The 2011 All Ireland Final Was Dublin’s First Appearance In The Championship Decider In 16 Years

Dublin 1-12

Kerry 1-11

For the latest installment of our series ‘Through The Championship Years’ we travel back eight years to where it all began and the 2011 All Ireland Final between Dublin and Kerry.

How different it is now to back then for a Dublin side facing old foes Kerry, nowadays the Dubs are the top team and all the talk is how are the Kingdom going to the stop the men from the Capital.

But in 2011 Dublin under the guidance of Pat Gilroy where appearing in their first All Ireland Final for 16 years. They had faced Kerry just two years previous in the All Ireland Final and suffered a 17 point thrashing.

That led Pat Gilroy to coin the phrase ‘startled earwigs’ in his post match press conference. And that crushing defeat set in motion a whole new playing philosophy and a back to basic approach from Gilroy and coach Mickey Whelan.

Rumors of double training sessions for the 2010 preseason spread, as did the talk of 6am starts on the beach for the players who were in the depths of winter running up and down the sand dunes each morning.

Those 6am starts were implemented by Gilroy to test the mental strength of those in his squad and weed out those who didn’t have the required attitude or commitment for the task ahead. New names came into the squad and some established players were told their services were no longer required.

Gone was the swashbuckling football synonymous with Dublin teams and a more solid defensive structure and style of play aimed at making Dublin more difficult to breakdown was implemented.

The philosophy was defending began in the full forward line and any forward not willing to track back and put in the tackles found themselves sitting on the bench.

It wasn’t all plain sailing as the players got to grips with their new playing style, in the 2010 Leinster Championship Meath scored five goals past Stephen Cluxton and Gilroy‘s men had to take the treacherous and unpredictable road of the qualifiers.

They reached the All Ireland semi final but fell at the penultimate stage to Cork. But the signs had been good through the campaign and there was plenty of optimism for the 2011 campaign.

The Leinster title was regained in 2011 and Dublin went on to play in the strangest All Ireland semi final in living memory.

Jimmy McGuinness brought his Donegal side to Croke Park with an ultra defensive set-up and what followed was a low scoring affair bereft on any semblance to a game of gaelic football. Dublin prevailed and booked their first final appearance since 1995.

Suitably for Dublin, Kerry with players like Gooch Cooper, the O’Sullivans, Sheehan and Donaghy in their ranks were red hot favorites to lift the counties 37th title.

The atmosphere in the famous stadium was electric, confident Kerry fans mixed with nervous but expectant Dublin supporters, the atmosphere before and during the game could have been cut with a knife.

Kerry opened the scoring with a fisted effort from Declan O’Sullivan but Alan Brogan scored two excellent points in reply to give Dublin the lead.

Gilroy‘s side enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening quarter of the game but they failed to turn it into scores and they were punished in the 19th minute of the half.

Darren O’Sullivan made an incisive run through the Dubs defence, offloaded the ball to Colm Cooper who stroked the ball past Stephen Cluxton for the games first goal.

In years gone by that may have signaled a collapse by Dublin, but with a newly instilled mental fortitude and confidence the Dubs held Kerry to just one more point in the half and made hay themselves with three cracking points from Bernard Brogan and a Stephen Cluxton free to take a one point lead at the break with the score 0-06 to 1-02.

The opening ten minutes of the second half were evenly contested with both sides scoring two points each, Bernard Brogan from a free and Denis Bastick with the Dublin scores and Sheehan from a free and a fisted point from Donaghy for Kerry.

But Kerry then hit a purple patch and outscored Dublin by six points to one. Dublin’s discipline which had been exemplary up to that point got a little ragged under the Kerry pressure and Sheehan and Cooper punished them from frees.

When Colm Cooper scored a point from play with ten minutes left in the game the Kingdom led by four and the green and gold ribbons were already being prepared to be tied around the handles of the Sam Maguire Cup.

Dublin didn’t panic and stuck to the game plan, but they needed a goal to get back into the game. ’Cometh the hour, Cometh the man’, Kevin McManamon had been introduced in the 51st minute from the bench, with seven minutes left on the clock a loose hand pass was intercepted in midfield, the ball was fed to Alan Brogan who hand passed the ball to the on rushing McManamon.

The St Jude’s man jinked inside Declan O’Sullivan and buried the ball to the back of the net to leave the bare minimum between the teams.

The stadium erupted and the atmosphere and noise raised a couple of notches. With Croke Park still reverberating from the McManamon rocket, Macauley intercepted another loose Kerry hand pass in midfield, he was fouled, Alan Brogan hit the free to Diarmuid Connolly out on the Cusack Stand side, with his options limited Connolly turned back inside and pinged a pinpoint accurate foot pass to an unmarked Kevin Nolan about 42 metres out from goal and he stroked over a superb curling point to level the game.

The noise around the stadium was now deafening and got even louder moments later when Bernard Brogan gave Pat Gilroy’s men the lead with an excellent point and Dublin supporters began to dream that maybe just maybe their team would be crowned champions.

Kerry looked out on their feet but they weren’t quite dead and buried yet, Kieran Donaghy won the ball out on the Cusack Stand side about 35 metres out and swung his boot at the ball, it went high into the sky and had enough legs to go over the bar.

A draw now looked on the cards but Dublin had one last attack in them. The ball was worked up field and Kevin McManamon used all his experience to draw a foul from Barry John Keane, Bernard Brogan signaled to Cluxton to make his way up field to take the free.

Cluxton had scored 11 points from frees leading into the final and would finish the year as Dublin’s fourth-highest scorer in their Championship campaign.

But this was different, this was a chance to end 16 years of pain, the chance to lift Sam Maguire after so many false dawns.

With the hopes of an entire county on his shoulders Cluxton placed the ball down, took a look at the target, took five steps back and two to his right, paused, took his run up and stroked the ball over the bar.

Hill 16 and all around the stadium erupted in euphoria, the stadium shook like Mount Vesuvius and the tremors where probably felt all the way down to Kerry peninsula.

Moments later the final whistle went and the celebrations began. Dublin finally had the monkey of their backs and the rest as they say is history.

Little did Dublin supporters realise that the win in the 2011 All Ireland Final was to be the start of a sustained period of success and they certainly would have never dreamed that eight years later Dublin would once again face Kerry in the All Ireland final aiming to win an historic five in-a-row.

Dublin Scorers: B Brogan 0-6 (4f), K McManamon 1-0, A Brogan, S Cluxton (2f) 0-2 each, D Bastick, K Nolan 0-1.

Kerry Scorers: C Cooper 1-3 (0-2f), B Sheehan 0-4 (2f, 1 ’45’), K Donaghy 0-2, Declan O’Sullivan, P Galvin 0-1 each.

Dublin: S Cluxton; C O’Sullivan, R O’Carroll, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; D Bastick, MD Macauley; P Flynn, B Cahill, B Cullen; A Brogan, D Connolly, B Brogan. Subs: P McMahon for McCarthy (46), K McManamon for Flynn (51), E O’Gara for Cahill (57), E Fennell for Bastick (63).

Kerry: B Kealy; M O Se, T O’Sullivan, K Young; T O Se, E Brosnan, A O’Mahony; A Maher, B Sheehan; D Walsh, Darran O’Sullivan; K Donaghy, C Cooper, Declan O’Sullivan, K O’Leary. Subs: P Galvin for O’Leary (24), BJ Keane for Walsh (51), D Bohan for Brosnan (63).

Ref: J McQuillan (Cavan)