Dublin versus Kerry always produces a classic, but this was the best of them all. It had everything.
Four first half goals, the coming of age of a young James O’Donoghue, the mastery of Colm Cooper playing at centre half-forward and an explosive Dublin led by Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly in their prime.
You couldn’t keep your eyes off it for a split second.
Within seven minutes Kerry had raced ahead thanks to a delightful ball from the Gooch into Donncha Walsh, who’s reverse handpass found O’Donoghue and the corner-forward rifled the ball in past Stephen Cluxton to rock the Dubs.
The Gooch continued to pull the strings from deep and when he found Walsh in acres of space behind the Dublin defence, the wing forward finished with ease and suddenly Kerry found themselves five up after just ten minutes.
But this was not to be so straightforward, a commanding Connolly run and attempt for a point drop short but into the path of a young Paul Mannion in his debut season and the corner-forward punched the ball into the net to open the game up.
Kerry would again take the upperhand minutes later when Walsh was awarded a penalty. O’Donoghue stepped up and drilled a shot into the top left corner.
From that moment forward until seconds from time it was anybody’s game. Dublin and Kerry went blow for blow, an eye for an eye in a 45-minute period of pure attacking football at its finest.
As the clock struck the 69th minute, Cluxton launched up a mammoth goal-kick and among the scramble for the breaking ball in the middle of the park, Dublin midfielder and later to be Footballer of the Year Michael Darragh MacAuley got a fist to it.
His fist found Kerry’s old demon, Kevin McMannamon. He ran into the heart of the Kerry defence and broke Kerry hearts with a beautiful strike past Brendan Kiely into the top right corner.
Croke Park erupted, and it didn’t quiet down after. In injury time, Diarmuid Connolly marched forward and struck over a phenomenal point before an excellent MacAuley run found Eoghan O’Gara who blasted past Kealy again to give Jim Gavin’s team a seven point victory.
A befitting end to one of the greatest games of football ever witnessed in Croke Park. Dublin were in an All-Ireland final, but it was by no means as easy as the scoreline suggested. It was a battle.
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