Back with a bang
Kerry 1-24 Dublin 1-7
KERRY were last night installed 6/4 joint favourites with Tyrone to lift the Sam Maguire Cup for the 36th time after answering their critics with an emphatic demolition of Dublin in their All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park yesterday.
The inquests, meanwhile, have already begun in Dublin after the Leinster champions failed miserably against one of the big guns yet again.
Dublin went into the game as favourites to beat Kerry in the championship for the first time in 32 years but were wiped out after being hit with a Colm Cooper goal after just 40 seconds. They were never remotely competitive as Kerry powered on to their biggest triumph over the Dubs since the 1978 All-Ireland final, which they also won by 17 points.
Reports of disharmony in the Kerry camp in recent weeks, coupled with uninspiring performances in the Munster championship and the All-Ireland qualifiers, raised doubts as to Kerry's capacity to turn the season around but they did it in the most emphatic fashion.
"There was nothing wrong with the spirit out there today," said delighted Kerry manager, Jack O'Connor, who along with his backroom team will now start plotting for a semi-final clash with Mayo or Meath on August 30.
It was a disastrous afternoon for Dublin, who made no impression from start to finish as they collapsed to their biggest ever quarter-final defeat, surpassing last year's losing margin against Tyrone by five points.
Manager Pat Gilroy said that, for whatever reason, his players had opened very nervously and never really got into the game.
"We were like startled earwigs for the first 15 minutes. There were so many changes that we could have made because we were getting killed everywhere. It just didn't go for us today," he added.
A crowd of 81,892 saw Kerry surge into an interval lead of 1-14 to 0-3 which put the game way beyond Dublin, who also lost the second half by 0-10 to 1-4.
A remarkably efficient performance was a vindication for Kerry, who had come in for heavy criticism after losing to Cork in the Munster semi-final before struggling through the qualifiers. It was all so different yesterday as they returned to their expansive, exciting football for which the county is so highly regarded.
"Croke Park is a true footballer's pitch. It's a great place to play and the lads enjoyed it out there today," said O'Connor, who revealed that he had gone to all the subs afterwards to tell them that they had just under a month to stake their claim for a place on the team for the semi-final.
"That's how we'll keep the scene fresh. It's great to have got back on track but there's a lot of work still to be done," he said.
Dublin face an entirely different challenge as they seek to address the malaise which has seen them lose successive All-Ireland quarter-finals by a total of 29 points. It remains to be seen if it's the end of the line for veterans, Jason Sherlock, who was replaced after 15 minutes, and Ciaran Whelan, who came on as a sub.
Whelan was one of Dublin's better players in a lost cause, but may now feel that a senior career which started in 1996 is destined to end without an All-Ireland medal. Meanwhile, he could face a disciplinary probe for a foul on Aidan O'Mahony near the end.