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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 8 July, 2020
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Opinion: Dublin went to the wire and proved just how great this team is

As Dublin’s unbeaten run in the championship passes the two year mark, nothing surprises us about this team anymore.

WHEN WAS THE last time the Dublin senior footballers surprised you?

Diarmuid Connolly reacts after kicking his side into a two point lead Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

What’s not surprising is that they’re preparing for a second straight All-Ireland final and a fourth in six years. They haven’t lost a championship game in 24 months and they dismantled teams en route to the last four of the All-Ireland series through expressions of pure football.

There’s been plenty of room for awe along the road, but it never developed into shock. And yet by half-time yesterday Kerry had one of the best teams we’ve ever seen on the ropes and gasping for air.

History suggested Dublin may struggle to retain the All-Ireland, but that possibility never seemed as real than when they found themselves five points down after 35 minutes.

Dublin were still in a hole on 62 minutes, trailing by three points. But their ability to pick themselves up off the canvas and regroup shouldn’t come as a surprise either. Eventually they found themselves. Dublin scored seven points from eight strikes at the posts in the final ten minutes. In contrast, Kerry managed a single shot.

This is just what Dublin do. They raise the stakes and they’re not afraid of that dark place. They adapt and survive.

Much of Dublin’s victory was down to Diarmuid Connolly’s orchestration. The game was threatening to get away from Connolly in the closing quarter and he appeared to be waning, kicking two wides.

Then he drew a foul from Paul Murphy for a free that Rock dropped over. The life returned to his legs. Connolly trades equally in power and finesse, but it’s his decision making that sets him apart. Beating Kerry demanded the type of problem-solving that only the St. Vincent’s man can provide.

Eoghan O’Gara looks on as he kicks his side into the lead Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He picked up a pass from Brian Fenton, glided forward and fired pinpoint pass into Kevin McManamon, who applied the finish. Stephen O’Brien equalised but Connolly had the game by the scruff of the neck at this stage. Eoghan O’Gara fired over a booming point and it was Connolly’s left-footed score that sealed the game.

The true test of greatness in a team is how they respond to adversity, when they’re backed into a corner and staring down the barrel of a gun. Dublin won the second-half by 0-13 to 0-6 and outscored Kerry by five points down the stretch in the final quarter.

The Leinster champions ultimately won because Kerry just couldn’t live with their athleticism any longer. James McCarthy’s diagonal runs into the centre from right half back and Brian Fenton’s tireless efforts in the middle of the park drove Jim Gavin’s men to victory.

Even on a day where Stephen Cluxton, Ciaran Kilkenny and Paul Flynn were quiet by their lofty standards, the champions still had leaders to turn to. Dean Rock had a flawless afternoon in front of goals and he exploited Kerry’s constant fouling with a 12-point haul.

Dean Rock and Paul Murphy Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Kevin McManamon’s phenomenal work-rate and Jonny Cooper’s dogged defending were all big reasons Dublin are still standing. Kerry made Dublin’s full-back line a target and although they got some joy in the first-half, Kieran Donaghy’s injury negated that threat inside.

Full credit should go to Kerry and Eamonn Fitzmaurice. They showed remarkable courage and pushed the champions right to the wire.

But Dublin are becoming almost Kilkenny-like in their ability to pull through tight contests. Since Gavin has taken charge, 17 games across the league and championship have been decided by three points or less. They’ve lost just four.

After yesterday’s win, Dublin will be strong favourites to hand down another All-Ireland final beating to Mayo. For a spell yesterday they stared down their own elimination to the original aristocrats of Gaelic football.

Kerry don’t usually throw away five point half-time leads in All-Ireland semi-finals. But Dublin gave chase and answered all questions about their greatness when they were looking down and out.

That’s certainly no surprise.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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