2015 - Kerry vs Dublin - My 61st Final

April 22nd, 2016
by Brendan O'Sullivan

As we look back on 2015, I begin to count. 60 years since my first football final in 1955, sitting with my mother in the Cusack Stand.  Four finals missed in the intervening years; but four replays attended, therefore I had completed 60 finals and 2015 was my 61st.

Kerry played in a remarkable 34 of those, the results dividing as follows – 20 won, 12 lost, 2 drawn. For most, I was based in Dublin but for the last three, I've been able to spend some of the preceding week in Kerry. A few days at Listowel Races, talk about tips, winners, losers but the match never far away in any conversation.

And so, in 2011, '14 and '15, I've been a supporter travelling from Kerry, literally up for the match on the Saturday. An afternoon drive, listening to predictions from the so-called experts on a variety of radio stations. Back to base in Dublin, banter with the Dubs in the local, tickets scarce.

Sleep is fitful, the game spinning in my head.

Morning finally arrives, an early trip into town. The suburbs are quiet but as we near Parnell Square, the crowds and colour intensify. Green, gold, dark blue, three colours, three counties, Kerry, Tipperary, Dublin. Some people move with purpose, others stroll along.

Into the Gresham, a Kerry colony today. Downstairs to observe Weeshie conducting his pre-match special. Back to ground level, battling through the throng to get clear of the hotel. We meet the Kerry relatives. The mood is a mixture of anticipation and optimism and tension. But Kerry supporters always feel they can win a final. These are the days when it's good to be alive, All-Ireland football final day, memorable in any year, but much more so when Kerry are involved.

The walk to Croke Park in glorious sunshine. Seats in the lower Cusack, almost on the halfway line, same as last year, thanks again to the person who recommended the Season Ticket. Twenty minutes before the minor match, Kerry and Tipperary, few seats filled.

A superb display by the young Kerrymen means that the minor final is effectively over after twenty minutes. The sun disappears, the forecast rain pours down. Not a bad sign, Kerry had won twice under similar conditions earlier in the year. The minors collect the cup and enjoy their lap of honour. Hope for the future. But it's the present we're thinking about as the senior teams take the field. Kieran Donaghy, non-starting captain, leads Kerry. The rain continues and will not cease for the entire match. The teams warm up, the President arrives, the parade, all stand for the National Anthem.

This is the quiet time before the match begins, a time for reflection, to let the mind go back over the years, to remember all who have passed on, my father who attended so many finals with me, and this year especially my mother who only accompanied me to that one final exactly sixty years before.

The ball is thrown in and I am engrossed in the match. Dublin start well, their inexperienced midfielder Brian Fenton scores the first point, Brendan Kealy makes a save and already it looks ominous. But Kerry settle, claw their way back into the game and have a good spell in the middle of the first half. But too many wrong options are taken and six or seven bad wides ensue. As half time approaches, the balance of play swings again, Dublin take their scores and lead by 4 at the break.

Darran O'Sullivan is in for the second half, his direct running at the defence makes a difference. It becomes a two-point game. But Kerry can't get any closer.  Kieran Donaghy is on, making his presence felt. James O'Donoghue, scorer of 3 points and creator of a fourth, is surprisingly off. Dublin are the better team but can't put Kerry away. As the end approaches, Kerry have a penalty appeal turned down and a goal chance isn't taken. The margin at the final whistle is 3 points, 0-12 to 0-9.

We wait to watch the presentation of Sam Maguire to Dublin and then trudge back into the city. For the first time we are wet; the weather matches our mood but, unlike 2011, there is no sense of losing a match that should have been won. We join our friends and the feeling is the same, Kerry were lucky to be only three points adrift at the end.

There are remarkable similarities with the day of my first final, 60 years ago. The teams were the same, Dublin, Kerry, Tipperary. Dublin and Kerry in the senior final again. Tipperary lost to Dublin in the minor final in 1955, this year they lost to Kerry. The scores in the senior finals were identical; in 1955, Kerry won by 3 points, 0-12 to 1-6; in 2015, Dublin won by 3 points, 0-12 to 0-9, so the winners totalled 12 points in both years and the losers totalled 9. On both occasions, the losers were arguably flattered by the margin.

And so, time to head for home, reluctantly watch "The Sunday Game" and reflect. To reflect on sixty years supporting Kerry. To remember again the 1955 final. To reflect on the poignancy of the day as my mother, who'd looked after me in the Cusack stand at that final, had died in the winter gone by. To realise that life goes on, Kerry will be back and we must be satisfied.

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom