Dublin find answer to big Kingdom test - Champions recover from five-point deficit to stay on track for back-to-back All-Irelands
Dublin 0-22 Kerry2-14, All-Ireland SFC Semi-final
Published 29/08/2016 | 02:30
Long regarded as the all-time classic clash between football's two great superpowers, the 1977 All-Ireland semi-final now has a serious contender challenging for that distinction.
Yesterday's game scores high marks under so many headings that it's well entitled to take its place in a list of epic contests from any era. In fact, it was so enthralling that it went a long way to restoring faith in Gaelic football at a time when the majority of games leave few deposits in the memory bank.
This was different. A game that seemed to be heading irretrievably in Dublin's direction after a slow start by Kerry took a dramatic twist before half-time, setting the scene for a second half that rose ever higher in the entertainment stakes.
Ultimately, it was settled in stoppage time when points by Eoghan O'Gara and Diarmuid Connolly took Dublin clear and into the final for the fourth time in six seasons.
They did it with a performance which has set just the right tone for them as they look ahead to the clash with Mayo on September 18. They were tested at every level in a manner not previously encountered this year but survived it and will surely be all the better for the experience.
The manner in which they confronted - and sorted out - two problem periods will have left a contented glow around the camp as they look ahead to the final and the possibility of becoming the first Dublin team to complete the All-Ireland double since 1976-'77.
They will start as warm favourites to achieve it, just as they were well-fancied to work their way through yesterday's examination without any major scares.
And when they led by 0-9 to 0-4 after 24 minutes, having kept Kerry scoreless for the first 14 minutes, every line in the script was running to schedule.
But, as in the 2014 semi-final against Donegal, when they imploded from exactly the same scoreline, they suffered an inexplicable power failure, during which Kerry hit them for an unanswered 2-4 in the run-up to half-time.
It was Dublin as we haven't seen them for two years, edgy and uncertain, making most uncharacteristic mistakes, which Kerry punished with impressive efficiency.
Stephen Cluxton had possibly his worst 10-minute period in a 15-year career, first gifting Kerry the chance for their first goal, then booming a kick-out over the sideline and finally being beaten by a Paul Geaney touch off a speculative lob by Anthony Maher.
The misdirected kick-out, which offered Kerry the goal opening in the 31st minute was the most serious error. Geaney intercepted and slipped the ball through to Donnchadh Walsh who set up Darran O'Sullivan to finish to the net. It brought Kerry level, which certainly wasn't a reflection of the trend up to then as Dublin had been by far the more cohesive side. Yet, as they headed for the half-time debrief, they were faced with the challenge of figuring out how a five-point lead had turned into a five-point deficit (2-8 to 0-9).
It made the early stages of the second half hugely important for them if they weren't to go the same way as in 2014 when they failed to break Donegal's momentum in the third quarter and ended up losing by six points.
It was different this time. Dublin outscored Kerry by 0-6 to 0-1 in the first 15 minutes of the second half, drawing level and looking very much like a force that would drive on for a reasonably comfortable win.
It presented Kerry with a massive test of their resolve and the response was compelling. They enjoyed a very productive 10 minutes, outscoring Dublin by 0-4 to 0-1, to open up a three-point lead after 62 minutes.
Once again, Dublin were rattled. Dean Rock, whose accuracy from placed balls had been of the highest order up to then, missed the target with a long-range effort, further adding to Dublin's sense of unease as they wound up for a desperate attempt to save the day.
Another Kerry score or two might well have pushed Dublin over the edge but once Philly McMahon hoisted a point, the pattern changed.
Dublin grew increasingly authoritative, patiently working the ball into scoring positions where they won two frees, which Rock converted.
Kerry were unhappy - and justifiably so - with at least one of the decisions and grew increasingly frustrated with Meath referee David Gough, who adjudged a massive hit by Kevin McManamon on Peter Crowley to be legitimate.
Crowley, who was steaming into the scoring area at the time, had solid grounds for expecting a free, especially in light of some of previous decisions.
If that decision angered Kerry, one of their own calls provided a major talking point for supporters on their way home last night. Geaney, who had been Kerry's best forward, was withdrawn in the 67th minute, replaced by Marc ó Sé.
Kerry were a point behind at the time so it seemed odd to replace a forward, who had scored 1-4, with a defender. Geaney's influence had waned somewhat but with his confidence on a high, he still looked like a man who could grab a crucial score.
Kerry did manage to draw level in the 72nd minute when Stephen O'Brien pointed but was to be their last score, whereas Dublin added two more points. O'Brien's point was Kerry's only score in the last 14 minutes (eight normal and six stoppage), a period during which Dublin scored 0-6.
Ultimately, that won the day for Dublin, whose deserve enormous credit for the manner they retained their composure after being so seriously discommoded by the chaotic period before half-time.
That they corrected it without scoring a goal made the achievement all the more impressive. But then they could call on a high-quality bench, introducing subs of the quality of Paddy Andrews, Paul Mannion, Eoghan O'Gara, Michael Fitzsimons and Cormac Costello, five players who would have starting places on every other county team, including Kerry.
Jim Gavin will be delighted with the manner in which his side worked their way through the various problems but is certain to revisit the spell before half-time which, in different circumstances, might have wrecked Dublin's title ambitions.
Kerry hadn't scored any goal in their previous four league and championship meetings with Dublin, yet hit two in five minutes, both of which were down to defensive errors.
Those two breaks left Kerry supporters believing that an upset was on but, ultimately, their team just wasn't good enough to see the task through to a successful conclusion.
It was close, but for a fourth time in six seasons, Kerry's All-Ireland ambitions were scuppered by their greatest rivals.
Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-12 (8fs, 2 '45s), D Connolly 0-3, K McManamon, B Brogan 0-2 each, B Fenton, P McMahon, E O'Gara 0-1 each. Kerry: P Geaney 1-4, C Cooper 0-5 (4f), D O'Sullivan 1-0, D Moran, BJ Keane, J O'Donoghue, P Murphy, S O'Brien 0-1 each.
Dublin - S Cluxton; D Byrne, P McMahon, J Cooper; J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J Small; B Fenton, MD Macauley; P Flynn, K McManamon, C Kilkenny; D Rock, D Connolly, B Brogan.
Subs: P Andrews for Flynn (45), P Mannion for Small (50), E O'Gara or Macauley (60), M Fitzsimons for Cooper (66), C Costello for Brogan (70).
Kerry - B Kelly; S Enright, M Griffin, K Young; A O'Mahony, P Crowley, T Morley; A Maher, D Moran; P Murphy, C Cooper, D Walsh; D O'Sullivan, K Donaghy, P Geaney.
Subs: S O'Brien for O'Sullivan (39), J O'Donoghue for Donaghy (50), BJ Keane for Walsh (52), B ó Beaglaoich for Morley (56), B Sheehan for Maher (58), M ó Sé for Geaney (67).
Ref - D Gough (Meath)