Friday 15 December 2017

Kerry in a league of their own

So-called 'great rivalry' now nothing more than a fanciful myth, writes David Kelly

Kerry captain Darran O'Sullivan finds enough space to play a pass despite the efforts of Dublin duo Barry Cahill and Cian O'Sullivan
Kerry captain Darran O'Sullivan finds enough space to play a pass despite the efforts of Dublin duo Barry Cahill and Cian O'Sullivan
Colm Cooper celebrates his first-minute goal past a despondent Stephen Cluxton as both 'Gooch' and Kerry returned to form in Croke Park

They came in their thousands for a day freighted with memories and weighed down with historical baggage, much of it sepia-tinted in nostalgia but nonetheless enduring.

And when the same thousands left the magnificent cathedral a couple of hours later, perplexity jostled with wonder in the minds of them all.

This felt like the end of history. The scoreboard offered a neat symmetrical attachment -- 17 points separated the sides as it had done in 1978. A rivalry which enthused so many a generation ago bears little relevance, we were warned, to modernity.

That assertion was authoritatively confirmed yesterday, Kerry's unquenchable hunger and desire relegating Dublin's feeble challenge and sucking all evidence of competition from the occasion.

How could one possibly conjure up an image of a traditional rivalry when the counterpoint to one team's utter certainty and conviction is utter inertia and accelerating self-doubt?

This was no clash of equals.


Dublin wore the clothing of history like an ill-fitting cloak and when it dropped from their collective shoulders they were left standing naked for all the world to see. At half-time, they trooped disconsolately from the field, the boos no amateur sportsman should ever have to experience were a further ignominious jolt to their already assaulted senses.

When they re-emerged in front of the normally adoring Hill, they were then met with something even more jarring. Utter silence. On the big screens they replayed Owen Mulligan's unforgettable 2005 slaloming goal.

It was at once a reminder, were such a superfluity needed, that August has become, for them, a date when their ambitions perish. And a ringing endorsement of the fact that, within the modern pantheon of GAA rivalries, it is that between Tyrone and Kerry that really matters.

Dublin's intrusion upon this decade's real narrative has scarcely threatened to up-end the hegemonic control wielded by the game's heavyweights, the occasional revival of their fabled rivalry with Kerry undermined by the fact that their contribution continues to cast them in the role of losers.

And, as we recalled the characteristically sly nods and winks from the Kerry faithful in the Palace bar and beyond, we empathised with the startled images of statuesque, bumbling Dublin defenders as Kerry's forwards danced and weaved their way to match-winning situation by the close of the first quarter.

If there was any sense of history in Croke Park, we surmised, it was in Kerry's utter belief in their own sense of place and tradition as they restored the classical, simple values of football wherein their genius could flourish.

Those five extra minutes Dublin were left waiting on the field before the match heightened the sense of anticipation amongst their number but, instead of being charged by it, they were hopelessly enervated.

The simple gambit by Jack O'Connor and company of withdrawing Tommy Walsh out the field hinted at the subsequent convulsion, within 37 seconds Kerry landed the first punch.

Dublin, as Pat Gilroy intimated, were like a gaggle of rabbits staring meekly at an oncoming juggernaut. Dublin, whose approach all year has been predicated upon utter self-confidence in effecting their tasks and the liberation afforded them to express themselves, were strangely mute and muted.

Defenders dolefully wandered with their Kerry men unaware of the impending fiasco. So it was that Bryan Cullen, the outstanding centre-back influence against Kildare, drifted into ignominy and anonymity on the left wing where the free-running Paul Galvin made hay.


So it was that Paul Griffin, the closest thing Dublin have to an adhesive marker, refused the invitation to attach himself to a Gooch who was back to his destructive best, inserting himself in the nightmares of David Henry and Paddy Andrews'for weeks to come.

Griffin and Cullen collided as Kerry notched their second point; it was indicative of the self-inflicted chaos rendered by the winners' outstanding success in forcing Dublin to rip up their defensive model.

And once Kerry eyed the tear, they slashed and burned their way through the paperweight defence. Kerry's pre-match focus on Stephen Cluxton was another trump card which sucked the life out of Dublin; alarmingly, Dublin seemed to offer no alternative when their plans were rumbled.

For all the intelligence on the sideline, few mention that perhaps it is now time to assess that, aside from the gulf in skill that exists between the squads, a glaring lack of mental acuity dogs Dublin's players.

Even away from the defence and the tactical abyss of zonal marking, the hitherto unstoppable march of Bernard Brogan was too nullified by his reluctance to change position.

The sideline brains trust was untainted by the shock and awe; withdrawing Jason Sherlock hinted at a desperate measure. If that was the answer, then we knew that the questions Kerry were asking were utterly inscrutable to the boys in blue.

It was somewhat poignant to see Dublin's last link to their most recent All-Ireland, the only Dublin player born when Kerry last lost one of these clashes, disappear from the fray when he was the only player capable of adding some of the dash and ingenuity, if properly deployed, that we were witnessing all over the field from Kerry.

The reluctance to use Shane Ryan, who could have made those uncomfortable runs at the heart of the defence, was baffling, a reflection perhaps of the paralysed thinking -- a full-back came on in the middle instead -- prompted by Kerry's whirlwind start.

Conal Keaney's goal barely arrested the sombre march of desolate Dubliners towards the exits, the grim reality that the country's largest entity tar themselves merely spectators as this decade, for the first time since the 1930s, will not see the Sam Maguire reside in the capital.

Ciaran Whelan will walk away from inter-county football knowing that his -- and Dublin's best -- was never going to be good enough. Meanwhile, Denis Bastick will be contemplating just why he chose such a destructive course of action in the game's final quarter and when, if ever, he will revisit such a grand stage.


Despite the perennial hoopla -- in fairness not always generated from within the various camps -- Dublin's footballers are simply not good enough. At least, not good enough to match the outrageously high standards demanded within Kerry and Tyrone.

Two successive quarter-final defeats under the control of two contrasting managerial teams, but including the majority of the same players on each occasion, indicates clearly that the deficiencies are predominantly between the white lines.

There will be much noise and bluster about messrs Gilroy and Mickey Whelan -- especially the latter's close attachment to previous failure and his historic detachment from Sherlock. Familiar calls for an outside manager will clog up cyberspace.

The sad fact of the matter is that it is now even more likely than not that the next decade will also pass without an All-Ireland win -- whoever is in charge. That, apart from Kerry's masterful performance, was the real history lesson offered up yesterday.

The history of Kerry v Dublin is no more. Kerry are too busy making their own history. Dublin are creating their own history of under-achievement. And, on yesterday's evidence, they appear condemned to repeat it.

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