Flashback: 2000 All-Ireland SFC S-Final - Kerry v Armagh
By Cian O’Connell
Ultimately, as so frequently happened in that era, Maurice Fitzgerald’s genius mattered.
A topsy-turvy game, packed with incidents and scores, went the distance, but Fitzgerald’s brush strokes forced a draw. In the replay Kerry prevailed.
The subsequent decider followed a similar pattern. Galway left Croke Park nursing regrets, Kerry survived, and they had the guile to hoist Sam Maguire.
Chances must be taken and shortly after the Armagh stalemate, the renowned Kerry goalkeeper Declan O’Keeffe found the words to articulate Fitzgerald’s relevance.
"I thought we were gone there for a while,” O’Keeffe remarked back in August 2000. “But thanks be to God for Maurice Fitzgerald. We are still in it."
Such resilience has always been part of the Kerry football story, but craft is usually married with graft too.
Fitzgerald’s gorgeous 1997 All Ireland final display lingers in the memory, but his touches and relevance decorated so many other important occasions.
Armagh hit Croke Park in 2000 loaded with intent, very much viewed as a progressive team, who took confidence and momentum from their Ulster success.
Two years later Sam was collected, but this was an encouraging stint for a developing outfit. The fact that Armagh assumed a decent position without closing the deal against Kerry was a blow.
In a riveting last chapter Armagh hit the front. "We had an opportunity to kill the game and probably should have, but five minutes before that we looked as if we were out of the competition," Armagh joint manager Brian Canavan remarked.
Armagh posed stern and demanding questions, but Kerry were still able to summon the necessary answers.
Inevitably Fitzgerald’s sweet goal figured in the post match discussions. Armagh’s totem and now current manager Kieran McGeeney reflected on Fitzgerald’s sheer skill.
"He came in with his right foot and hit in with his left,” McGeeney stated in the tunnel. “But it was a bit soft from ourselves - myself and Hughesie (Kieran Hughes) were still there and he got a shot without a tackle. Every time we took a shot there was a Kerry man right there."
Fitzgerald, modest and understated, didn’t wish to make a deal out of the goal following Mike Frank Russell’s delivery and Johnny Crowley's pass. “I just remember coming on to a Michael Francis (Russell) ball - in fairness to him he won a great ball - and I ran on more in hope really than anything and he ghosted in and more or less put me through the middle.
“I just had a solo and it opened up and I just hit a shot and luckily enough it hit the back of the net."
It wasn’t simply about good fortune. There was brilliance attached too.