Game for the ages as Dubs refuse to wither
When I was lucky enough to have been in Croke Park for the All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Kerry in 2013, I was of the opinion that I would never see as good a game of football as that again. Thankfully, I was wrong because last Sunday’s game between the two same counties was just as good, if not better. I don’t know why it is that Dublin and Kerry consistently produce top class games, maybe it’s because they are the only two counties who can actually play the game the way it should be played.
I thought that Dublin deserved to win the game overall. I know that the hit on Peter Crowley toward the end of the game was a foul and a Kerry point would have levelled the scores, but it would be wrong if that incident were to cloud the overall picture. I thought that referee David Gough had a superb game and his performance contributed to a game that will be talked about for years to come. The standard of play from both sides; the big physical hits (there wasn’t one dirty belt) the fitness levels, the standard of the scores, and the excitement which never dropped was just some of what we saw on Sunday. The Dubs won because they could respond every time that Kerry had them on the ropes and that’s the sign of a really great team.
Stephen Cluxton, who is probably the most important player on the Dublin team almost cost his team the game. His poor kick-outs led to 2-2 at the end of the first half, and at half-time it was hard to believe that Kerry were five points ahead on the balance of play. But Dublin put their heads down and they had a few unlikely heroes.
I had often thought that Dean Rock was not good enough for that Dublin forward line. How wrong I was. He was brilliant from play as well as the placed ball. Twelve points in a game like this was some contribution. He is the best place-kicker in the game now by a country mile. Then there is Kevin McManamon. What a player he has been for Dublin over the years. He was fantastic last Sunday. Remember too that four of the Dublin forwards including Bernard Brogan and Ciaran Kilkenny did not play well.
For Kerry, I just couldn’t believe my eyes when they took off Paul Geaney, who was Kerry’s best player by a mile – and had scored 1-4 up to that point – and he looked dangerous every time he got the ball. The fact that he was replaced by Mark Ó Sé was even more puzzling.
It was just a wonderful game of football and not a sign of a blanket defence or a laptop anywhere. We had long and accurate foot passing, high fielding, hard hitting and super scores. It was a privilege to sit down and watch it.
When the game was over last Sunday I watched Colm Cooper closely. With tears in his eyes he slowly made his way into the tunnel. It was probably his last appearance at Croke Park. He is the best Gaelic football forward that I have ever seen. If he does retire he has given us some pleasure over the years. I presume that Bryan Sheehan, Kieran Donaghy, Marc Ó Sé, Aidan O’Mahony and Donnacha Walsh will also be considering their futures too.
It’s rebuilding time in Kerry and Eamon Fitzmaurice may well step aside too. But I wouldn’t be shedding too many tears for The Kingdom. You only have to take a look at their minor team who eviscerated Kildare last Sunday and look odds-on to win their third U-18 title in a row this year. They won’t be down for long.
So what about the final? We will have plenty of time to chat about that before the big day, but Mayo will have to produce a performance that we have never seen from them in six years at the top if they want to have any chance.
Championship drama across the county
At the end of the game between Strokestown and St. Faithleach’s in Kilglass last Sunday a couple of hundred people huddled around the press area where county secretary Brian Carroll was on his mobile phone talking to someone who was at the Elphin v St. Croan’s game in Loughglynn.
St. Faithleach’s had just beaten Strokestown but they needed to know if Elphin had won, and it was close. At least five minutes passed by as we waited for the final whistle to blow. People were hanging on every word that was said. Who’s winning? How long is left? A free for whom? Eventually it did blow, it was a draw, and the St. Faithleach’s contingent cheered and celebrated. They were in the quarter-finals and Strokestown were out.
There was similar excitement and tension in Kilbride the previous evening as Roscommon Gaels and Pádraig Pearses battled it out, but the biggest drama of all was unfolding in Ballintubber as Boyle were in the process of dumping champions Clann na nGael out of the championship. There was more drama in the intermediate championship.
You can criticise this new format all you like but it has produced huge tension and excitement over the past few weeks. I don’t ever remember scenes like those we saw last weekend in the club championship and it is great to see it too.
In the senior championship, St. Brigid’s look the team to beat but all credit to Boyle who have come from nowhere to qualify for the quarter-finals and in their last two games they have scored 3-11 and 4-13 which is serious form. Pearses look a good side too and with Ronan Daly set to return they are also in with a great chance again this year.
Fuerty are also blazing a trail in the intermediate championship and they have deservedly gone to the top of the betting lists to land that title this year. Let’s hope the excitement continues.
Cork rower on top of the world
You have to hand it to Paul O’Donovan. Not content with a silver medal in Rio with his brother, he dashed back to Rotterdam and he once again ‘pulled like a dog’ to take gold in the single sculls on Saturday in the world championships.
It’s obvious that these guys are serious athletes and to have won these two major medals in the space of two weeks is a serious achievement. Do I hear the words “Paul O’Donovan Irish Sportstar of the Year for 2016” ringing in my ears?
Keano bids farewell
This week will see Robbie Keane retire after a sensational career in the green jersey of Ireland. To have scored 67 international goals is some feat and it will stand as a record long after we are all dead and gone.
In the words of Eamon Dunphy, ‘Robbie Keane was a good player but he was never a great player’. He scored goals for many clubs over his career but he was never in the same league as the likes of Shearer, Lineker, Henry, Van Nistelrooy etc. But he gave Ireland some great service over the years and they will have a job to replace him. I’m sure he will be the Ireland manager one day if he shows any interest in the job in the future.
Championship Crystal Ball
All-Ireland SHC Final Kilkenny v Tipperary on Sunday in Croke Park at 3.30 pm: The two oldest rivals in hurling come face to face in a pairing that many were predicting from early in the year. Tipperary are the fancy of many but looking at the two semi-finals; the matches between Waterford and Kilkenny were far more physical and intense than the Tipperary v Galway game.
Tipp have the better all-round team and have a strong bench but who would bet against Kilkenny in a final? We could be in for another epic here although the loss of Michael Fennelly to Kilkenny will be huge. I have a sneaking feeling that Tipp will edge it. Prediction: Tipperary
All-Ireland MHC Final Tipperary v Limerick on Sunday in Croke Park at 1.15 pm: Prediction: Tipperary