Tuesday 17 September 2019

Dick Clerkin: 'Kerry should have closed game out, but can take plenty from exposing Dublin cracks'

Jack McCaffrey tackles Stephen O’Brien just as he is about to shoot on goal. Photo: Sportsfile
Jack McCaffrey tackles Stephen O’Brien just as he is about to shoot on goal. Photo: Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

Writing this, even a few hours following yesterday's pulsating contest, my heart rate has still yet to slow. It was exhausting just watching this contest of Gaelic football's two supreme heavyweights slugging it out, so how on earth must the players feel this morning?

On sideline duty for Sky Sports, I had the perfect vantage point to witness the frightening levels of intensity that scarcely dipped throughout an absorbing 80 minutes of action.

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Few would argue that a draw wasn't fair, and both teams deserve another 70 minutes in what will be a mouth-watering replay.

Speaking with supporters after the final whistle, the general consensus was that Kerry left it behind them, and Dublin will win the replay comfortably.

Not from where I am sitting. And by the time Kerry folk reached home last night, they will likely be thinking something similar.

After all this was Dublin's lowest total in a final (1-16) since the 2016 All-Ireland final replay win (1-15). So much for defensive frailties!

Many of their boys became men yesterday, whereas many of Dublin's men were strangely found wanting. But for a lack of experience, Kerry should have closed the game out when ahead going into injury time, with a man up and the wind in their sails.

Like a sprinter tightening up with the tape in sight, they couldn't kick for home, and allowed Dublin keep their drive for five hopes alive.

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Dublin, to their eternal credit. worked incredibly hard to compensate for the extra man and continuously turned Kerry over in the closing stages when many of their players were running on fumes. The effort on both sides was incredible to watch up close.

When both managers analyse yesterday's game in the next few days, Peter Keane will likely come away the happier.

David Moran and Jack Barry dominated Brian Fenton and Michael Darragh Macauley, yet he will realise he didn't make enough use of this long outlet enough.

The Kerry boss will surely be pleased with how his much-derided defence stood largely resolute, especially in the second quarter when they could have easily collapsed at the one time in the game when Dublin dominated exchanges.

His bench made a significant impact, yet he will recognise they were underutilised and starved of earlier ball, when Dublin were there for the taking in the final quarter.

Questions asked of some players going into the game were answered, with others like McGeaney and Clifford and O'Brien left with more to deliver in the replay.

Keane will be more than content.

Jim Gavin on the other hand will come away with more than a few concerns, including how his full-back line was stretched when Kerry delivered early ball into their forwards.

On another day Kerry could have scored four goals, and that was without fully exploiting an area of the pitch that Dublin afforded so much space in throughout.

The anonymity of Fenton, and how again Jack Barry managed to curb his influence, must surely be a worry. There was a lack of impact from the Dublin bench, who failed to raise a white flag, which surely must be the first time this has happened in Gavin's tenure.

Throw in the negative undercurrent surrounding Bernard Brogan's absence from the match-day squad that crept into much of the pre-match discussions, and it gives Gavin plenty to ponder in the days ahead.

In Jack McCaffrey, however, he had the stand-out performer on the pitch who delivered one of the great All-Ireland final performances.

Ably assisted by Brian Howard and the clinical Dean Rock, these three picked up the slack left by many of their under-performing team mates.

But that is what great teams do, and when McCaffrey was held ineffective in the semi-final against Mayo it was the likes of Fenton and Mannion who delivered the goods.

Gavin also indicated some frustration with referee David Gough, who will understandably come under scrutiny on both sides for some big calls made.

Many Dubs feel Jonny Cooper's sending-off was harsh, but, dialled into Gough's microphone, we could hear how Cooper had been warned repeatedly about his persistent fouling prior to being issued with his second yellow.

The Dublin sideline for once were asleep at the wheel, and should have moved Cooper off Clifford before Gough was left with no choice but to send the Na Fianna defender for an early shower.

Kerry will feel aggrieved that they weren't awarded a few frees in the closing stages when they desperately tried to push through Dublin's resolute middle third to close the game out.

Stephen O'Brien looked to be clearly fouled when bearing down on goal on 44 minutes and another day could have had a penalty.

On balance, neither side can feel they were unfairly treated by Gough, who, under the most intense of conditions, made few wrong calls.

The talking points are many and will rage over the next two weeks until both sides meet again.

The Kerry boys will have found great confidence from their performance, whereas many of the Dublin players will be frothing at the mouth to put up a better show than they delivered yesterday.

That Saturday night promises to be another epic encounter.

Irish Independent

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