Ebullient Jack O’Connor urges Kerry to ‘finish the job’ after Dublin epic

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Towards the end of the press conference he spread his arms – as he did more than once over the course of the time he spoke – half almost in disbelief, more so in jubilation, although certainly not triumphantly.

ust from the man’s body language alone you could tell what it meant to him. A weight lifted, a real relief. Going back as far as the 2011 final, lost to the famous Stephen Cluxton free, Jack O’Connor will have felt he owed the Dubs a day like this.

That it came in a near mirror to the kick that started off a decade of Dublin dominance won’t have been lost on the Dromid man. Still, it was about much more than that. This game, this day was about this team, their development, their necessity to win a big one, win a tight one.

“It felt on the line that it was two kind of heavyweights going at it, trading punches,” he enthused.

“That’s the way it felt to me on the line. Not that I should have been getting those kinds of notions on the line.”

It was just one of those days, one of those occasions, slightly mad-cap and frantic by the finish, even if the Kingdom played with quite a degree of control and, most importantly, steel throughout.

“It was a good test of the heart, that’s all I know,” he half-joked.

“The aul ticker was going fairly fast there towards the end. It was a fantastic game. Tough battle. Dublin threw everything at us, like the great team that they are. Their big players came to the fore for the last fifteen minutes.

“Just delighted with our lads and what they showed there. That game was going against us, there was a fairly significant breeze there. I think the absolute key to it was in the last ten minutes when Dublin were pressing our kick-outs Shane Ryan got off all his kick-outs.

“If we turned over one of those kick-outs I think we were done, but fellas like Brian Ó Beaglaoich showed for four or five of those kick-outs and more importantly broke out and broke the line.

“And got us moving again down the other end even though we were a bit wasteful. But what a battle? Dublin are a great team, probably the greatest team of all time, so you can imagine what it took for us to finally get over the line.”

That O’Shea free will, of course, go down in the annals as one of the more famous moments in Kerry football history and folklore. A moment of genius, the sort the defies belief and, very nearly, physics.

“Personally from the line I didn’t think it was kick-able to be honest with you,” O’Connor admitted.

“Straight up. I didn’t think a man could get the distance, because Seánie O’Shea had emptied the tank. That was in the 76th minute and he had given a ferocious performance up to then and to have the resilience and the strength and more importantly the technique to kick that with the instep and just get it in on the right hand post into the Hill.

“That has to be one of the best pressure kicks that I’ve seen here in Croke Park for a long, long time. I don’t think the penalty affected him, because he was playing so well.

“He had a great start in that game like. He had kicked 1-2 when he missed the penalty. Seánie is a resilient character so that was never going to affect him, but that last kick there there was very few players in the country who and you’re going back to the Maurice Fitzes and the Bryan Sheehans of this world to kick a kick like that and particularly the last kick and the amount he had given in the game.” 

Other than just being a memorable moment, the O’Shea free, the winner, feels like a significant one. The Dublin monkey off their backs, this Kerry team now had the chance to kick-on.

“Sure of course it’s significant psychologically,” O’Connor commented before adding a note of caution.

“But as I was saying to the television media out there Mayo were in this exact same position last year and it had the feeling that Mayo had made a great breakthrough. They didn’t get over the line in the final.

“You have to go the distance. Getting there isn’t enough. You have to go the distance. And that’ll be a big big incentive to us over the next two weeks to finish the job, because there’s no point… look at Christmas this game will be forgotten about if we don’t get over the line in the final.”

The Kingdom showed loads of character in the game. They could have quite easily have been knocked back in the wake of Cormac Costello’s goal and the following fifteen-minute whirlwind the Dubs put on, instead they held firm in what they were doing with players like Paudie Clifford and Brian Ó Beaglaoich visibly digging deep.

“We’d a lot of knocks, a lot of set-backs, a lot of things going against us, but we have a good bit of work done and Tony Griffin had worked an awful lot with the boys on the mental side of the game staying resilient.

“When you get set-backs just drive it on to the next ball or whatever. It took all that focus and all that resilience to keep going,” O’Connor said.

The All Ireland final with Galway is the next port of call for this Kerry team, today’s epic needs to be parked fast the Kerry boss suggested.

“It feels great at the moment anyway. It’s an ecstatic dressing room at the moment,” he rev.

“We’ll have to get the boys down to level ground again. I mean you can imagine the Galway dressing room a couple of weeks ago, an epic like, so they’ve had a similar enough experience to us, but like we have to do a lot of work on the boys in the next couple of weeks to convince them this job isn’t done.”

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