Cillian McDaid left Croke Park beaten and distraught, but as the country's best midfielder
The fact that he performed so well despite his card being so heavily marked is saying something.
There was a moment in the opening 20 minutes of the All-Ireland Final, on Sunday, when Cillian McDaid came into possession of the ball and was swarmed by Jack Barry, Brian Ó Beaglaíoch, and Paul Geaney.
The Kerry triumvirate smothered the Galway No.9 and won the ball back, eliciting a loud roar of approval from the stands.
The Kerry lads were like Armagh and Tyrone near the start of the century, a pack hunting down a key player and letting him know he would not be getting an inch. Jack O'Connor and his coaches had this guy circled in red in all their pre-match talks, and planning.
Cool as you like, in the furnace
Cillian McDaid picked himself up off the deck and got on with it. Fool me once, shame on me.
We would not see the likes of it again. From that moment on, Kerry barely laid a finger on the Monivea Abbeyknockmoy clubman.
McDaid was the best midfielder on show at Croke Park, and his performance in the white-hot atmosphere of a final against a Kerry side seemingly destined for Sam Maguire locked it down. He left GAA headquarters last night with that uneasy feeling of defeat in the pit of his stomach, but as the best midfielder in the country.
While it was all Shane Walsh vs. David Clifford in the opening quarter, McDaid came to the party with a cracking point from play. From that foundation, he took off. He scored three more points in the second half as Galway leaned on a 1-2 punch that did not feature that usual slugger, Damien Comer.
McDaid was excellent in all he did. He was there as a dependable kick-out option, as an out-ball, as a support runner and a harrier. With Kerry's defence keeping four of the starting Galway forwards scoreless, it was McDaid that steeped up with some sublime efforts, one of which put his side 0-14 to 0-12 clear.
For a while, he was untouchable. He was imperious. After briefly stepping away from GAA to try out Aussie Rules, McDaid, who was also a handy hurler, returned to Ireland and threw himself into winning things with Galway.
At Croke Park, in front of 82,300 patrons, he was exactly where he wanted to be, and looked completely at home.
The next time McDaid would be on the deck would be later on the game, as he charged through the first Kerry lines and into scoring range. Gavin White came in and gave it everything. McDaid would have been shouldered into next week had he got went smack into the other slice of bread, in the form of Jack Barry.
McDaid and Walsh set the template
That McDaid sandwich collision led to a free to Galway. Walsh, their other big performer on the day, curled another point over the bar.
On 53 moments, after Kerry had taken the lead for the first time, it was Cillian McDaid timing his run, finding space and curling another effort toward the posts. It was almost a shock that his kick went wide.
That did not see him slink back into a shell. Galway went scoreless for 13 second half minutes but after Walsh had pointed from the free McDaid had won, the 24-year-old midfielder took a pass from Comer and slotted over another. Galway were up and chugging again, but they ran out of puff in that crucial five minutes near the end.
McDaid and Walsh took plenty of plaudits after pushing The Kingdom close, but they both played well enough to be on the winning side. Others too - Liam Silke, Patrick Kelly and Jack Glynn all excelled on the big stage.
McDaid and Galway are good enough to get back to another final, or two. If more can get to the levels they did, on Sunday, this can be more than one close call.
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