Tuesday 22 May 2018

Eoin Liston: Painful drubbing hurts but Kingdom are better than this

11 March 2018; Ciaran Kilkenny of Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
11 March 2018; Ciaran Kilkenny of Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

For a Kerryman, there's no real way to polish a 12-point defeat to Dublin and have it look anything but a failure, but as I walked out of Croke Park yesterday, tormented by the image of that scoreboard, the debate had already started in my head.

Is there really that big a gap between Kerry and Dublin? One year on from losing to Kerry in the league final, have the Dubs somehow put them that far out of sight?

If you tuned in midway through the second half yesterday, it'd be easy to form that impression. After all, once Ciarán Kilkenny hit the net five minutes into the second half, the heart was truly ripped out of Kerry's effort.

For the last 20 minutes it was like watching Barcelona move the ball around the pitch, while Kerry were just chasing shadows. It was as if the Dublin players were playing basketball on an over-sized court, taking the ball into the corner and then working it back out to the dribblers.

They were keeping the ball, playing around with us, and it was like taking on the Harlem Globetrotters. At that point all Kerry could do was accept that they were outclassed, outmatched, at least on this day.

That hurts Kerry people, no doubt about it, but to focus in on that period does an injustice to their overall effort yesterday.

Toppling I saw enough in the first 35 minutes not to throw in the towel about this team, and their chances of toppling the Dubs later in the year. We penetrated and opened them up a few times, but the first goal was a turning point - once you give Dublin the lead they can really play.

There was very little between the sides in the first half, but what cost Kerry were silly mistakes. The biggest of those, by far, was when David Clifford had a free where he could have taken the point but instead tried to manufacture a goal.

In trying to go short to Paul Geaney, he was intercepted by Jonny Cooper and Dublin came straight down and got the first goal. We had three or four other silly things where we gave away possession needlessly - stuff the more experienced Dubs simply don't do.

If we just cut down on our mistakes and took more chances, we could even have gone in three or four up at the break.

Instead we went in three down, and losing Barry O'Sullivan to a black card shortly before half-time, along with Seán O'Shea and Paul Geaney for the second half, was massive. At that point I feared for Kerry. They could very easily have given up the ghost - you could say Dublin are way stronger than us, way more physical than us, way better than us - but they didn't, and when Dublin get in front they play even better. That's the confidence of three All-Irelands in a row.

In the second half we simply lost our shape. Kerry had too many inexperienced players up against a well-drilled, well-coached, really skilful team playing fantastic football.

Kerry were soon having problems at the back, but in the previous half, when it was actually a match, they weren't being exposed in the same way - Ronan Shanahan and Jason Foley in particular were impressive.

Peter Crowley was sitting in covering hard, and we were opening them up as much as they were opening us up - and remember this is a team going for four in a row. But in the end they were stronger than Kerry, and there are obvious reasons for that.

Dublin had a system that wasn't new to them, their kick-outs were again very good, their movement was great - no panic, great composure - and that's the challenge for other teams now, how to clear a bar they've set so high? The thing that worries me is that teams are often in the game against Dublin in the first half but we've seen it time and again: in the second half the real damage is done.

But I saw enough in this young Kerry side to offer hope. Jack Barry had a trojan 70 minutes, slicing through in attack a few times and making the Dubs look very ordinary.

Paul Geaney, Seán O'Shea, Kevin McCarthy and David Clifford all showed they're well able to play at this level. All the six forwards had moments that showed me they won't be far off with another two or three months' work.

The problem for teams trying to stop Dublin is their depth: sure, they can only play six in attack at one time, like all the rest, but the difference is they have another six not starting who are equally as good.

There were fellas I hadn't seen much of doing amazing things yesterday like Ciarán Reddin, Paddy Small. They've a fantastic system and organisation, and an awful lot of thought will have to go in if someone is to pip them this year.

The biggest difference between them and Kerry was physicality and experience. We had a load of fellas who'd never played a championship game and that was like a championship in the first half.

But later in the year, Dublin will feel a bit of nerves about going for four in a row. The problem for other teams is you've got to be there with them at that stage, to be close enough with everything to play for in the last 10 minutes.

The fear of not achieving that is a fair old load to be carrying, but Dublin were exceptional yesterday in so many areas - their movement, running for each other, their unselfishness. Ciarán Kilkenny was superb, as was Stephen Cluxton, while Brian Fenton was also fantastic.

They are a team in the true sense of the word, and it'll take a monumental effort to knock them off their perch.

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