Posted by Shane Stapleton at Croke Park

Jim Gavin's men had to battle back from the brink to win an absolute classic — trumping what Mayo did a week earlier

2012 Dublin Connolly

Dublin saw Mayo, and raised them one in their win over Kerry. 

James Horan’s men were in trouble against Tyrone but went on a run of 1-13 to 0-6 in the final 37 minutes; Jim Gavin’s men won the final 43 minutes by 2-11 to 0-6 against the Kingdom. Evidently, both finalists are young dogs for the long road.

However, to say that Kerry simply ran out of legs is to do a disservice to Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s team because perhaps just one misstep put them in the grave. With just a minute left on the clock, Declan O’Sullivan even had a chance to win it.

A seven-point victory it might have been but it was 3-11 to 1-17 at the time and that left-footed effort would have put the Kingdom ahead by a nose hair. The shot tailed to the right and, in a moment, Stephen Cluxton had used his left foot to bomb his final kickout of the game into the Kerry half.

Forget about the relentless Michael Darragh Macauley slapping the ball away from two Kerry defenders for a moment and how that gave Kevin McManamon a free road to Brendan Kealy’s net and victory. That’s all self-explanatory.

Instead ask whether the Munster champions would have dropped deep en masse if O’Sullivan had put them a point ahead. Because they looked incredibly open from that restart, and no doubt were staying forward to press up to win the next possession in an attempt to win the game.

The knock-on effect of this missed score was devastating. Dublin were able to hit a 50-50 kickout into 50-50 circumstances because it remained a 50-50 game. If Kerry were in the lead, Dublin might not have scored again because the opposition might instinctively have dropped deep.

But O’Sullivan’s went wide, and you must credit the many ways in which Dublin eventually chipped away at the walls of the supreme Kingdom. Yes, Kerry tired and created just 10 chances to 19 in the second half, but they were never out of this game until injury time.

Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper gave the performance of a generation in the first half and Jim Gavin reacted at half-time by changing the match-up, from Ger Brennan to Cian O’Sullivan. Having been involved in eight of 17 scoring chances in the first half, that dropped to four of ten for Gooch in the second. Though, of course, that is also reflective of Dublin being the side on the attack far more as the game wore on. 

Kerry gained a six-point lead in the first half and might have gone five ahead on 38 minutes when the excellent pressure that had led to Cluxton turning over three first-half kickouts again allowed the Munster side to win a restart (in fact, they won the first three of Dublin’s at the start of the second half). Anthony Maher intercepted a short delivery, fed Darran O’Sullivan but the Glenbeigh-Glencar man left behind a goal chance by dropping the ball. How key was that handling error? 

Kerry were also lacking in a long-range free-taker but it’s a give-and-take situation for them. One the one hand, Johnny Buckley and Colm Cooper might miss from outside 30 metres and that often forces them to, Barcelona style, resume play with a quick, short free – hoping their innate skill will produce an opening. It did on seven minutes when Cooper clipped a quick one to Tomas O Se, got it back, slipped a lovely ball into Donnchadh Walsh who then fed goalscorer James O’Donoghue. This was the upside to a Kerry weakness.

Dublin had their issues with frees and, just like the Kingdom, there was an upshot too. Paul Mannion took a quick one in the first half in a position very suitable to Cluxton while Bernard Brogan missed one before the interval that his goalkeeper might also have fancied.

But with just a couple of minutes to go, Cluxton hummed and hawed about going forward after Paddy Andrews had been fouled by Jack Sherwood — then man of the match Diarmuid Connolly delivered with his weaker foot anyway. Ultimately, it all worked out.

As it did in so many ways. Such was the thrilling start to the game, not only was there a drop-off in the frantic pace for the latter stages of the first half, but there most certainly was with the shooting too. It’s easy to say Kerry ran out of gas but in the final eight minutes of the first 35, Dublin missed four chances to the opposition’s five.

Both were finding the air thin after putting so much into the game, but the Dubs had more lungs to bring on that carried quality with them. No doubt, Dublin’s legs were crucial but it wasn’t as simple as just that. Their replacements were far more impactful as Dean Rock, McManamon, Denis Bastick and Eoghan O’Gara all played key roles.

The late flurry of scores flattered Dublin but it was as a result of their work in the dirty ball stakes. Over the course of the game, the Kingdom actually won that statistic 42-40 and were 23-16 ahead on that front at the break.

For the final 15 minutes of the game, the Dubs were in the ascendancy 11-6 and that’s where the game was won, with a 2-3 to 0-3 advantage in this time.

In the end, it was a day for the Dubs and their super subs.

– 70% won
First half:
Won 11 (9 short), lost 3 (1 short)
Second half:
Won 5 (2), lost 4 (0)
Won 16 (11), lost 7 (1)

Kerry – 65% won
First half:
Won 11 (4 short), lost 3 (0 short)
Second half:
Won 7 (4), lost 7 (1)
Won 18 (8), lost 10 (1)

21/35 – 60%
14/25 – 52%

50-50 balls
First half: Dublin 16-23 Kerry
Second half: Dublin 24-19 Kerry
Total: Dublin 40-42 Kerry

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