Sunday 25 September 2016

Dubs tighten their grip as Kerry crash

Dublin 2-18 Kerry 0-13

Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30

Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny in action against Fionn Fitzgerald during their victory over Kerry in the Allianz NFL Division 1 final Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny in action against Fionn Fitzgerald during their victory over Kerry in the Allianz NFL Division 1 final Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
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Kieran Donaghy blocks a shot from Dean Rock during Dublin’s Allianz NFL Division One final victory against Kerry Photo: Sportsfile

Kerry needed to win more than Dublin but desire alone was never going to be enough to plot a route past such a powerfully coherent force.

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Everything else would have had to go right for Kerry to avoid a ninth defeat from their last 11 League and Championship games against Dublin but it didn't work out like that on a day when Croke Park was full for the first time for a League final.

That, plus the GAA's post-match celebration of the 1916 Easter Rising, made it a memorable occasion at a historical level, but once the trappings are hollowed out, what remains is a football landscape where Dublin's presence is growing ever-larger.

Four successive League, three Leinster and two All-Ireland titles since the start of 2013 is a remarkable haul and, on the evidence of their performances this spring, the summer and autumn will be equally productive.

After losing their last three championship clashes with Dublin, including last year's All-Ireland final, Kerry needed to make a bold statement about the state of the relationship with their great rivals.

They felt they didn't do themselves justice last September and saw this as a chance to not only prevent Dublin becoming the first team to win the League four in a row since Kerry in 1971-74 but also flash out a message about their Championship ambitions.

Problems

They started yesterday's game as the side most fancied to cause Dublin serious problems later in the year and while that may well be the case, their task will now be all the more difficult if they meet on an even bigger occasion next August or September.

Dublin outscored their flagging rivals by 2-3 to 0-0 in the last 10 minutes, the goals coming from Paul Flynn (66) and Eric Lowndes (73).

The first goal was gifted by a mix-up off a Kerry kick-out, allowing Flynn to intercept before firing past Brendan Kealy before Lowndes added to their misery deep in stoppage-time.

Kerry's frustration was running high by that stage, living with the painful reality that Dublin are a superior force at present.

In those circumstances, they need to get the absolute maximum from their own game to have a chance.

Self-inflicted damage have to be avoided at all costs but that certainly wasn't the case yesterday. Flynn's goal is a classic example, but an even more serious issue had arisen 16 minutes earlier when Aidan O'Mahony was sent off on a straight red card for an off-the-ball clash with Jonny Cooper.

Trying to match Dublin with a full complement is difficult enough but once Kerry lost O'Mahony, their prospects of landing a first League title for seven years were all but gone.

They were only two points behind (0-13 to 0-11) at the time and later cut the deficit to a point but Dublin appeared to be playing well within themselves as they built up for a trademark strong finish.

The introduction of Michael Darragh Macauley, Kevin McManamon and Cormac Costello fed additional attacking power to the Dublin grid, making O'Mahony's absence all the more damaging for Kerry.

Getting himself sent off was a serious error of judgement by such an experienced player, especially since the contest was still very much alive at that stage. Indeed, there might have been some concerns in the Dublin camp as they hadn't functioned with the usual fluency.

Their wides tally was low but several promising moves had broken down due to sloppy passing and poor decision-making.

It certainly wasn't Dublin at their vintage best up to the hour mark but, despite that, they led for all except a brief spell in the first half.

Dublin held an advantage at midfield all through, with Brian Fenton delivering consistently, while Denis Bastick and later Macauley ensured that a good supply of possession was channelled through to attack.

Ciaran Kilkenny delivered a man-of-the-match performance while Bernard Brogan, in short, sharp bursts, and Paul Mannion also stretched the Kerry defence very close to breaking point. Dublin defenders were also seeking to surge forward at every opportunity, leaving Kerry under energy-sapping pressure.

In fairness, Kerry improvised cleverly to minimise the damage and would have been reasonably happy to find themselves only two points adrift (0-10 to 0-8) at half-time.

It was 0-12 to 0-8 in Dublin's favour after 40 minutes, before Kerry hit their best spell of the day, scoring three unanswered points in seven minutes.

However, that outbreak of productivity was followed by O'Mahony's dismissal, which was probably the real turning point.

It added more weight to Kerry's already wearying load and allowed Dublin to impose their will on proceedings to a far greater degree than earlier on.

The only crumb of comfort for Kerry rests in the belief that O'Mahony's departure skewed the game irretrievably in Dublin's favour and that it might all be very different if the sides meet again on equal terms.

However, there are structural issues that Kerry will need to examine. Midfield didn't generate anything like the consistent amount of possession required to test such accomplished opposition, which left Colm Cooper and his fellow snipers woefully short of ammunition.

Cooper underlined his level of threat on a few occasions in the first half but got few opportunities later on. It forced him to drift out from goal in search of some sustenance, which must have made happy viewing for Dublin, who know that his main threat comes when he's close the opposition goal.

Deficit

Kerry will also need to correct the pace deficit if they are to match Dublin.

Their build-ups were often quite slow, allowing Dublin to re-set their defensive traps, which they did so effectively that the absence of Jack McCaffrey and Rory O'Carroll, both of whom have signed off the panel this season, wasn't a major issue.

But then Jim Gavin has so many cards to deal from in all sectors that he is the most envied manager in the game right now. Fitzmaurice has a strong hand too as Kerry still remain the team most likely to trouble Dublin in the Championship.

However, that may be as good as gets, since Dublin are likely to be a whole lot sharper later in the season.

For now, another League title has been secured and their main rivals handed a stark reminder of powerful they are. Another very satisfactory spring campaign then.

Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-5 (3fs, 1pen); B Brogan 0-4, P Flynn, E Lowndes 1-0 each, C Kilkenny, K McManamon 0-2 each, J Cooper, B Fenton, P Mannion, D Connolly, J Cooper 0-1 each. Kerry - B Sheehan 0-3 (3fs), P Crowley, D O'Sullivan, S O'Brien 0-2 each, C Cooper, D Walsh, K Donaghy, P Murphy 0-1 each.
Dublin - S Cluxton 7; P McMahon 8, J Cooper 7, D Byrne 8; J McCarthy 7, C O'Sullivan 7, J Small 7; B Fenton 8, D Bastick 7; P Flynn 7, D Rock 7, C Kilkenny 9; P Mannion 7, D Connolly 7, B Brogan 8. Subs: MD Macauley 7 for Bastick (48), K McManamon 7 for Connolly (54), C Costello 7 for Rock (60), M Fitzsimons for McMahon, E Lowndes for Mannion (68), D Daly for Small (69).
Kerry - B Kealy 6; M O Se 6, M Griffin 6, S Enright 6; P Crowley 7, A O'Mahony 4, F Fitzgerald 6; K Donaghy 6, D Moran 5; B Sheehan 5, P Murphy 7, D Walsh 5; D O'Sullivan 6, C Cooper 6, S O'Brien 6. Subs: K Young 6 for Fitzgerald (45), B O'Sullivan 6 for Walsh (54), J Lyne 5 for Griffin (60), BJ Keane for O'Brien (62), P O'Connor for Crowley (62), M Geaney for Murphy (69).
Ref - E Kinsella (Laois)

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