Tuesday 22 May 2018

If Dublin can do this to Kerry, what hope is there for the rest?

Dublin 2-17 Kerry 0-11 - Allianz Football League Div 1

Ciaran Kilkenny of Dublin in action against Ronan Shanahan of Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile
Ciaran Kilkenny of Dublin in action against Ronan Shanahan of Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile
Ronan Shanahan of Kerry in action against Paddy Andrews of Dublin
Stephen Cluxton gets his point across to the umpire after he awarded a ‘45 to Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

On a day when the Chinese Parliament brought in legislation to provide for President Xi Jinping to rule for life, Dublin served yet another reminder as to why they're in no hurry to loosen their own iron-rule of Gaelic football.

With some mesmerising team-play before 24,026 spectators, they ruthlessly sent a young Kerry team packing with a 12-point win, their biggest in the 11 games between the counties since Jim Gavin and Eamonn Fitzmaurice assumed management roles ahead of the 2013 season.

Éanna Ó Conchúir of Kerry in action against Andrew McGowan of Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Éanna Ó Conchúir of Kerry in action against Andrew McGowan of Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

Nothing lasts forever but right now it doesn't feel like that for the vast majority of Dublin's pursuers.

Their six-point cumulative margin of victory in their five All-Ireland finals (including drawn 2016 final) since Gavin took charge dilutes that sense of overwhelming dominance of the game somewhat but on afternoons like this, the sense of hopelessness for so many is more acutely felt.

Where is the chink in their armoury to exploit? If they can do this to a Kerry team brimming with so much young talent what hope for most of the rest in the coming years? This is a much different team, after all, from that which began this cycle of dominance in 2013.

Absentees

The list of absentees from the 26-man squad yesterday gave added perspective - Mick Fitzsimons (suspended), Con O'Callaghan (club-tied), James McCarthy (rested), Diarmuid Connolly, Kevin McManamon, Paul Flynn, Eoghan O'Gara, Paul Mannion, Jack McCaffrey and Bernard Brogan (both on the long-term injury list). And yet they scarcely missed a step.

Ciaran Kilkenny of Dublin in action against Ronan Shanahan of Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile
Ciaran Kilkenny of Dublin in action against Ronan Shanahan of Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile

Not all are front-line players anymore but notably, five of their seven current All-Stars make that list and yet they can seamlessly replace them.

True, it didn't look so ominous early on when Kerry breezed into a three-point lead, 0-4 to 0-1, David Clifford thriving in Croke Park once again like a thoroughbred might take to the Curragh.

He slipped his marker Cian O'Sullivan for two points from play in the opening quarter and while he was contained after the break by a more vigilant Jonny Cooper, it was a satisfactory return for the young man after his 4-4 in last year's All-Ireland minor final. Kerry may indeed take solace from spurned goal chances in that opening period, Paul Geaney crashing off a post after good combination work from Ronan Shanahan and Clifford on 17 minutes and then Seán O'Shea blazing wide with an open goal at his mercy after he had rounded Stephen Cluxton six minutes later.

But when Niall Scully climbed highest, just as he had done in Castlebar two weeks earlier for a similar goal, to bat home after Shane Carthy's shot had been blocked by Shane Murphy, it gave Dublin a 1-5 to 0-6 lead on 20 minutes that had an air of inevitability about it, compounded by O'Shea's subsequent miss.

They lost John Small to a 34th-minute black card, once again exposing a disciplinary kink but had Philly McMahon to come off the bench in his place.

When O'Shea and Paul Geaney didn't return for the second half after picking up knocks, the bottom fell out of the visitors and Dublin didn't need a second invitation. They began to play a different game from that point on with their retention of possession cutting off the oxygen supply to Kerry who scored just three points in their last 45 minutes.

"Disappointed with the second half performance," admitted Fitzmaurice afterwards. "It was a chastening experience for us today but we're just going to have to take it on the chin now and move on pretty quickly," he added with an eye to next weekend's game with Kildare that they will need to win now to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle.

While acknowledging that Dublin's current form was "ominous", he smiled that they wouldn't "lose the faith just yet."

"This is where Dublin are at the moment and this is where we are and there is a gap there. We are going to try and close the gap. We can be thinking of the big picture after the league but the focus is on next weekend and try and get something out of that.

"We played a lot of good football in the first half. Dublin really punish your mistakes. I think early in the second half, we made a couple of costly errors that were really punished and they got life and energy and they just kept going better and better.

Impetus

"Seán O'Shea and Paul Geaney, certainly losing them at half-time was a factor. We lost a bit of impetus and direction up front but we just have to learn from it."

For a team that drew and beat Dublin in last year's league campaign this did feel like a step however even allowing for the novice feel to their team.

Ciarán Kilkenny took the official man of the match prize, hitting 1-3 and giving Kerry's defender du jour Paul Murphy a torrid time early on but competition from Cooper and Michael Darragh Macauley was strong, if not even more meritorious of the distinction.

Cooper rarely puts a foot wrong these days with his interception for Scully's goal, a clinical pass for one of Kilkenny's point before he stepped forward to score one himself, backing up a complete defensive performance.

Macauley remained rooted to the bench for much of last summer but the way he relentlessly drove himself like an exocet at the Kerry defence all day was the mark of a player enjoying his game again. He really thrives against this opposition and on this current form is close to where he was in 2013.

Inside Paddy Andrews showed similar energy and enthusiasm to clip over three points and remind the management that, despite the abundance of options building up for the inside line, he remains a strong candidate.

For Dublin, it's an 11th consecutive win between league and championship and for Gavin there was a nice element of symmetry in the way they amassed their score, 1-8 in the first half, 1-9 after that.

"We knew that if you gave them any chink of light that Kerry would punish you. We saw in the first half Seán O'Shea was through on goal, if he took it there would have been a different complexion on the game," he figured.

Scorers - Dublin: C Kilkenny 1-3; N Scully 1-1; D Rock 0-4 (2fs); P Andrews 0-3; C Basquel 0-2; J Cooper, C Costello, P McMahon, P Small all 0-1 each. Kerry: D Clifford 0-4 (2fs); M Burns, K McCarthy 0-2 each; S O'Shea, P Geaney, M Geaney all 0-1 each.

Dublin - S Cluxton 8; D Byrne 8, J Cooper 9, C O'Sullivan 7; S Carthy 5, J Small 6, E Lowndes 7; B Fenton 7, MD Macauley 9; N Scully 7, C Kilkenny 9, B Howard 6; P Andrews 8, D Rock 6, C Basquel 8. Subs: P Small 7 for Carthy (31), P McMahon 7 for J Small (BC, h-t), C Reddin for P Small blood (51-58), C Reddin 6 for Rock (58), A McGowan for O'Sullivan (64), E ó Conghaile for Fenton (68), C Costello for Kilkenny (68).

Kerry - S Murphy 7; S Enright 7, J Foley 6, R Shanahan 7; P Crowley 6, P Murphy 6, B ó Beaglaoich 7; J Barry 6, B O'Sullivan 5; M Burns 6, S O'Shea 6, A Spillane 6; D Clifford 7, P Geaney 6, K McCarthy 6. Subs: E ó Conchúir 6 for O'Sullivan (BC), M Geaney 6 for O'Shea (h-t), BJ Keane 6 for Geaney (h-t), F Fitzgerald 6 for McCarthy (48), D Casey NR for Burns (63), D Moran 6 for Spillane (50).

Ref - C Branagan (Down)

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