Thursday 22 February 2018

Colm Keys: Door ajar for rivals as Dublin concede 20 scores in a game for the first time under Jim Gavin


Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly is squeezed out by Kerry duo Paul Geaney and Paul Murphy. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly is squeezed out by Kerry duo Paul Geaney and Paul Murphy. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Maybe it was inevitable, after all, that it had to be Kerry. That the onus on them, above any other county, was greater to bring this Dublin team to its knees, however temporarily.

It wasn't quite Stockholm Syndrome in the Kingdom but they were having to become too far too appreciative and complimentary of their captors over the last two years and six weeks for comfort.

So an unbeaten sequence for Dublin that started a week after their last defeat in Killarney back in early March 2015 ended 37 games later against the same opponents.

At last Kerry have a proper foothold, and a victory that should have materialised three weeks earlier in Tralee was delivered here.

Dublin won't regret the defeat - only the seventh in Jim Gavin's five-season tenure and second post-St Patrick's Day - as much as the manner of their performance.

For while only the width of the same post that had denied Ray Cosgrove in that All-Ireland semi-final against Armagh 15 years ago divided them at the end, courtesy of Dean Rock's decent effort to force extra-time from a 46-metre free, the ratio of success in so many individual battles pointed to bigger winning margin for Kerry.

Diarmuid Connolly is shown a black card by referee Paddy Neilan during Allianz Division 1 final against Kerry
Diarmuid Connolly is shown a black card by referee Paddy Neilan during Allianz Division 1 final against Kerry

To Dublin's credit they scrambled impressively in the last quarter, a five-point gap again the catalyst to give chase, just as it had been against Tyrone earlier in the campaign and Monaghan last week.

But finding themselves having to mount these daring rescue efforts so often in the League has suggested champions that have been vulnerable throughout. Relying on their well of resilience and street-fighting instincts was eventually going to tell somewhere.

Maybe the greatest concern for them will be the concession of 20 scores for the first time in Gavin's 69 League and Championship games.

Not even in those cavalier days, pre-Donegal in 2014, did the number of scores they have shipped - as opposed to the cumulative weight of them when the value of a goal is added in - reach that mark.

Mayo hit them for 19 (2-17) in that 2014 League shoot-out in Croke Park that ended level, a 23-point cumulative total that matched Donegal's 3-14 in 2014.

But since that landmark day, when the reset button was pressed and a more structured defensive blueprint was hatched, they haven't come close to such a concession, Fermanagh's 17 scores (2-15) in their 2015 All-Ireland quarter-final being their next biggest hit.

Kerry's 2-14 in last year's All-Ireland semi-final (16 scores) was their most productive attacking effort until this victory that delivered a first win over their great rivals in six games and only a second in Eamonn Fitzmaurice's tenure. There'll be quiet satisfaction, even relief, in that.

Dublin's defensive blueprint has very much hinged on the protective screen that Cian O'Sullivan has provided. There were signs of corrosion in that protection in the latter stages of last year's Championship and maybe a hint of it when O'Sullivan took down Paul Murphy to concede a free that Paul Geaney punished for a 0-13 to 0-10 lead.

He was hauled ashore not long after that, but his departure was magnified by the sight of Michael Geaney skipping through the middle for two points in quick succession to open a five-point lead.

Food for thought in any debrief, just as there will be in the analysis of how Dublin faded so badly after Diarmuid Connolly's latest black card.

They had lifted a gear just after the midway point in the opening half with three successive points , all off the weaker foot of the scorers in question - James McCarthy, Ciaran Kilkenny and Connolly - once again underlining the skill-set of these Dublin players.

Connolly's dexterity is such that it's sometimes difficult to determine which limb provides greater precision. But for all his style, his indiscipline is resurfacing as an issue for Dublin.

He appeared to be revving nicely when, not long after his only point, he was hacked down when in a good position by Jonathan Lyne for Rock to convert a free for a 0-8 to 0-5 lead.

Lyne was black-carded, but within minutes of his arrival his replacement Gavin Crowley was body-checked by Connolly off the ball to pick up a third black card in his last seven Dublin matches. With the possible exception of last week in Monaghan, he can't have any complaints.

Factor in that in two of those games, his most recent against Roscommon and Monaghan, he came off the bench and it becomes a real concern when their most naturally talented player is struggling to see out time. It's that abrasive streak, that willingness to get down into the trenches, that has helped to make Connolly the players he is. But a better balance has to be struck to avoid such needless departures.

It will scarcely discommode Dublin to have lost here. Jonny Cooper has yet to return after missing the last six games, James McCarthy's movement looked encouraging after so much stop-start activity over the last 12 months, while Stephen Cluxton's shot-stopping qualities, called on much more in this campaign, have him at the top of his game again.

There's the dynamism of Jack McCaffrey to replenish the side and the possibility that Con O'Callaghan and Paul Mannion will leave Bernard Brogan and Paddy Andrews looking over their shoulders a little more anxiously as summer creeps closer.

The cards in Gavin's hand remain the strongest to play. But that cloak of invincibility, that we've all fallen for, has been removed.

Irish Independent

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