Defeat the perfect tonic for Kingdom
Kerry got the best possible shot in the arm for their three-in-a-row All-Ireland hopes when they they were decisively dumped on their backsides by Derry at Parnell Park yesterday.
It had become obvious in recent months that complacency was going to be Pat O'Shea's biggest problem as the season progressed, but that is all gone now.
It is clear that if Kerry want to go all the way they will need to play their strongest team, show more versatility in response to dominant opponents and forget the notion their forwards will always be fancy enough to cod the opposition.
That is what Kerry tried and did in the first half yesterday, when Kieran Donaghy and Darren O'Sullivan played ducks and drakes with the Derry backs, and with 26 minutes gone, they led by 2-6 to 0-4.
Obviously, Kerry players believed what they were seeing and were deluded into thinking that Derry would be playing like this all day. Instead, once the Derry midfielders, particularly Fergal Doherty, began to take control of that area Kerry's goose was cooked.
In the remaining 10 minutes of the first period, Derry scored 1-2 without reply. And for the final 26 minutes of the second half Kerry managed just one point, scored by defender Tomas O Se, while Derry rattled off seven points to crush the All-Ireland champions.
In the process, cracks developed in the Kerry machine in several areas. Midfield disappeared and Darragh O Se's lame attempt at an easy point in the 34th minute summed up his display.
With midfield out of the picture, particularly when Derry's Paul Murphy arrived, the Kerry forwards had no tricks to play, Gooch or no Gooch, because they hardly got a decent ball in the whole second half.
Equally worrying for Kerry was the way their back line was dismantled in the final 35 minutes. We all expected Paddy Bradley to make a major impact, which he did, but all the Derry forwards were in rampant mood and the Kerry defence was creaking badly from an early stage. It was definitely a very bad day at the office for the Kingdom.
But it was a great day for Derry football after some rather torturous years and it is obvious that they are serious All-Ireland contenders this year, possibly the leading contenders at this moment.
They have three or four powerful midfield players, their back line is ruthless yet skilful, and their forwards have now become more versatile, with the playmakers no longer merely directing every ball to Bradley.
Indeed, the contrast with Kerry in that regard was significant as the Kingdom seemed to have only one attacking ploy, which was to thump high balls on top of Donaghy.
And what a boost it was for Derry to see Sean Martin Lockhart, who had missed the entire league campaign through injury, returning to action as a sub yesterday.
This is a very formidable panel of players in Derry and it will be a surprise if they cannot reach the last eight in the Championship by winning the Ulster title. That is provided they place the emphasis on their many skilful players rather than having a contest to see which is the hardest team in Ulster.
As always with Kerry, they will lick their wounds, knuckle down to getting a whole lot fitter and study the 2008 calendar to maximise their approach to the forthcoming championship.
Yesterday's rebuff will surely be pivotal in the 2008 competition and no doubt Kerry will learn from it -- as so often in the past.
Missing players not the only concern for woeful Blues
So ghastly were many of the performances from leading Dublin players against Westmeath on Saturday night that there have to be serious questions over the general welfare of the team as they prepare for the Leinster and All-Ireland championship.
A total of three lousy points from 39 minutes of second-half action is a damning indictment of the quality of many Dublin players. Granted Westmeath are the most improved team in the national league since last February and Dublin were missing half a team, but nevertheless the way several leading Dublin players performed has to be a source of major concern. For example, five of Dublin's best defenders of recent years were playing against Westmeath -- David Henry, Barry Cahill, Colin Moran, Bryan Cullen and Paul Casey along with goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton. These have been front-line players in big championship matches over the past three seasons yet they were simply brushed aside by Westmeath with Dermot Bannon, Denis Glennon and Fergal Wilson in particular destroying their direct opponents.
Now Dublin fans can cast aside Saturday's game as they see fit but more discerning Dublin football people will realise that there are huge problems ahead as both individuals and the team look desperately out of sorts. I watched Dublin face Armagh a couple of weeks ago and the pattern was very similar with the Dublin defence simply swept aside by more enthusiastic and determined opponents. Some people will say, of course, that Dublin are only interested in the 2008 championship from August on and with a possibly fourth successive Leinster championships to come one could argue that to a point. But football is not usually such a precise science that things can be planned that way.
The biggest source of concern for Dublin is the loss of form by so many previously established players. The pathetic free-taking of Mark Vaughan against Westmeath is typical of this uncertainty. One man who did prove his worth was wing halfback Ger Brennan who did show the sort of mentality that is normally associated with Dublin on big-match days. The same could be said for Jason Sherlock -- that is until he went off injured during the first half.
There is still lots of time for Dublin to make a vast improvement even though the shoal of recent suspensions, nine in all if Alan Brogan is included, will have a disruptive effect for some time. But Leinster does not look too challenging for Dublin and that may buy them time to re-equip and go forward again.
Westmeath's victory was a huge achievement despite the weakened opposition. They played marvellous football, full of skill, showing incredible teamwork and a daredevil approach to football that is very rare in these days when managers try to hold every player's hand rather than give them their head.
The return of Martin Flanagan, again, has brought a new approach to the whole team and the moving of former fullback Donal O'Donoghue to the middle third of the field has also revolutionised things.
Westmeath have three outstanding forwards at least in Bannon, Glennon and Dessie Dolan and when you have scoring forwards in the modern game you have a huge head start. It would be interesting, for example, to work out how many of the Westmeath forwards would be selected for a full-strength Dublin team -- probably three.
However, there is a very important caveat for Westmeath. They may be playing very well and have moved into Division 1 football but next Sunday week they must travel to play Longford in Pearse Park in the championship. That is a a very high risk assignment, even if Longford are at a low ebb at the moment. Local derbies don't come just with high profile counties -- contests with Longford and Westmeath are just as volatile among fans and players as May 15 will prove. So Westmeath would be foolish to start counting up chickens!