That game had everything. I remember at the time, when Kerry got their third goal, and with our inferiority complex still hard to shake, that we’d been found out and 2011 was going to go down as a one-off. That game was all about Kerry wanting revenge/Dublin proving 2011 wasn’t a one-off, Jim Gavin’s really brave all-out attacking style, the new players who had come in having to prove themselves in a massive game, and who was going to be crowned top dogs in terms of the best “footballing” side in Ireland. Kerry were so up for it. I even recall that (?)after the game Fitzmaurice admitted he expected Kerry to score five goals because of the way Dublin were playing. He must have thought it was easy about 15 or 20 minutes into the game.
If ever a young lad was going to wilt or Cluxton lose the plot it would be after Kerry have stuck three goals in the first 15 minutes, one of them from a mistake by Cluxton, on a hot summer’s day in a full Croker. Although the style of play eventually had to change, that game set the template for the way this team proved beyond doubt they had truly outstanding composure, courage, and quality of players. Instead of wilting they dug in, and a very inexperienced Paul Mannion stuck a brilliant goal to steady the ship. And of course COS as centre back was born that day too.
With the game level in the 70th minute (only 3 minutes of injury time that day) there was one of what would/had become familiar massive turning points in major games for us: Dec OS had a good chance to put them one up but on the run, turning, and under pressure (and tiring) he put it wide. Time was when those ones were certainties for him, though only against lesser opposition. Then Cluxton hits a long one towards MDMA, who is jumping with two opponents, and doesn’t even get under the ball properly, it breaks and at first looks certain to go to Kerry players but (like on two occasions in the last few minutes of the 2011 final) he reacted so quickly and threw himself full length to get the touch that sent the ball to Kevin.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of that piece of play, which was then followed by Maccer’s greatest ever solo run and shot to win a game. I was right behind it on the Hill. It was the finest moment of so many incredible individual moments in so many games since 2009, IMO. Such a perfect moment, to (for all purposes) win a truly great game that at one point we looked, like so often in the recent past, beaten in. A complete roller-coaster. And thought it wasn’t a final nor on the way to a back-to-back, it was the 1977 semi-final for our times. Only this time we got the better points too! O’Gara’s goal was icing. Dermo’s last point was the finest dessert.
A testament to what was to come in media terms in the following years, the fallout from that game became as much or more about Gooch being the greatest player ever(for 35 minutes) rather than about the game itself or Dublin’s win. As some people have pointed out in the many debates on here about media, all that really matters is we know what happened, and we know, really and truly, how great this team/squad has been, over and over again.
For all the outpouring and wonderfully unexpected and incredibly dramatic late turnaround of the 2011 final win achievement, the 2013 semi-final remains for me the finest moments of the era in a pure footballing sense, and in context of the legacy of the era. Of course the 2016 semi-final pushed it close! However in many ways that game was one-sided other than a freakish few minutes near half-time. More anon.