Kingdom edge thrilling finale to lay down early marker
Kerry 1-18 Dublin 2-14
Maybe there is hope for football after all. Two teams, with little love between them but a great deal of passion, producing an endless stream of entertainment from first kick to last.
The result and the manner of it may have signalled an important turn on the road for Kerry's young players, many the raw product of five straight All-Ireland minor wins, or Dublin may still return with a vengeance later in the year. But let's leave that for now.
Even for the usual qualification that it's only February, and nothing was ever won in February, this was a mightily impressive showing from Peter Keane's side. It marked a third win in the National League, with David Clifford still to return, contained an exhilarating display of attacking football and no small measure of guts.
Granted, it was almost thieved from them near the end as the crowd of over 11,000, delirious between excitement and dread, watched Dublin claw at a four-point lead. Three quick-fire scores left nothing in it with normal time up and five minutes of stoppage time announced that this would be a long wait to the whistle for Kerry. Dublin, roared on by a sizeable and vociferous following, smelled blood. Two minutes into the added time Cormac Costello put over a free to level the sides.
At that point Dublin looked the more likely winner and even a draw for Kerry would have represented something of a defeat. But they summoned up the will and energy for one final raid, which ended with David Moran laying a pass into Peter Crowley. The defender used his fist to point and Kerry held on, a last-ditch attempt by Brian Fenton going wide.
Dublin were not anywhere near their best and even in the first half they were holding on, with two opportunist goals keeping them afloat and Kerry playing most of the football. Con O'Callaghan was a late addition and scored one of their goals, benefiting from a slight deflection off the hand of Brian ó Beaglaoich in the 24th minute. Just two minutes before that Kerry goaled through Stephen O'Brien, finishing a break down from Diarmuid O'Connor after a loft by Dara Moynihan to open a four-point advantage. Gavin O'Brien, another late addition, stood out, and Kerry had willing soldiers everywhere.
Attacking Dublin at every opportunity, they were full value for their interval lead of three points, outscoring Dublin 1-11 to 2-6 in the first half. After O'Callaghan's goal, usually the kind of Dublin score that prompts a sky blue fusillade, it was instead Kerry who responded.
They replied with four unanswered points, one from Tom O'Sullivan, another a curling effort by Moynihan and the impressive O'Brien also found the range. Seán O'Shea kicked four points from placed balls and at one stage the Kerry lead was five points.
But Dublin, with James McCarthy chipping over two first-half points, and another after the interval, were still dangerous and a weaving run by Paul Mannion ended with a low left-footed shot past Ryan for their second goal three minutes from half-time.
The second half was played in a crackling atmosphere, the crowd rising to the ebb and flow of a thrilling match. Dublin had the first score, through Darren Gavin, but again Kerry played wonderfully and took the game to the All-Ireland champions.
They hit four scores on the bounce, with Tommy Walsh coming off the bench and claiming one. O'Shea punished Dublin indiscipline and ended with eight points, one from play. When Kerry moved five clear again, Dublin responded with three points and two more from O'Shea had the home team four clear near the hour.
Dublin's prospects took a hit when they lost Mick Fitzsimons to a second yellow card with seven minutes left but there was the lingering expectation that they would produce a late rally.
Sure enough, it came, and with all the momentum Kerry's lead looked increasingly fragile. They survived. To have won the way they did will surely stand to them. At the final whistle a huge roar went up and for a while some players from both sides became entangled in minor altercations that were quickly defused. The huge cheer that greeted the whistle was as if a great tyranny had been lifted.
Sunday Indo Sport