Diarmuid Connolly’s potshot from close to 45 meters out, and with the All-Ireland final speedily counting down, might have been the bolt of magic that won Dublin the most famous All-Ireland title of all time.
But the ball sailed wide at the Canal End in Croke Park. In the process, Dublin manager Jim Gavin was denied a masterstroke. Instead, he looked greedy.
Gavin’s decision to include Connolly as one of 11 men on his bench, to the exclusion of warriors and loyal servants like Bernard Brogan and Eoghan O’Gara, was also an act of betrayal.
Of course, Connolly’s return was good for the game and good for Dublin. Even if the troubled attacker turned his back on the team in recent years, Dublin’s quest for a glorious five in a row of All-Ireland titles needed everyone putting their shoulder to the wheel – all available talent in the city.
However, Connolly’s first wish had been to play ball in Boston this summer, not Croke Park. Brogan, meanwhile, like O’Gara before him, had fought back from horrendous knee surgery to fight for fitness this last 12 months. Brogan and O’Gara should not have been told that they would sit in their street clothes last Sunday while Connolly got the chance to be the hero of heroes.
It was a decision, in fact, that was morally repugnant to anyone, in any way aware of the commitment that every last member of a squad of men makes. Gavin gave in to plain greed.
It's something that all managers refuse to tolerate from anyone in their midst. But, after five years of brilliantly underplaying his role in driving Dublin to the very top, and beyond, Gavin bared a portion of himself to us all.
Now, after watching his team being held level by Kerry last Sunday, the Dublin team boss will have to go back to the drawing board and choose another 26 lads who are fully deserving of taking their place on the most glorious page in the GAA’s huge book of history. Will Gavin panic, again?
Certainly, his team panicked last Sunday. After sailing to a five points advantage over a Kerry team that was hesitant, and failing to take full advantage of their man advantage, Dublin did something that another Kerry team did way back in 1982 when they were chasing down their place as the first team to win five in a row.
Back then, against Eugene McGee’s Offaly, Kerry did not stand over their four points advantage late in the second half. Instead, they manned the barricades.
Kerry paid a huge price for that, and a late goal from Seamus Darby – the most famous kick the game had ever witnessed – denied them a win they had rightfully earned. Same with Dublin last Sunday.
They were the better team. They were the adults, Kerry were the kids.
We expected Gavin’s vastly experienced men to hit to the fifth gear. Instead, they dropped down to third. Even then, Dublin was guilty of four alarming “kick and hope” shots (including Connolly’s) at the Kerry goal when the game was still in the melting pot. It was unlike them.
It was, truthfully, entirely alien to the character of a team that has been amazingly, calmly, brilliantly cold-blooded since the early summer of 2015.
Dublin are still on course. But when Gavin faces his troops every evening in the next week and a half he might think of asking for forgiveness. He was the first to give in to his basic human instincts.
While Dublin were the superior team last Sunday, Kerry might have won this game by a distance had they converted the three gilt-edged goal chances that came their way – two presented to Paul Geaney in the first half and the third landing for Paul Murphy after halftime.
It was his captain, Stephen Cluxton, who saved Gavin’s backside by stopping the second Geaney chance from the penalty spot and also magnificently tipping Murphy’s piledriver onto the bar and over. Before Cluxton’s defying acts, the first Geaney opportunity was stopped on the goal-line by James McCarthy. Yeah, Kerry might have won this All-Ireland by seven or eight points, against the odds, and not even deserving of it given a proper analysis of the 70-plus minutes of action.
Dublin were almost denied. To be certain of victory at the second attempt, surely men like Cluxton should have a word in the ear of their manager. Connolly can take his place on the bench, but not at the expense of men of his equal – or men like Brogan who are more deserving of exiting their careers after working up a sweat on the field rather than enduring the whole game as the most useless spectators of all.
For Kerry manager Peter Keane, the lesson from last Sunday is that his team needs to believe that they are as good as Dublin. He needs to pour over the seven minutes of added time and force his youngsters to understand that they waved away the opportunity of, perhaps, a lifetime.
They could have gone down in history as the boys who stood in the way of giants and sent them into reverse. Instead, Kerry stalled. They were like a team awaiting permission. Or forgiveness.
And nothing like a team that was willing to back up its initial questioning of Dublin’s God-given right to be defined as the greatest football team this country has ever seen. Keane is full of the purest bull that is most identified with Kerry folk pulling our legs.
However, he has a seriously talented team in his dressing room and a bunch of footballers who will certainly follow Dublin as great All-Ireland champs. Keane has to believe that the time for his team is now. Not in 12 months, or further down the road.
We never thought Dublin would be as vulnerable as they were last Sunday. Will they ever be as beatable again? Doubtful.
What do you think will happen in the replay? Let us know in the comments section, below.