Sunday 15 September 2019

Ciarán Whelan: 'Dublin have scope for improvement and they generally get things right at the second time of asking'

The heat of battle in the All-Ireland SFC final between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
The heat of battle in the All-Ireland SFC final between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Ciarán Whelan

We might just park the controversial stuff for the moment and maybe sit back for a minute and appreciate what a fantastic match the All-Ireland SFC final proved.

Sometimes, the pre-match hype fails to reflect the ensuing action but that certainly wasn’t the case as Dublin and Kerry served up an enthralling contest that was on a par with some of the famous clashes between the counties from days of yore.

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An All-Ireland final is the centrepiece of the GAA calendar and it was brilliant for the game to have a final that was end-to-end, that kept everyone guessing right up until the last kick and that will leave everyone filled with excitement and anticipation for the replay on Saturday week.

For far too long, there has been a negative undercurrent to the game with too much talk of double sweepers and the like but there was none of that on view as both teams performed on the front foot and in a heroic manner.

Jack McCaffrey of Dublin celebrates his 19th minute goal against Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Jack McCaffrey of Dublin celebrates his 19th minute goal against Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

A draw was probably the most equitable result although Dublin will be fully aware that they failed to perform to the standards that have made them such a dominant force.

Of course, Kerry deserve a huge amount of credit for that and in terms of the match-ups, particularly in who they chose to pick up in defence, they generally got things spot on.

They were very brave in terms of their approach to Dublin’s kick-out and while that may have cost them 1-2 in the first-half, I still feel that they unnerved Dublin sufficiently by adopting such a positive mindset.

They put a fair number of bodies around the middle third and that tactic generally worked and in David Moran, they had a player who delivered an exceptional display for the duration.

In contrast, Dublin’s midfield failed to perform to the levels to which we have become accustomed although Brian Howard, obviously, is the exception as he produced a momentous performance until having to be replaced with cramp.

Howard was one of the few bright lights for Dublin unfortunately, but it just highlights his maturity and growing importance to this evolving Dublin team.

Speaking of importance, nobody proved more pivotal in a blue shirt than Jack McCaffrey and to kick 1-3 in an All-Ireland final just highlights what an exceptional talent he is.

When Dublin were struggling for scores, it was McCaffrey who delivered the goods and the same could be said for Dean Rock, who once again proved his ‘big-game’ temperament with another telling showing on the biggest stage of all.  

Michael Darragh Macauley of Dublin in action against Gavin Crowley of Kerry during the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Michael Darragh Macauley of Dublin in action against Gavin Crowley of Kerry during the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

There won’t be anyone laying blame at his door for that late miss from what was a hugely difficult position because he was the one forward who offered a consistent threat on the Kerry goal throughout.

It’s probably unfair on me to have expected him to convert that free but it just shows the standard that he has that we were surprised when his effort failed to split the posts.

Mick Fitzsimons could be pleased with his performance too, doing a tight marking job on David Clifford in the second-half when Dublin’s defence was under a fair degree of pressure and of course, you cannot leave Stephen Cluxton out of the equation.

His penalty save was as crucial as it was brilliant as Kerry were threatening with goal chances at that time and his fingertip save in the second-half was on a par with anything else he has produced in his lengthy and distinguished service between the sticks.

Speaking of the penalty, I thought that the decision was a poor one and while plenty won’t agree with me, I also thought that the second yellow card shown to Jonny Cooper was harsh in the extreme. 

I just saw the incident as a natural coming together of two players and these things happen all the time in the game but I can understand that David Gough saw it as his third personal foul and that’s why the card was issued. 

It came at such a vital time as Dublin were enjoying a dominant spell and Cooper’s dismissal gave Kerry some much-needed momentum going into the second-half.

Stephen Cluxton of Dublin dives to his right to save Paul Geaney's penalty in the 13th minute of the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Stephen Cluxton of Dublin dives to his right to save Paul Geaney's penalty in the 13th minute of the All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Kerry’s numerical advantage didn’t seem to show in the third quarter as Dublin were generally comfortable during this period and had even managed to extend their advantage to five points.

Had Paddy Small’s point attempt gone over, instead of hovering agonisingly directly over the crossbar, we may have witnessed a different outcome but from the resultant clearance, Kerry worked the ball well to Killian Spillane, who took his goal chance superbly.

That are the fine margins that can turn a game and Kerry looked the better team from that juncture with the introduction of Tommy Walsh offering them something different in attack.

Dublin seemed uncertain in how the deal with Walsh, with James McCarthy unsure whether to drop back or not and that was in keeping with an uncertainly that was a key feature of their performance.

Another aspect that will disappoint Dublin is that, for once, they appeared to have less impact from the bench than their opponents and that’s not something you would normally associate with a Jim Gavin team.

I think some of the switches were probably made too late in the game to have any real impact and I’m sure that will be one of the issues that they will address when they reconvene at training this week.

Of course, if you take a positive spin on events, you will rightly appreciate that Dublin have massive scope for improvement and they generally get things right at the second time of asking.

Deep down, they will digest all that occurred and appreciate that they weren't at the level that they would aspire to.

However, they showed great character to dig out the draw where others team may have folded and if any team, was going to win in the dying minutes, it was them but in truth, it was football that was the real winner by the final whistle.

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