Ciarán Whelan: Kerry paid the price for being too conservative in the second half
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Any assessment of Sunday’s encounter at Croke Park would have to begin with a serious appreciation of the efforts of all the players involved on both sides.
There was a fear in advance of the game that we may witness a stifling clash, in a similar vein to last September’s All-Ireland final.
Thankfully, that wasn’t to be the case with both teams producing another epic match that compares favourably with some of the matches from down the years that have been afforded legendary status.
Both teams delivered heroic displays with the desperation to succeed clearly evident.
Over 80,00 supporters and the plenty who watched on RTE will also have enjoyed a clash that had everything in terms of drama but was played in a fairly well-spirited manner by both teams and was well refereed by David Gough, despite some Kerry protestations to the contrary.
It was obviously a huge game for Kerry, given the age profile of their team and also their recent record against Dublin. And it was hardly surprising that they raised their intensity levels from previous games in the championship.
Tactically, I think Eamonn Fitzmaurice deserves a lot of credit for how Kerry approached the game with their pre-planned strategy of pressing Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs the most obvious and successful one adopted.
There was possibly a small degree of desperation in that move, given how comfortable Dublin looked for the first 20 minutes or so as they completely dominated the game and should really have been enjoying a far greater margin.
That they didn’t was down to some uncharacteristically rushed shooting at times and that’s probably something they will look at addressing against Mayo in three weeks’ time.
Given the lack of mobility in Fitzmaurice’s panel, it probably wasn’t a tactic that Kerry could use for the whole game but the balance was quite impressive for the first half.
What happened after the break is hard to assess but I think it’s fair to say that Kerry played slightly more conservatively in the second half, with their tally of six points in that period an accurate barometer of their less expansive approach.
Was that because the team didn’t have the legs to push forward in numbers or were Kerry too pre-disposed with defending what they had instead of killing the game off when they went three points clear?
The introduction of Marc Ó Sé for Paul Geaney was a strange move and perhaps slightly too conservative but at that stage, Dublin had introduced a number of attacking options from the bench so there was perhaps a fair level of justification in Geaney’s substitution.
Either way, it allowed Dublin a chance to go through the phases and they showed the maturity, composure and ability to close out the game with those superb three late points from Kevin McManamon, Eoghan O’Gara and Diarmuid Connolly.
McManamon enjoyed another fruitful start for Dublin and I feel it’s fair to say that Dublin’s two best attackers were himself and Dean Rock.
Those players rarely get the plaudits that their efforts deserve and I thought Rock enjoyed his most complete big game for Dublin in terms of the leadership and calmness he showed over the 75 minutes.
His free-taking was largely impeccable but it was in open play that he looked so comfortable and with some of Dublin’s more celebrated attackers experiencing difficult enough afternoons, Rock’s coming-of-age in terms of the responsibility and courage he showed was a massive plus for Jim Gavin.
You would imagine that Gavin and his back-room team will benefit hugely from the game in that it was a far from perfect display and that there is plenty to work on with Mayo in mind.
That may not have been the case if the game had followed the pattern of the opening quarter, in which Dublin looked in cruise control and Kerry could hardly lay a hand on them.
The change in affairs was a direct consequence of Kerry’s tactic to attack Cluxton’s kick-outs. Not only did it help yield Darren O’Sullivan’s goal, it also created a degree of panic that permeated the Dublin team.
In addition to that panic, seeing something that has been worked on repeatedly on the training ground come to fruition when it was most needed would have given Kerry massive self-belief.
Certainly, there is no question that half-time arrived at a most opportune time for Dublin as they were able to regroup and re-establish the positives from the first-half.
Admittedly, I was reasonably worried at that time but I also felt that Dublin had enough in the tank to keep the championship ambitions alive.
And when the question was asked about their hunger, their answer was an unequivocal ‘yes’ in terms of winning dirty ball and driving forward to claim another famous win.
Despite scoring 0-22, Dublin’s attack wasn’t at its brightest and having such room for improvement is something that will spur them on in training.
We saw that they have the necessary hunger and we also saw some new leaders on show, something to be hugely encouraged by going forward.