Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: Accept the inevitable

THE bad news for the rest of us is that the conservatism that threatened to bring an end to Dublin’s dynasty has been replaced with the adventure that created it in the first place. “Balls out football,” as Pat Gilroy calls it.

As we saw on Sunday against Tyrone, Dublin are in annihilation mode. I predicted they would beat Kerry by seven in last year’s final. But then they did what they have always done against Kerry.

In their heads, they imagined they were playing the Kerry Golden Years crew and almost screwed it up. Just as they had done in 2019 when they were going for five in a row. Those 30 years of torture at the hands of the Bomber and Spillane and the Ó Sé family tree and Gooch are embedded in the Dublin psyche.

On the morning of the 2011 final when the Bomber was asked on the radio for his prediction, he said, “the last time Dublin beat us in Croke Park, Elvis was still alive.”

This explains why in the 2019 final, against a far inferior team, Dublin were reduced to forcing a draw at the death. In the replay it took an astonishing solo goal from Eoin Murchan to persuade Dublin they could win it, his only ever championship score. Last year, it was a terrible Kerry mistake that gifted Dublin the goal and the two-point win.

A month ago, in Croke Park, the Dubs’ finally broke the spell: Dublin 3-18 Kerry 1-14 and it could have been much worse. Kerry Golden Years is suddenly a distant memory, a table quiz question. Like Johnny Logan winning Eurovision or Fine Gael forming a government.

Next up, it was Derry. We had become giddy in the county with talk of winning Sam. The GAA journalists were joining in.

Rory Gallagher’s brilliantly devised system and fanatical application to the group had helped us to win consecutive Ulster titles and come very very close to beating Kerry in last year’s semi-final.

At home against the Dubs, we had a capacity crowd. A capacity crowd that was more or less silent as the game unfolded, our dreams demoted to a third Ulster title.

It could have been much worse, corner-back Conor McCluskey’s brilliantly taken goal coming completely against the run of play. Dublin were calmly dominant, scoring when they wanted to without pushing themselves.

Alongside the endless rehearsal that allows us to break through the blanket defence, our main weapon is our hard running out of the defence. We ran the legs off Mayo last week, piling it on near the end. Mayo men were pulling up, exhausted as Derry’s speedsters continued to make 80-yard sprints upfield, whether they got the ball or not. Against Dublin’s speed that weapon was neutralised.

We were quickly reduced to following them. Our defenders were defending, not attacking, and since we depend on our defenders to create and take our scores, it was game over.

In the crowd, we shook our heads as reality sank in. Faster, stronger, more skilful. Dublin 1-16, Derry 1-11. In Salthill it was the same story, a pitiless destruction of a team that were highly competitive in the All-Ireland final just two years ago. Again, the home crowd was quiet. In terrible conditions, Dublin looked awesome. When they turned to face the gale, it made no difference. Dublin 0-22, Galway 0-14. Derry have one very good forward, but that is not enough against Dublin.

Kerry have one extraordinary forward, the greatest I have seen. I know what you’re thinking. But the essential difference between Con and David is that Con is surrounded by brilliant players. Think Mikey Sheehy with a supporting cast of Egan, Bomber, Power, Spillane, Jack O’Shea etc. Meanwhile, David has to do it all by himself.

The Dublin team create endless opportunities for Con.

If he is covered, Kilkenny or Mannion or Costello or Fenton or McCarthy take them.

In the 2021 semi-final, Kerry ended up kicking huge balls into the 21. Clifford caught them among a crowd of defenders and still scored, reminding me of Arthur McRory’s immortal line when asked to sum up Frank McGuigan. “You couldn’t give him a bad ball.”

Now that the Dubs have finally worked out how to limit David, Kerry cannot beat them. Can anyone else? The answer is no, so there is no point in agonising over this.

What we are left with is a vibrant competition for second place and loads of terrific sub plots, starting with Jimmy McGuinness’ Donegal coming to Celtic Park in May. Jimmy made muck out of Mickey Harte’s Tyrone team back when Mickey was a Tyrone man.

When Stanley Kubrick made The Shining, one scene alone took 127 takes. Years later when leading lady Shelly Duvall was shown the scene by an interviewer from fandomwire, she broke down and wept. She said “He made me do it until I knew the scene like the back of my hand and I could make no mistakes with it. You forgot all reality other than what you were doing.”

Which is precisely what Jimmy does with his teams.

His Pavlov dogs are coming to Celtic Park in May, and assuming Mickey Harte doesn’t get a better offer before the end of the season, he better be well prepared. Other questions: Can Armagh finally win something? Can Darragh Canavan make the step up to his father’s level? Will Roscommon do the impossible again and win Connacht? Will Shane Walsh return? All great fun. The trick is to accept we are in the Dublin Golden years.

That way, we can get on with enjoying the championship.

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