Wednesday 23 August 2017

Colm Keys: Kerry cut cloth to find Dublin's measure

Switch to substance over style finally making this a proper rivalry

Diarmuid Connolly comes under pressure from Kerry duo Paul Geaney and Paul Murphy during Kerry’s league final victory. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly comes under pressure from Kerry duo Paul Geaney and Paul Murphy during Kerry’s league final victory. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

A fitting end then, to a most memorable Allianz League.

Not since the format was revised and reshaped a decade ago into four divisions has there been a better one. And maybe for some time before that too.

That's what you get, more often than not, with a competition based on relevant standards rather than geography.

Right up to the last few minutes on the previous weekend there had been twists and turns everywhere.

Survival one minute, relegation the next. Promotion, then rejection. Ebb and flow. Six points dividing eight teams in Division 3, seven from first to last in Division 2.

The hotbed of Division 1 has never had a sharper edge. Get detached from the pace of the peloton and you back-pedal quickly, as Roscommon will testify, Westmeath and Down before them too.

David Moran and Philly McMahon battle for a high ball. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
David Moran and Philly McMahon battle for a high ball. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Unless you are in the full of your health as a squad, Division 1 is no place for you. You can't afford to take a step back.

Elite

The creation of an elite group of six now with two floating places and a gap between the top two divisions that appears far greater than the other gaps below them has made Mickey Harte's contention some time ago that a Division 2 team couldn't win an All-Ireland title seem all the more relevant.

Think of it in these terms: Michael Murphy has played in every one of Donegal's 38 League games since their 2012 All-Ireland triumph with the exception of one, against Mayo in 2015, when he was serving a one-match ban for cumulative cards.

You'd think a player like Murphy would benefit from a break at some stage. But in Division 1 (Donegal did spend 2014 in Division 2) there is little time to step off the treadmill.

And with Donegal busy replenishing, Murphy has perhaps never been as important to them.

They've mastered the art of remaining competitive with the need for propagation spectacularly well this spring in the face of an exodus that took out nine front-line players since last summer.

To miss out on a League final by a score difference of just three points in the circumstances measures up to quite a productive campaign.

That three-point score difference was to Kerry, who have also been propagating quietly themselves while remaining to the forefront.

A year ago the timing never seemed so right for Kerry to lay down a marker against a Dublin juggernaut that was careering out of control as far as the chasing pack was concerned.

They looked like a hardened, experienced bunch ready to call a halt.

When they lost by 11 points, a margin that probably didn't do them justice after Aidan O'Mahony was sent off, it was patently obvious that Kerry no longer had the defensive means to compete with the champions.

A year on, a League final that looked a little risky to take on couldn't have worked out too much better, as they survived after a five-point lead was reeled in.

And the pace of change in personnel has quickened. On Sunday just seven starters from 2016 had survived to start a second successive League final against Dublin, who had 10. Two of the six substitutes used last year started on Sunday.

Players like Jack Barry, Kevin McCarthy, Jack Savage and Ronan Shanahan may have been in Eamonn Fitzmaurice's greenhouse 12 months ago but were not yet for public scrutiny, while Tadhg Morley was still a few months his competitive debut.

Perhaps no player reflects Kerry's ongoing shift from style to substance more than Morley, whose battles in against Ciaran Kilkenny in Tralee and Croke Park have been compelling.

Morley's persistence and athleticism have potentially given a solution to the endless problems Kilkenny has posed in the sides' three previous big Croke Park outings.

Bit by bit, through trial and error as much as anything else, Kerry seem to be getting a handle on some of Dublin's main power points - Barry on Brian Fenton and Peter Crowley on Paul Flynn were two of their most successful match-ups on Sunday.

At the heart of matters has been David Moran, the League's outstanding player who has recovered the ground lost between late 2015 and much of 2016.

And Paul Murphy, either in defence or attack, is fast becoming one of their key assets.

There's a palpable shift too away from the more direct game influenced by the presence of Kieran Donaghy and Colm Cooper inside.

They're working it shorter to suit the needs of the likes of Savage, McCarthy, Murphy and Michael Geaney, who bring such high energy and work-rate to their game.

Of concern will be the ratio of goals scored to chances created. In almost every League match, from Letterkenny on the opening day when they repeatedly broke the cover, to Tralee against Dublin when they spurned three opportunities, to last Sunday's final when Stephen Cluxton was forced to make smart saves from Moran and Morley, it has been a recurring theme.

James O'Donoghue recovery from his latest injury woes is important in the context of taking some of the responsibility that Paul Geaney has carried in this campaign.

Kerry know this is just one battle won and the war will continue to wage for many years yet.

Only last week Donnchadh Walsh remarked how Dublin/Kerry couldn't be classed as a rivalry when it only ever produced one winner. The terms of engagement have altered ever so slightly now.

Irish Independent

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