YOU keep suspecting that the careers of the older Kerry players will end in some kind of thrashing, but maybe that is the ultimate testament to their greatness: even when past their peak, they are invariably carried home on their shields, still able to bring the very best teams in Ireland to the last living minutes on big August and September afternoons.
Were it not for Paul Galvin and Tomas O Sé’s suspensions in 2010, and those crazy closing minutes of the 2011 season, they might all have two more All-Ireland medals.
Last year, they were not as far off Donegal as was made out — it was a freak goal from a sideline that did it for them.
And against Dublin, when faced by a side with more athleticism and more strength in depth, Kerry’s footballing intelligence almost created an astonishing victory; who knows what we would be writing now if Declan O’Sullivan’s last shot had stayed true, if Michael Darragh Macauley’s fingertips had not sent a sky blue posse tearing towards Hill 16 to administer the lethal blow?
Kerry collapsed only in the last two minutes when most of us expected them to collapse in the last 20. Yet it is hard to escape the feeling that this will be Kerry’s lot for the next few years: good, so good at times, but ultimately, not good enough.
Colm Cooper is as brilliant as ever, and it is a privilege to be alive and to watch him play; that step backwards and beautiful pass to Donnchadh Walsh will live with any lover of the game for the rest of their days.
Tomas O Sé and Galvin and Marc O Sé and Declan O’Sullivan are not quite as good as ever but they are declining so gradually and from such a height that they were still able to make important contributions.
Aidan O’Mahony and Eoin Brosnan and Kieran Donaghy must contemplate whether they would be happy to play more seasons as squad players.
All of these men have earned the right to decide their own futures but none of them will improve as the years refuse to stop slipping past us. And what should be most worrying for realistic Kerry supporters is that most of their leading lights who played in the semi-final are aged 30 or more.
Fionn Fitzgerald, so excellent in seeing Ciaran Kilkenny off the premises, and James O’Donoghue, who capitalised on Dublin’s dodgy last line to grow from a talented but fragile apprentice to a super-confident score-getter before our eyes, are the obvious exceptions, but the rest of Kerry’s young footballers did not quite shine.
There are good footballers there, for sure: players such as Mark Griffin and Peter Crowley and Johnny Buckley all have potential, but the problem is that they are expected to replace great players, not good ones.
There is only one obvious superstar that Kerry might hope to add in the coming seasons, and he currently lives somewhere near Botany Bay.
And greater depth than Kerry have now — never mind what they might have after a few retirements — is required to win these games.
Dublin’s bench contributed 2-3; Kerry’s substitutes brought little beyond their introductions slowing the tempo of the game at a time when Dublin were threatening to cut loose.
The makings of a famine to rival that of 1986-97 are there in the underage results: Kerry are too often falling short of Cork and Tipperary at minor and U21, never mind Dublin or Tyrone.
One brighter note for the Kingdom is that September 1 proved that they have the right man on the sideline to rage against the decline.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice has taken some criticism for the decision to bring on Donaghy at full-forward, but that is nit-picking, one of those calls that is easy to assess in hindsight, but much harder to call when the game is turning against your team like a flash flood and desperate measures are necessary.
Fitzmaurice got as much right as any reasonable critic could expect of him.
Cooper has been a revelation on the 40; Kerry’s emphasis on kick-passing has been a joy to watch; and few teams have caused as much consternation to Dublin on Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs than the men in green and gold did on September 1.
It is a shame that it seems that he does not quite have the resources to win the ultimate prize; that under his leadership, with a dangerous attack conducted by Cooper, Kerry might be good enough to better 29 counties, but never 31.