And Dublin it is, as we expected. Dublin qualified for an All-Ireland final showdown with Mayo after one of the most pulsating and memorable semi-finals you are likely to see. It was no place for the faint hearted.
It must surely have been another first for a Kerry senior football team as they were priced as rank outsiders and offered at a whopping 11/4 in the bookmakers, odds that I am sure attracted a few punters. I had to forfeit 35 degrees and a glorious Algarve pool to watch the game, I am glad I made the effort. The Shamrock Bar in Albufeira was my chosen destination, it had a large number of Mayo jerseys in situ, all shouting for the green and gold of Kerry. Have they short memories I wondered. Had Mayo not endured enough at the hands of the Kingdom in All-Ireland finals. I sat quiet but was secretly shouting for Kerry also as I felt Mayo would have a much better chance against the Munster champions.
Why we love this game
The game itself was a marvellous spectacle and a wonderful advertisement for Gaelic football, heart stopping from beginning to end. Both managers gave little away before throw in as they both made several changes from the teams that were named during the week. A very notable feature of this game and one that irks me to the bone was the indecisiveness of the umpires. David Gough could do himself a favour and have an overhaul of his sidekicks as the positions they took up for crucial scoring attempts left a lot to be desired. They constantly looked at each other to make the calls. I could see from my obscured viewing of the TV in the Shamrock that an attempt by Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan was clearly wide yet the umpire in question had to call for Hawkeye because his angles were all wrong.
For the first 20 minutes of this game Dublin did as they pleased racing into a five point lead. Kerry looked all out of sorts for the first quarter as passes went astray, attacks were limited as Dublin dominated the middle third, and the long ball into their full forward line was cut out on almost every occasion by impressive Dublin fullback Johnny Cooper. Despite Dublin´s early dominance Kerry hung in, like a boxer on the ropes, hoping for a reversal of fortunes or a mistake from their opponent to give them a reprieval.
Where did that come from
What happened thereafter is the reason we love football. I mentioned to a man sitting beside me that Paul Geaney had not touched the ball for the first 14 minutes, Geaney had been Kerry's leading attacker in 2016. Geaney must have heard me because the rest of the half was all about him. Apart from three fine points, he scored a dubious enough goal when challenging Stephen Cluxton after a high up and under from Anthony Maher. Another contentious decision by an umpire, was it over the line or was it not? After several viewings I´m still not sure but the umpire was as he raced for the green flag. Geaney also intercepted a Cluxton kick out which set up Darren O'Sullivan for Kerry´s opening goal. It was some 20 minutes by a player who looked at sea early on. Dublin were rattled and their orchestrator in chief, Cluxton was having a nightmare as he fired another kick out straight over the side line after a Kerry goal, had he been an out field player he would surely have been substituted.
Dublin went from a commanding position to going in at the break five points in arrears thanks to an amazing run by Kerry in the second quarter. The Kerry folk and the neutrals in the Shamrock started gibing the disillusioned Dubs. The crest kissing by one mature Kerry fan was laughable, do it at your peril I thought.
When the pressure came on Dublin stood up
Dublin set about reeling in Kerry in the third quarter and did all they could to claw back the deficit. When they eventually drew level Kerry responded in kind, thanks to very effective substitutes in Stephen O'Brien, Barry John Keane, and James O'Donohue. While the neutrals and we Mayo folk begged for a draw, it looked like Dublin were satisfied for the same as they played the ball back and over the field, very similar to what they had done against Mayo in the drawn semifinal last year. Kevin McManamon and Diarmuid Connolly did not read the script as they scored two quality points under the most serious of pressure to win the day, both with their weaker left feet I might add. Dublin were given their strictest test of 2016 and responded in kind. It was a remarkable game which had me breathless in those dying moments. The Dubs can handle the hype and the pressure, and their ability to respond when questions were asked can only be applauded. They are now red hot favourites to retain the Sam McGuire. Over and out, I have to get back to the pool.