Monday 11 December 2017

Dubs need blue steel to keep record run rolling

Kerry 0-13 Dublin 0-13

Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara sees his goal effort blocked on the line. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara sees his goal effort blocked on the line. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

How the balance of power has shifted in Gaelic football's great duopoly is self-explanatory when you examine the league and championship head-to-heads between them throughout this decade of Dublin dominance. The half-time whistle in Tralee on Saturday provided further tangible evidence.

The home supporters in the 11,858 crowd, renowned for being more analytical than fanatical, rose to acclaim their players as they exited for their dressing-room in Austin Stack Park.

That the sides were level, 0-5 each, was irrelevant. Their men had competed, challenged and put it up to the game's new imperial power against a stiffening wind.

In that context, it was worth every decibel.

Muted

The reaction at the end, with the sides still locked together, was more muted. Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice admitted being "disappointed" with the result.

Kerry’s Jack Savage (L) and Paul Geaney tussle off the ball with Dublin’s Mick Fitzsimons, Stephen Cluxton and Philly McMahon. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Kerry’s Jack Savage (L) and Paul Geaney tussle off the ball with Dublin’s Mick Fitzsimons, Stephen Cluxton and Philly McMahon. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Paul Murphy was one of the last men he would have anticipated misdirecting a free out of defence at the end, which led to Paul Mannion's equalising score, given how careful he normally is with ball in hand.

They needed the kind of 'keep ball' composure that steered Dr Crokes to All-Ireland club glory some 24 hours earlier and maybe that will influence Fitzmaurice's conversation with Colm Cooper this week.

When the dust settles, though, it was a performance, ratty and cynical for long spells, that suggests they are more likely than any of the other protagonists to eventually bring the champions to their knees.

As for Dublin? There's not a lot they haven't experienced in a now 34-match unbeaten stretch in league and championship that matched the Kerry team that did it between 1928 and 1933. However, this was a little different as they had to recover twice in the second-half to extricate themselves from precarious positions.

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Dublin manager Jim Gavin exchange a handshake. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Dublin manager Jim Gavin exchange a handshake. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

With four minutes of added time signalled, Donnchadh Walsh clipped over for a two-point lead and you would have expected Kerry to batten down the hatches.

But when the history of this Dublin team is written, it is their resilience and deep reserves of character that will shine brighter than the pace or the power, the skills or the vast resources.

This is a team with a cold, inner steel who have now drawn three of their five Division 1 league games, always nerveless down the home stretch.

They were far from their best here as Kerry repeatedly frustrated them, by legal and illegal means, not allowing them to build real momentum for too long - with the exception of a spell midway through the second-half when they hit six points in succession to turn a 0-9 to 0-5 deficit around.

Even that was fractured by the constant flashpoints that erupted as Kerry, particularly, were keen to show they weren't going to be pushed around.

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice reacts after Paul Mannion of Dublin kicked the equalising point during the final moments. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice reacts after Paul Mannion of Dublin kicked the equalising point during the final moments. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Tralee is becoming quite a league battleground when Kerry host the top teams, bearing in mind Donegal's visit last year and Mayo in February.

Referee Sean Hurson would have needed 360 degree vision to catch much of the cynicism. In the end, he dished out 13 yellow cards, eight to Kerry players and two to Ciarán Kilkenny, which saw him sent off at the end.

However, from the moment Mick Fitzsimons was caught with a late tackle as he emerged from Dublin's defence early on, this was always going to be a stern test for the officials.

It flared up everywhere, even on the sideline where Dublin sub Eoghan O'Gara got involved at one stage.

A goalmouth altercation just as Kerry were winning the free to put them 0-3 to 0-1 ahead in the 23rd minute resembled an MMA contest without the punches. Players were flung to the ground with abandon, but no black cards were issued.

In the maelstrom, Dean Rock held his nerve to send over nine points from frees, an impressive return especially with the swirling breeze. His value to Dublin, in light of the edge that opponents are bringing to them, increases with each season.

Rock's nine pointed frees was identical to Cillian O'Connor's haul in Tralee five weeks earlier, which shines a light again on the nature of Kerry's tackling.

Possibly two of the nine scored by Rock were awarded in dubious circumstances; the rest couldn't be argued.

That said, the Kerry defence was organised and compact. Tadhg Morley's effective shadowing of Kilkenny, until he switched to midfield, was one big Kerry plus point; Peter Crowley's penetration was another.

David Moran and Jack Barry largely dominated Brian Fenton and Michael Darragh Macauley, who had been so destructive against Mayo, while Paul Geaney was elusive and combative as leader of the attack.

Cluxton found his kick-out range compromised effectively by Kerry, with seven of the first 13 falling into opposition hands, but the arrival of Paul Flynn improved matters for Dublin.

The bench was crucial to Dublin recovering from that four-point deficit, with Flynn showing spark and Kevin McManamon giving direction. Kerry got an impact chiefly from Stephen O'Brien, who troubled Dublin when he ran at them.

That Kerry were able to scramble Dublin's six-point uninterrupted run and surge with four of their own again between the 62nd and 70th minute will sustain them against the weight of previous difficulties in that period against Jim Gavin's men.

However, this was still an opportunity lost.

Scorers - Kerry: P Geaney 0-7 (4fs), P Crowley, D Moran, B Kealy (45), BJ Keane, K McCarthy D Walsh all 0-1 each.

Dublin: D Rock 0-9 (9fs), C McHugh 0-2, E O'Gara, P Mannion 0-1 each.

Kerry - B Kealy 7; M Griffin 7, S Enright 7, R Shanahan 6; P Crowley 7, T Morley 8, K Young 6; D Moran 8, J Barry 7; A Spillane 6, P Murphy 6, D Walsh 7; K McCarthy 6, P Geaney 8, J Savage 5. Subs: J Lyne 6 for Enright inj (16), S O'Brien 7 for Savage (h-t) BJ Keane 6 for Walsh (48, temp), Walsh (Keane) for Spillane (52), A Maher 7 for Barry (54), D O'Sullivan 7 for McCarthy (61), M Geaney 5 for Young inj (61)

Dublin - S Cluxton 7; D Daly 7, P McMahon 7, M Fitzsimons 7; J Small 6, D Byrne 6, E Lowndes 7; B Fenton 7, MD Macauley 5; N Scully 5, C Kilkenny 7, SB Carthy 6; D Rock 8, P Andrews 6, C McHugh 7. Subs: C O'Sullivan 7 for Byrne (h-t), P Flynn 8 for Scully (41), K McManamon 7 for Macauley (44), E O'Gara 7 for Andrews (46), P Mannion 7 for Small inj (48), B Brogan for McHugh (69)

Ref - S Hurson (Tyrone)

Irish Independent

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