Saturday 29 April 2017

Ciarán Whelan: Best team won but conservative Dublin may learn more in defeat

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

Ciarán Whelan

Before discussing the finer detail of yesterday’s absorbing Allianz National Football League Division 1 final in Croke Park, I think it’s only right to pay tribute to the players for producing a contest of such high quality.

I would go as far to say that I don’t think I have ever experienced a better League final, with two great teams going at each other like heavyweight boxers looking for a knockout punch.

That Kerry deserved their point victory is inarguable, given that they played the more cohesive football throughout, and they will rightly derive huge satisfaction from both their performance and naturally, the result.

They outplayed Dublin tactically and they deserve huge credit for the bravery that they showed in going man-to-man with Dublin.

Their work ethic was insatiable and while some of the tactics adopted by Eamon Fitzmaurice against Dublin in recent years have been slightly questionable, he deserves credit for having his team in such fine working order yesterday.

They will certainly benefit in the long term from the experience that many of the new players have gained during the league this year and that effervescence of youth was in marked contrast to a rather pedestrian and conservative performance from Dublin.

Tadhg Morley came of age yesterday, I felt, with a mature showing at centre-back and he curbed Ciaran Kilkenny’s influence for the large part. Paul Geaney led the line well again and all over the field, Kerry looked sharper and hungrier than their opponents, especially in that vital third quarter.

Dublin struggled massively during this period, with their discipline in defence largely marked absent, and although they deserve immense credit for the manner in which they fought back from another seemingly hopeless position, they left themselves with too much to do and probably didn’t deserve that bit of luck with Dean Rock’s last-gasp free.

Paul Mannion scores the game’s only goal. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Paul Mannion scores the game’s only goal. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Bar that final 15 minutes, sparked by Paul Mannion’s introduction and well-taken goal, Dublin didn’t really function as we have come to expect from them and that has been a recurring trend during the league this year.

I personally feel that they have been too conservative in terms of the pace at which they play the game and as a result, it makes if far easier for the opposition to prevent raids on their goal.

Dublin have been too lateral and you only have to look at the number of goals that they have scored in the league this year to recognise that they lack something going forward.

They are not creating enough goal chances and are not penetrative enough. So despite enjoying a fair degree of possession in the first half, they never looked likely to make serious inroads into the Kerry defence.   

Dublin’s full-forward line struggled from the outset and changes could well have been made earlier than they were.

To go over 18 minutes without a score of any kind in a national final is not something that we have become accustomed to in recent years and that statistic, more than any other, would prompt a degree of concern as we look ahead to the championship.

As I’ve said earlier, it’s not all doom and gloom as a result of yesterday’s defeat and the heart and character of the team cannot be questioned. In my opinion, not having to concern themselves with talk of unbeaten records can only do them good and they have plenty of time to lick their collective wounds and fine-tune matters ahead of the summer.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin and goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton watch the cup presentation following the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin and goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton watch the cup presentation following the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

There was plenty of food for thought from yesterday and that old adage that you learn far more in defeat than in victory is a fair degree of consolation as we reflect on Dublin’s first serious defeat at the hands of Kerry since that 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final. 

It’s important to recognise that pendulums can sometimes swing away from your team and towards another and maybe there has been a veering towards Kerry over the spring.

That doesn’t make Dublin any less a formidable opponent and in the long term, maybe the recognition that Dublin require a greater degree of freshening up as a result of yesterday’s defeat could well prove hugely beneficial come September.

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