Sunday 25 June 2017

Five things we learned from Kerry's record shattering League final win over Dublin

Tadhg Morley, left, and Gavin Crowley of Kerry following the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Tadhg Morley, left, and Gavin Crowley of Kerry following the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Conor Neville

FITTING FINALE TO A GREAT CAMPAIGN SUGGESTS THE SUPER 8 THE WAY TO GO

This year's National Football League was, by common consent, one of the most exciting editions of the competition in living memory. And thus, probably ever.

Today's final was a grand and fitting conclusion to the campaign. Watching the breathless chaos of the injury time period, it was easy to forget that this competition has often been touted for abolition down the years.

That drawling, cynical voice in one's head which reminds you that "it's only the League" didn't receive much of a hearing in all the drama of the final stages.

In the immediate aftermath of the final whistle, the Kerry players didn't act with the nonchalance of men who had just claimed a secondary competition or a mere warm-up event. True, the context of the game and the recent history of Dublin v Kerry is a major factor here. It's probable/definite that beating Dublin mattered more than the winning of a League title.

But still, it's clear that the League appears to have increased dramatically in importance and profile in recent years.

The relatively dreary nature of so much championship football is certainly a contributory factor. The development of a Gaelic footballing elite in recent years has created a proliferation of turkey shoots in the summer months of June and July.

Neutrals have to wait usually until at least August before they're treated to an enthralling contest between the top teams.No sooner had the Division 1 Final ended than neutrals were lamenting that they wouldn't be treated to such a game for about four months.

In all the huffy dissatisfaction with the stale and clapped out championship formula, the humble National League has come into its own. It provides what so many people say they want. Competitive and exciting games between roughly evenly matched sides. 

Perhaps the Super 8 will cater to that desire in the summer, once it goes live next year. But then maybe, this is part of a broader shift in the attitudes of your average GAA supporter. It's been some time since this supporter heard the philosophical sigh that "it's only the League."

Can we dare to dream of a future where the appetite for inter-county games is such that the League becomes the primary competition in the GAA calendar?

We might be a while off that yet but it's worth thinking about. 

DAVID MORAN JOINS THE RANKS OF GIANTS

Three years ago in that unforgettable All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo in Limerick, David Moran was somehow denied the Man of the Match award. The gong was rather unthinkingly bestowed on then flavour of the summer James O'Donoghue. It was universally regarded as a lunatic bit of punditry.    

Fortunately, the boys of TG4 weren't about to make the same error today. Moran was his usual ubiquitous self today, winning a mountain of possession, brushing off tackles and kicking great scores. The complete midfielder.

And yet, prior to 2014, he was almost the forgotten man of Kerry football. At 26, he was yet to get a decent uninterrupted run in the Kerry side. Hobbled by injury, the cynically minded might have been inclined to write him off as a player with a great future behind him.

How things have changed since he was re-introduced to the team before the drawn 2014 semi-final? From forgotten man to heir to Jack O'Shea. 

KERRY HOLD FIRM IN THE FINAL TEN

Kerry won this match in the third quarter. They held Dublin scoreless in front of the adoring Hill until the 18th minute of the second period and scored six straight points themselves. Indeed, they reeled off 0-7 in a row if you include Jack Barry's fisted effort just before half-time. It was there where the match was won.

But what of the final ten minutes? The punishing period in which this Dublin team have repeatedly roared into action and in which Kerry have often wilted before the power and pace of the metropolitans.

Between 2011 and 2016, Kerry and Dublin have met in five massively important games in Croker. Were Gaelic football still a 60-minute affair, Kerry would have won two of those games and they would have been considerably closer to winning in two more of them.  

Indeed, when you add up the tally amassed in the final ten minutes of those five games, you get a scoreline of 'Dublin 5-17  Kerry 0-8.'

When Paul Mannion wrong-footed the Kerry defenders of the line with his skittery shot at goal ten minutes from the end, the more pessimistic Kerry supporters were presumably bracing themselves for more late hour disappointment.

But Kerry held firm thanks to points from Geaney, the magnificent Moran and a nerveless effort from Bryan Sheehan.

FOR ONCE NO COMPLAINTS ON THE BLACK CARD

Usually after these games, supporters spend the aftermath bemoaning the black card and cursing those who ever thought we could no longer get by with just two cards.

Not so today. The two black cards handed out in the first half were unarguably the correct calls. Jonathan Lyne was shown black for hauling down, with brutal frankness, Diarmuid Connolly as the wing forward made a dart towards the Kerry goal.

Only a couple of minutes later, Lyne's victim was himself black carded for his mystifying decision to pull down his new marker Gavin Crowley off the ball. The foul was so senseless that one presumes there must be more in it. But we're not in a position to speculate. 

Dublin suffered for it and the incident seemed to infuse Kerry players with greater belief. The Connolly black carding gave them an added pep in their step. Tadhg Morley, in particular, made no effort at all to conceal his delight at Connolly's black carding.

Anthony Maher was black carded later on but for a comically obvious rugby tackle in the last minute.

The referee Paddy Neilan shipped the standard amount of abuse on social media afterwards. Naturally, he was accused of being both sickeningly anti-Dublin and also a virtual 16th man for the Dubs. A sure guarantee of his even-handedness. And the black card calls were correct.

MANNION WORTH A START

Paul Mannion lit up the summer in his debut season of 2013. Shortly afterwards, he drifted into background, being overshadowed by other seemingly more numinous talents.

But he has been slick throughout this League campaign whenever he's been introduced. He rescued Dublin in Tralee, firing over a last gasp equaliser to preserve Dublin's unbeaten run and plonk this team into the record books.

And his introduction came not a moment too soon today. He rustled up 1-2 and almost dragged Dublin out of the fire once more. His goal, while relatively messy and hardly one for the compilations, was expertly taken in the circumstances. His coolness could be contrasted with Kevin McCarthy frittering away a glorious chance at the other end seconds before.

With Bernard Brogan enduring a fruitless afternoon, is it time to promote Mannion to the starting line-up for the championship?

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