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Five Epics: The Best of Dublin v Kerry

Friday, August 30, 2013

Dublin and Kerry have met 26 times before in championship football. Their rivalry has shaped and defined some of the greatest ever occasions in the history of the GAA, and another instalment takes place this Sunday.

Old men and their wives, their sons and daughters and grandchildren were all proudly wearing their tribal emblems. The Jacks are Back, the little chisellers were shouting...

By Arthur Sullivan and Brian Murphy

Their first ever meeting was back in the 1892 final, when Dublin won their second All-Ireland title with a 1-4 to 0-3 victory. By 1934, the rivalry was cranking up, but Dublin's 3-8 to 0-6 win over the Kingdom in the All-Ireland semi-final that year was to be their last championship win against Kerry until the 1976 All-Ireland final.

That game was one of four All-Ireland finals between the two powers in the space of five years - they met in the 1975, 1976, 1978 and 1979 deciders, and those duels defined the rivalry for a whole new generation. As well as that, the intensity and glamour of their meetings had a distinctly modern flavour.

In the 1980s and 1990s, their rivalry lost some of its lustre, but the last 12 years have seen some wonderful meetings and iconic moments involving the two counties again. The 2001, 2007 and 2009 games were all memorable for different reasons, but it is the 2011 All-Ireland final which truly recaptured the essence of Dublin v Kerry.

Here, we look back at five of the greatest ever championship meetings of Dublin v Kerry, starting with the 1955 All-Ireland final.


Result: Kerry 0-12 Dublin 1-6

In 1955, Dublin went rogue. In the Leinster final against Meath, their corner-forward Kevin Heffernan was given permission to come out the field to try to win possession out there, rather than competing in the air with Meath's totemic full-back Paddy O'Brien, nicknamed 'Hands' because of his aerial supremacy

Heffernan's move was controversial. Contesting 50/50 balls was seen as the essence of Gaelic football, and his move out the field, leaving the full-back flummoxed, was seen as a shirking of that fundamental responsibility to the game. Ultimately though, it was an inspired move. And it worked, as Dublin swept to a brilliant 5-12 to 0-7 victory.

In the All-Ireland final later that year against Kerry, Dublin were the hottest of favourites. Their somewhat swashbuckling style was feared and not particularly well received outside the capital. Their game was a fairly drastic step away from the ‘catch and kick’ philosophy. Dublin’s first aim was to keep possession, with short, accurate kick passes, while the innovation of bringing Heffernan away from goal was a move which those of the traditional mindset found hard to take.

Kerry were billed in advance of that game as the ultimate guardians of all that was pure about Gaelic football, and when that was contrasted with the perception of Dublin as stylish new kids on the block, it wasn’t a surprise that the game was soon seen as ‘Citymen v Countrymen’. In many ways, the 1955 was the true beginning of the modern Kerry-Dublin rivalry. It was also the beginning of the so-called 'Dublin hype'.

In the end, Kerry won the match and although there were only three points between them in the end, many observers from the day say Kerry were by a considerable distance the better team. Injuries affected Dublin. Mark Wilson, Seamus McGuinness and Heffernan all brought knocks into the game. But Kerry’s physicality proved too much for Dublin anyway, and six points from Tadghie Lyne (Pat Spillane’s uncle) sent Kerry on their way to their 18th All-Ireland title.

There would be plenty more great Kerry-Dublin duels ahead. But this one was a game-changer. In front of 87,102 spectators, a new world was born. As future Dublin captain Tony Hanahoe said of it: "It was the first time in the history of the GAA that such an animal had been brought on to the national stage."

Kerry: G O’Mahony, J O’Shea, E Roche, J M. Palmer, Sean Murphy, J Cronin, T Moriarty, J Dowling (c), D O’Shea, P Sheehy, T Costelloe, T Lyne, J Culloty, M Murphy, J Brosnan. Sub: JJ Sheehan for Moriarty.

Dublin: P O’Flaherty, D Mahony (c) J Lavin, M Moylan, M Whelan, J Crowley, N Maher, J McGuinness, C O’Leary, D Ferguson, O Freaney, J Boyle, P Haughey, K Heffernan, C Freaney. Subs: T Jennings for McGuinness; W Monks for Jennings.

Result: Dublin 3-8 Kerry 0-10

In 1975, Kerry came to Croke Park with a new breed of footballer. Managed by Mick O’Dwyer, a highly fit, confident young team, introducing the likes of Pat Spillane, Paidí Ó Sé, Denis Moran and Mikey Sheehy, swaggered into the All-Ireland final in Croke Park and beat Dublin, the reigning champions, by seven points.

It was a remarkable result and heralded the dawn of a new era for Kerry football and for the GAA as a whole. The natural conclusion to make afterwards was that this Dublin team was finished, and that the future was Kerry’s. However, in 1976 Dublin came back with a bang and defeated Kerry in the All-Ireland final, fully restoring the rivalry into a living, breathing modern thing.

In an interview with last year, Pat Spillane said the following: “In 1976, we were beaten and deservedly so. We had enjoyed life after 1975 and we weren't at the same pitch.” Clearly something had gone amiss with the Kerry young guns, because Dublin were far too good for them in 1976. Dublin had 11 of the team from 1975 back in place for the final a year later, but the key change was that their entire half-back line was new.

Tommy Drumm, Pat O'Neill and Kevin Moran provided a compelling blend of defensive solidity and attacking intent, and the increased speed and vigour of Dublin stunned a Kerry team that had probably rested on the laurels of 12 months earlier a little too much. In the match itself, three Dublin goals – from Brian Mullins, John McCarthy and Jimmy Keaveney – knocked the stuffing out of Kerry. One of the most iconic images from the game was when Kevin Moran burst on top of the Kerry goal after 45 seconds, only to blast the ball inches wide.

Dublin were fully deserving of their win, and apart the significance of it in terms of neutralising the young Kerry side at the time – it was highly symbolic in the long-term context of the Dublin-Kerry rivalry, for this was the first time Dublin had beaten Kerry in the championship since 1934. For Kevin Heffernan, who had suffered against Kerry his entire playing career, this was redemption. And as the match report in the Irish Times memorably recorded it the next day: “Old men and their wives, their sons and daughters and grandchildren were all proudly wearing their tribal emblems. ‘The Jacks are Back’ the little chisellers were shouting...”

Dublin: P Cullen, G O’Driscoll, S Doherty, R Kelleher, T Drumm, K Moran, P O’Neill, B Mullins, B Brogan, A O’Toole, A Hanahoe (c), D Hickey, B Doyle, J Keaveney, J McCarthy. Subs: F Ryder for A Hanahoe; P Gogarty for B Doyle.

Kerry: P O'Mahony, G O'Keeffe, J O’Keeffe, J Deenihan, P Ó Sé, T Kennelly, G Power, P Lynch, P McCarthy, D 'Ogie' Moran, M Sheehy, M O'Sullivan, B Lynch, J Egan, P Spillane. Sub: C Nelligan for P O’Mahony, S Walsh for P McCarthy; G O’Driscoll for M O’Sullivan.

Result: Kerry 5-11 Dublin 0-9

There is a point in the life of all great teams and sportsmen when they burn brightest. It’s never an easy moment to pin down or identify, and we can never really rise beyond speculation when seeking to name it. But we can be sure, that on the epitaph of ‘Kerry 1975-86’, the digits of 1978 will have a prominent place.

This was the first of the four-in-a-row, the reset button on all that was known before about Kerry and Dublin and Gaelic football. After Kerry’s breakthrough of 1975, Dublin had shown exactly what they were made of by winning the All-Ireland in the following two seasons. They beat Kerry in both those years, in the final in 1976 and in the semi-final in 1977. The 1977 semi-final was a match for the ages, but in many ways, Dublin were simply holding back the Kerry tide one final time.

Kerry hammered Dublin in the 1978 All-Ireland final. Their 17-point winning margin was the biggest since the 1936 All-Ireland final, and one as large has not been recorded in the finals played since. Kerry were simply awesome on the day. The pain of the previous two seasons, combined with the knowledge they had of the vastness of their potential, meant they were determined not to let another slip by them.

The game itself will always be remembered for Mikey Sheehy’s amazing first-half goal. A free was given close to goal against Dublin goalkeeper Paddy Cullen, and as he argued with the referee over the decision, Sheehy quickly took the free, scooping it over Cullen’s head and into the net. The moment has since slipped into Irish cultural memory. Con Houlihan’s description of Cullen dashing "back towards his goal like a woman who smells a cake burning" has also embedded itself into the national fabric.

This was a bruising defeat for Dublin. They would only win two All-Irelands in the next 32 years, whereas for Kerry, it was the beginning of a period of unprecedented dominance. Six more All-Irelands followed in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1985 and 1986, but never did Kerry burn as bright as they did that day in September 1978. They faced Dublin again in the 1979 final, but it wasn’t really until the 2011 All-Ireland final that the two great powers met as equals again.

Kerry: C Nelligan, J Deenihan, J O’Keeffe, M Spillane, P Ó Sé, T Kennelly, P Lynch, J O’Shea, S Walsh, G Power, D 'Ogie' Moran (c), P Spillane, M Sheehy, E Liston, J Egan. Sub: P O’Mahony for J Deenihan.

Dublin: P Cullen, G O’Driscoll, S Doherty, R Kelleher, T Drumm, K Moran, P O’Neill, B Mullins, B Brogan, A O’Toole, A Hanahoe (c), D Hickey, B Doyle, J Keaveney, J McCarthy.

Result: Dublin 1-7 Kerry 1-24

As long as Gaelic football is played, this game will be used as one of the definitive examples of that old truism that you should never write off Kerry. Having stumbled through the Qualifiers with allegations of indiscipline and inter-squad strife stalking their every faltering step, Jack O’Connor’s men arrived in Croke Park on that glorious Bank Holiday Monday as a supposed shadow of the side that had memorably gone toe-to-toe with Tyrone in the All-Ireland final 11 months earlier.

After losing to Cork by an almost unheard of eight points in the Munster semi-final, O’Connor sent an SOS out to veteran defender Mike McCarthy. Nothing, though, could mask the malaise that had crept into the squad, which was evident in the Qualifier win over Longford at Pearse Park and the particularly narrow escape against Sligo in Round 3, when goalkeeper Diarmuid Murphy saved a late David Kelly penalty to spare Kingdom blushes.

A five-point win over Antrim in Round 4 provided not even the slightest hint of what was to come. The obituaries for an ageing side were already prepared, but with their very first sight of Croke Park that summer, Kerry took off and soared for a spell-binding 70-odd minutes. Colm Cooper set the tone with a goal after 40 seconds, taking Mike McCarthy’s pass, spinning and rolling the ball to Stephen Cluxton’s net, his wild, defiant celebration in front of a shocked ‘Hill’ one of the defining images of that day and summer.

It didn’t stop there. Cooper had simply uncorked the bottle and the champagne flowed. Kerry pounded remorselessly at a Dublin full-back line that featured Paddy Andrews and Denis Bastick with Cooper and Darran O’Sullivan doing the damage as they led by 1-14 to 0-3 at the break. ‘Startled earwigs’ was how Dublin manager Pat Gilroy described his players in the first half, and while they were a little more composed in the second half, Dublin struggled to halt the Kingdom procession, or to prevent their biggest championship defeat to their great rivals since 1978.

Kerry would go on to win their 36th All-Ireland title that year, and while they never quite reached those heights again, that game was a timely reminder of the old cliché that Kerry are Kerry.

Dublin: S Cluxton, D Henry, D Bastick, P Andrews, P Griffin, B Cullen, B Cahill (0-1), R McConnell, D Magee, P Flynn, D Connolly, B Brogan (0-3, 2f), A Brogan (0-3), C Keaney (1-0), J Sherlock. Subs: C Whelan for Magee (14), P Burke for Sherlock (23), C O’Sullivan for Cullen (27), A Hubbard for Henry (39), S Ryan for McConnell (65).

Kerry: D Murphy; M O Se, T Griffin, T O'Sullivan (0-1), T O Se (0-2), M McCarthy, K Young, D O Se, S Scanlon (0-1), P Galvin (0-2), Declan O'Sullivan (0-3), D Walsh (0-1), C Cooper (1-7, 4f), T Walsh, Darran O'Sullivan (0-3). Subs: T Kennelly (0-2) for Walsh (30), P O’Connor (0-2, 1f) for D Walsh (48), S O’Sullivan for Darran O’Sullivan (59), A O’Mahony for Young (60), M Quirke for D O Se (60).

Result: Dublin 1-12 Kerry 1-11

It could so easily have been the crowning glory of one of the great Kerry sides, the glorious final trip to the well for some of the greatest players ever to grace the game. But Kevin McManamon and Stephen Cluxton had written a far more dramatic final act and Dublin nicked the All-Ireland title at the death, Cluxton’s free-kick one minute and 53 seconds into added time, when the sides were locked at 1-11 apiece, the gossamer-thin margin between them in the end. Dublin had their first All-Ireland title in 16 years, and the capital hosted the party to end all parties.

After watching Cork win the All-Ireland title in 2010, Kerry didn’t put a foot wrong in Munster, beating Tipperary, Limerick and then the Rebels in the provincial final. Limerick (again) and Mayo were next on their hit-list, and Kerry had reached the final without taking too many testing blows. Dublin, on the other hand, after setting Croke Park alight with an electrifying quarter-final win over Tyrone, got involved in a slug-fest against Donegal in the semi-final, emerging as 0-8 to 0-6 winners after one of the cagiest semi-finals in memory.

The nostalgia-merchants had their perfect final. Kerry had their perfect final player, though. Colm Cooper, as he does, put them ahead with a brilliant goal after 19 minutes. For all Cooper and Declan O’Sullivan’s magic, the Dubs had their own sorcerers, the Brogan brothers Alan and Bernard, nailing two scores each to put the Dubs ahead by 0-6 to 1-2 at the break. Kerry, with their deep reservoir of experience, came charging back in the third quarter, Kieran Donaghy proving their clutch player with a couple of crucial scores as the favourites moved four clear.

And then Dublin sub Kevin McManamon stitched his name into the great patchwork of Dublin folklore, taking Alan Brogan’s pass, skipping past a dazed Declan O’Sullivan to beat Kealy with a low shot. Wing-back Kevin Nolan drew Dublin level and Cluxton did the rest.

Dublin had their new heroes and it was time for some of Kerry’s to wave a tearful goodbye. That two years on, that team – with the exception of the retired Tom O’Sullivan - remains largely intact, tells you everything you need to know about what motivates the Kingdom, and adds yet another layer of intrigue to their 27th championship meeting on Sunday.

Kerry: B Kealy, K Young, M Ó Sé, T O’Sullivan, T Ó Sé, E Brosnan, A O’Mahony, A Maher, K Donaghy (0-02), B Sheehan (0-04, 2f, 1 ’45), Darran O'Sullivan, D Walsh, C Cooper (1-03, 2f), Declan O’Sullivan (0-01), K O’Leary. Subs: P Galvin (0-01) for O’Leary, BJ Keane for Walsh, D Bohan for Brosnan.

Dublin: S Cluxton (0-02, 2f), C O'Sullivan, R O'Carroll, M Fitzsimons, J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan (0-01), D Bastick (0-01), MD MacAuley, P Flynn, B Cahill, B Cullen, A Brogan (0-02), D Connolly, B Brogan (0-06, 4f). Subs: P McMahon for McCarthy, K McManaman (1-00) for Flynn, E O’Gara for Cahill, E Fennell for Bastick.

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