Sunday 4 December 2016

Colm O'Rourke: It's not Kerry's lack of effort, it's a lack of ability

Published 01/05/2016 | 17:00

Tiernan McCann is often the leader of the counter-attack and after his antics last year it was good to see him being the outstanding player on the field’
Tiernan McCann is often the leader of the counter-attack and after his antics last year it was good to see him being the outstanding player on the field’

The reality check came on Monday morning. 'Well you got that one wrong.' The only word missing was 'badly'. I wrote last week that I expected Kerry to put up a huge fight and that they would probably win the game. Many of the Kerry people I met in Croke Park before the match were of the same opinion and they turned out in big numbers to support their team. They went home fairly deflated.

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Not just because they lost, but because of the realisation that they were not good enough. There seems little chance of bridging the gap either. If Kerry come back to Croke Park in August or September to face Dublin they will be rank outsiders.

The late deluge of scores may have flattered Dublin slightly, but they were in control from early in the match. The pattern was very similar to the All-Ireland final. Kerry hung on until Aidan O'Mahony's sending off, but then there was no way back. It's hard enough to play Dublin with 15, but with 14 the gaps appeared and no other team has Dublin's pace and mobility to hold possession patiently and then strike.

O'Mahony has shown alarming indiscipline in big games. Sent off in last year's final, he let down himself mainly, but also his team-mates, through rank stupidity. Kerry needed a hard edge in fighting for possession and tight marking; again I thought that would be forthcoming. It probably was too, but afterwards the thought struck me that the criticism I levelled at Kerry after the All-Ireland that they did not get stuck in or fight hard enough may have been misplaced. It seems now that they are just not up to it. Hard work and all-out effort cannot bridge the gap.

The genie is out of the bottle since Kerry let them off the hook in 2011 and Dublin continue to get better while Kerry have gone the other way. The moral of the story is to keep your foot on an opponent's throat all the time or you may live to regret it. It has not taken long for Kerry to feel the cold chill from the new Dublin. There is no mercy now. Kerry mauled Dublin too often in the past, now the compliment is being returned with interest.

The main difference last Sunday was in the kick-outs. Stephen Cluxton's kicks almost always found a colleague. In contrast, Kerry lost most of Brendan Kealy's kick-outs. So on the restarts alone, Dublin secured about 35 of the 45. That is a lot of possession. Now Kealy cannot be blamed for all Kerry's ills. A short kick-out to a colleague takes at least half a dozen men moving in various directions to free up a space to put the ball into. Kealy had fewer men moving than Cluxton and is not nearly as accurate in his kicking either. It spelt trouble. Cluxton on the other hand has a great strategy because there seems to be none. Players keep making runs, space appears and then he just bangs it there. Or if the inside forwards give a corner-back a little room for a few seconds they are caught, the ball is on the move and sometimes half the backline with it. This time it was Jonny Cooper's turn to move up to kick a point.

The lesson for all other teams is that it is hard enough to beat Dublin, but giving them most of the kick-outs makes the job almost impossible. Some teams have put a lot of pressure on Cluxton, like Mayo in the drawn encounter last year, but when players get tired and slow down mentally the Dubs take an easy kick-out and there is often an easy score at the other end within seconds.

Dublin are turning into an amazing side. Nobody is unbeatable and nothing lasts forever, but this is a supremely talented outfit individually and collectively who will not be brought down by big egos. On Sunday, Diarmuid Connolly and Philly McMahon were substituted. McMahon did not seem happy, but nobody on the Dublin management seemed to care. The team is all that counts. And if anyone thought that Bernard Brogan had run his course they better think again: he fairly roasted Marc Ó Sé. One darting run between several Kerry defenders in the second half finished with a point off his left foot. He looks as dangerous as ever.

Kerry discovered a load of new problems on Sunday. The word was that O'Mahony and Ó Sé were flying, that Gooch was back to his best and that Kieran Donaghy would wreak havoc. None of it materialised, even if the Gooch did look good with the right supply. When Donaghy went to full-forward, the balls kicked in were like you would see in a Junior B game. Hanging in the air for an age and handing the advantage to the back. Even at that he seemed blatantly fouled near the end but got no penalty. The same happened in last year's final so Donaghy will be getting a little paranoid about referees.

The other problem for Kerry is that their fast players are not fast by Dublin's standards and they don't have the same physique either. On the day of revolution it seemed all the heavy artillery was in the Dubs' camp. Plenty for Eamonn Fitzmaurice to ponder while Jim Gavin will wonder where he can get further improvement.

The only team playing at the weekend who could cause Dublin trouble in the way they set up is Tyrone. They have a very organised defensive structure with two sweepers in front of their full-backs, but they have the ability to move forward at great pace. Tiernan McCann is often the leader of the counter-attack and after his antics last year it was good to see him being the outstanding player on the field. Tyrone got on with the game, even if the referee did buy a Peter Harte simulation at one stage.

Tyrone are a different animal this year. They certainly got the score of the day, a brilliant pass from Mattie Donnelly to Ronan O'Neill, who buried the ball in the net. It showed vision, a fantastic foot-pass and ruthless finishing. Tyrone have great potential and are getting better.

Cavan are on an upward path too, even if they are a bit behind Tyrone. They don't have enough good men yet in terms of starting team and subs but they are not far off. They won't be too disappointed either; the league has been good to them and being in the top division next year should see further improvement. They have maybe two years to make the breakthrough in Ulster.

The teams who got most joy from the weekend were Louth and Clare, and I am sure the celebrations were greater in those counties than in either Dublin or Tyrone. For a while it looked as if the Dubs were drawing lots on the pitch after the game to see who would go up for the cup. In the end Captain Cluxton did the needful. The cup was probably put away quietly on Sunday evening, a good day's work and time to move on.

It was great to see class players like Jim McEneaney of Louth and Gary Brennan of Clare get a chance to play a final in Croke Park. Surely these and other counties have to realise that the way forward for them is a championship where they could hope to play regularly in Croke Park in the summer. It is the way to improve by progressing through the grades, as the league allows.

Anyway, it was a very enjoyable weekend of football with the best entertainment on Saturday.

And the Laochra show was brilliant too. The sound was not great high up in the Hogan Stand but the costumes, music and dancing were superb. The quality was best demonstrated by the numbers who stayed right to the end. Well done to the organisers. This and other 1916 ceremonies have added greatly to a deeper respect for our flag and national anthem. That has been the real value of the commemorations.

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