Keane's satisfaction clear to see as Kerry pass spring 'mocks'
Kerry 1-18 Dublin 2-14
Peter keane isn't necessarily a man to wax lyrically or at length, but one of his pithy answers on Saturday night spoke volumes.
What did he learn about his young colts after 70-plus minutes of epic February fare in the company of four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions?
"You learned you can throw them in there," was the Kerry manager's matter-of-fact response.
By then, serenity had finally descended on Austin Stack Park after a top-flight contest that had everything, so much that the pre-match drama of Jason Sherlock's reappearance in his role as Dublin selector had almost been forgotten by the finish.
The electricity generated by 11,982 patrons was palpable. "You could feel the energy off the stand," Keane later remarked.
They had good reason to roar, as a roller coaster of points and three first-half goals unfolded.
Contained therein were countless statements of intent from the Kerry young guns, and several defiant counter-punches from a Dublin team bouncing off the ropes.
Then, as it reached a climax, we had a debatable red card (Mick Fitzsimons's first yellow looked beyond harsh), a 74th-minute winner from a meandering corner-back (Peter Crowley) and even the post-prandial nightcap of a mass melee after the full-time bell.
There are league games that trundle along aimlessly and there are league games that grab you by the throat and never let go.
This was, emphatically, the latter: a thrilling amalgam of old-fashioned and new-fangled football that came as a stirring riposte to the doom-laden consensus that the sport is kaput.
What did we learn, apart from the readiness of Keane's rookies?
Only time will tell. You can't ignore the caveat that a Dublin team only four weeks back in collective training and still minus Stephen Cluxton, Philly McMahon, Cian O'Sullivan and Ciarán Kilkenny are not the force of nature they will be in high summer.
But? This is their worst spring start since 2015 when they also lost two of their first three games - both on the road, one in Kerry.
Moreover, with no semi-finals to ease their path to the knockout stages, and with Kerry and Mayo already four points clear, Jim Gavin has never faced a steeper climb to a league final.
Dublin have reached all six Division 1 deciders on his watch, winning five. To maintain that record, beating a resurgent Mayo on Saturday week is now paramount.
Not that Gavin saw it that way.
"What we always strive towards is the performance of the team," he maintained.
"Patches there, particularly the first half, that wasn't good enough - and the opening of the second half.
"So that gives us an awful lot to go after, and we'll continue to go after. And if that brings us closer to the top of the table by the end of the National League, we'll take it."
It may well be the case that this year's Drive for Five is not merely the bigger picture for Dublin, but the only one. Yet games like Saturday night will give the chief pretenders, Kerry especially, genuine hope.
To amass 1-18 against the Dubs, despite two barren second-half periods of 11 and 17 minutes, tells a tale.
They did so through a mix of hard running (epitomised by Gavin O'Brien's pacey incursions) and an emphasis on peppering the Dublin full-back line with probing aerial missiles.
One of those, from workaholic man of the match Dara Moynihan, led to a 23rd-minute goal from the inrushing Stephen O'Brien, just reward for his night of perpetual motion.
Dublin's immediate response? A solo run from Con O'Callaghan away from three Kerrymen before his shot - which may have been veering just wide - took a decisive deflection off Brian Ó Beaglaíoch.
After Kerry rattled off the next four points, Dublin again countered with a brilliant move that incorporated two excellent foot passes from Jonny Cooper and Cormac Costello, then a trademark defence-shredding run and finish by Paul Mannion.
All of which gave Dublin a glimmer, trailing 1-11 to 2-6 after a breathless first half. And they showed further defiance after the break, first when recovering from five adrift, then when battling back to parity from four down with 14 men in the home straight.
Yet, until that late momentum-shift prior to Crowley's fisted winner, Kerry had looked the better team.
Savage work ethic has been a feature of the past fortnight; ditto the placed-ball precision of Seán O'Shea, whose latest 0-8 tally took his three-match haul to 0-26.
Afterwards, Keane couldn't hide his satisfaction. "You're talking about a team that are going for five-in-a-row this year and how many leagues have they won?
"You want to test yourself against whoever is the top dog."
Now they have - and passed their spring mocks with honours.
SCORERS - Kerry: S O'Shea 0-8 (6f, 1 '45'); S O'Brien 1-1; P Geaney, D Moynihan 0-2 each; T O'Sullivan, G O'Brien, T Walsh, P Crowley, J Sherwood 0-1 each. Dublin: D Rock 0-5 (4f); P Mannion 1-2 (1m, 1f); J McCarthy 0-3; C O'Callaghan 1-0; C Costello 0-2 (1f); D Gavin, B Fenton 0-1 each.
KERRY - S Ryan 6; P Crowley 7, J Sherwood 7, B Ó Beaglaíoch 6; T Morley 6, P Murphy 8, T O'Sullivan 8; J Barry 7, A Spillane 6; D Moynihan 8, S O'Shea 8, G O'Brien 7; D O'Connor 5, S O'Brien 8, P Geaney 7. Subs: T Walsh 7 for O'Connor (h-t), M Griffin 6 for Spillane (53), G Crowley 6 for Geaney (55), D Moran 6 for Morley (60), M Geaney for G O'Brien (70).
DUBLIN - E Comerford 6; M Fitzsimons 6, E Murchan 7, E Lowndes 6; J McCarthy 8, J Cooper 6, J Small 6; B Fenton 7, D Gavin 6; N Scully 6, C O'Callaghan 7, B Howard 7; P Mannion 7, D Rock 7, C Costello 7. Subs: P Andrews 5 for Lowndes (h-t), J McCaffrey 6 for Cooper (47), K McManamon 6 for Rock (59), P Flynn 6 for Scully (61), MD Macauley 6 for Gavin (61).
REF - M Deegan (Laois)
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