Sunday 27 May 2018

Colm Keys: Kingdom no longer look like they have the game to stem blue tide

Bernard Brogan fails to prevent the ball from going out over the sideline Photo: Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan fails to prevent the ball from going out over the sideline Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When a list of the Dublin backroom team members was circulated in 2013, one title stood out above the rest, even supplanting the presence of a commercial manager in the official party.

The now departed Martin Kennedy was the 'athletic' coach. Not strength and conditioning, the label most of his peers now go by. Not physical trainer, the more traditional title for a role like it.

The emphasis was on 'athleticism,' and how the team would be shaped and sculpted would have that principle in mind.

You couldn't help drawing on the provision of that title as Dublin ran the clock in this Allianz Division 1 final to the backdrop of cheers each time a player in blue took possession.

The last time Kerry were subjected to such a beating in Croke Park and to such mood music in the background was the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Meath, who have scarcely struck a chord since.

Kerry recovered then and, in time, will recover from this too. But it's impossible to avoid the conclusion now that they don't have with the athleticism to get any closer than the coat tails of this Dublin team. Yesterday those coat-tails slipped from their grasp completely.

They were behind by two at half-time here and were just a point off it in the 46th minute when Darran O'Sullivan drove over off his right.

But it never truly felt like a one- or two-point game and when Aidan O'Mahony was caught flooring Jonny Cooper in the 50th minute reality soon dawned on the scoreboard too.

The air of resignation was all too palpable at the end.

Paul Murphy and Peter Crowley foraged hard and often successfully, Stephen O'Brien punched holes early on, Colm Cooper took up better positions than he did in last year's All-Ireland final, and when he sidestepped Philly McMahon, and clipped over a beauty on 18 minutes Kerry supporters felt a sense of liberation.

But they had come to Croke Park needing a firm sign that the gap was closing from last September. Instead they've been left with darkening clouds hanging over their relationship with this Dublin team.

They may indeed still be the game's second best team but the most equipped to face down the runaway train?

That may fall now to Mayo or even Tyrone, whose liking for 'Croke Park' football continued with an emphatic win over Cavan in the Division 2 curtain-raiser.

Down the line they have the athleticism, a greater defensive appreciation and even the recent track record to at least ask more searching questions of a Dublin team that really has put distance between themselves and the rest now.

It wasn't the perfect Dublin performance by any means. Diarmuid Connolly, for one, wasn't on his game and, not for the first time recently, he was outscored by his direct opponent Peter Crowley.

But it takes their unbeaten streak to 22, the same sequence that the All Blacks enjoyed between 2013 and 2014.

Dublin and the All Blacks share a commercial link through their sponsors AIG and Dublin have cultivated a similar mindset in their pursuit of excellence too.

As manager, Jim Gavin continues to stockpile titles quicker than even Brian Cody.

Combine his U-21 triumphs in Leinster and beyond between 2009 and 2012 and his achievements since his 2013 senior appointment and he's taken 14 out of a possible 18.

Even the natural advantages in terms of population, finance and familiarity with Croke Park that Dublin enjoy shouldn't take away from what a phenomenal ratio this is and shouldn't be taken for granted.

The elements of their game were perhaps best exemplified by their eighth point to take them two clear on 28 minutes.

Ciaran Kilkenny dispossessed O'Mahony with the most perfect tackle down the Hogan Stand side and with play transferred quickly to the other wing Connolly floated a delightful ball for Bernard Brogan to fetch above Marc Ó Sé and post his second point.

The sequence had everything: aggression from Kilkenny, vision from Connolly and dynamism from Brogan - the very fundamentals that are placing this team on the point of greatness.

Kilkenny has become the master conductor, his link play and calmness in possession such an influential element in dictating the terms of engagement here.

He scored two early points and was off cue with two more but the young man who declared in early 2013, weeks after his decision to turn his back on an AFL contract with Hawthorn, that he was "raised" to win All-Irelands is certainly delivering on that front.

He wasn't alone in presenting himself as the first line of defence to Kerry raiders coming from deep. Brian Fenton's steal on O'Sullivan, followed by Paul Mannion's smothering of Bryan Sheehan didn't amount to anything tangible on the scoreboard just before half-time, but for Kerry it was death by a thousand cuts.

Sheehan is the consummate ball player but twice a corner-forward was able to cross his wires so effectively.

Kerry have always taken some pride in their success rate on Stephen Cluxton's kick-out so to claim just two from 25 here will represent another 'unticked' box.

They can draw comfort from the absence of Anthony Maher, James O'Donoghue, Paul Geaney and Johnny Buckley but remedial figures are required most in defence and that's where there is a deficit.

Afterwards Eamonn Fitzmaurice colourfully highlighted the failure of referee Eddie Kinsella to give a penalty to Kieran Donaghy in the 70th minute when Cian O'Sullivan was all over him as they stood beneath a dropping ball.

However immaterial to the overall picture it was, it still looked a definite penalty.

But it has become a common problem for players of Donaghy's dimensions - Aidan O'Shea and Michael Murphy have suffered similarly too - and one that referees really need to address. Is it that their size decrees that they should be able to absorb a bit more?

But it was a small footnote on a day when Dublin's athletic peak has given them the clearest distance yet from arch-rivals who have now suffered the same humiliating fate as just about every county in their company.

Irish Independent

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