and Eric Lowndes of Dublin celebrate. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Brian Fenton and Eric Lowndes of Dublin celebrate. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Brian Fenton and Eric Lowndes of Dublin celebrate. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Six recent summer duels - two in 2015 and 2016, one in 2017 and 2019 - had Croke Park bursting at the seams, half a million supporters sardining through the turnstiles.

If Mayo had not beaten Dublin in 16 tries, they reminded us here why they had come closer than any other to wrinkling the fabric of the Sky Blue universe.

So many of their duels are fought at a suffocating, intoxicating, fever pitch.

How eerie then to roll up for an All-Ireland final days before Christmas, the approach roads to Gaelic football's Sistine Chapel deserted of pilgrims, the normally bustling and boisterous Jones' Road as hushed as a hermitage.

A solitary green and red flag flew from a first floor window of the Croke Park Hotel, a rare splash of colour on a bleak, monotone evening.

A year ago, to the day, in marked contrast to last night's bleak wintry silence, the Dublin squad had gathered across the city at the five-star InterContinental Hotel for a gala medal presentation to mark their historic five-in-a-row.

En route to Elysium, Dublin had filleted Mayo in a second-half high-summer semi-final masterclass that seemed to recalibrate the relationship between the two teams.

It wasn't so much defeat as obliteration and suggested the end of a rivalry which, though one-sided in terms of outcome, had delivered contests of nail-biting intensity.

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Cormac Costello and David Byrne celebrate

Cormac Costello and David Byrne celebrate

Cormac Costello and David Byrne celebrate

What Mayo achieved, then, in the first half was astonishing when you remember the disarray of last summer - and the fact that they were a goal behind within 13 seconds.

Led by a flaming Cillian O'Connor, with Ryan O'Donoghue, fearlessly attacking Dublin's jugular and Oisín Mullin making the blood run powerfully, they made matchwood of all no-contest forecasts.

Croke Park on All-Ireland final day has been a brutal workplace for Mayo.

Here, though if another batch of dreams were to be rendered shop-worn and tattered by Dublin's unending quest for improvement, it would not be before the underdogs offered the fight of their life.

Yet, ultimately another batch of dreams were rendered shop-worn and tattered by Dublin's fourth quarter surge.

This was a fifth All-Ireland loss for Mayo since 2012, a tenth time since 1989 incarcerated in the House of Pain; Ireland's most crucifying sporting famine doomed to extend to a 70th year.

Dublin's electrifying opening was stamped: Made in Ballymun.

McCarthy, immense all evening, swallowed the throw-in, the thoroughbred midfielder galloping through a gap as broad as any Manhattan street before teeing up Dean Rock.

At that stage, you feared for Mayo.

To their immense credit they declined to be swept onto the rock, instead launching an insurrection against their own tortured history.

With O'Connor finding again the prolific form that saw him bury Tipp beneath a 4-9 landslide and All-Ireland debutant Mullin growing in conviction, Mayo played an equal part in a contest of skill, rhythm, pace and the warmest expression.

They even had the temerity to take the lead in the 21st minute, from O'Connor's powerfully won mark.

The second water-break arrived with Mayo just a point adrift - 2-9 to 0-14 - and the contest on a knife-edge.

For James Horan, one question punctured the silence: Could they at last put aside all the doubts and disappointments that had accumulated over seven decades?

Instead it was Dublin who reached down into old reserves and found the shelves teeming with those killer scores.

Brian Howard and Paul Mannion delivered oomph off the bench, Kilkenny and Fenton again found greatness.

Artists destined to be celebrated in the most striking portraits in football's gallery of the immortals.

If Con O'Callaghan was not a footballer, he might have made his fame as a vampire...

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