Tuesday 22 October 2019

Martin Breheny: 'One standout statistic from All-Ireland triumph makes Dublin's achievement even more remarkable'

Dublin 1-18 Kerry 0-15

Five-alive-oh: Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire on Croke Park after the match. Photo: Sportsfile
Five-alive-oh: Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire on Croke Park after the match. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Imagine winning a football game, let alone an All-Ireland final, without getting a single score from a free?

'Not possible' would be the overwhelming public response if that proposition were put to them before last Saturday. That Dublin achieved it in such pressurised circumstances made their entry to the preciously unoccupied five-in-a-row club all the more remarkable.

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Con O’Callaghan of Dublin is pursued by Kerry’s Tom O’Sullivan. Photo: Sportsfile
Con O’Callaghan of Dublin is pursued by Kerry’s Tom O’Sullivan. Photo: Sportsfile

Dean Rock's 72nd-minute point from a '45 was their only placed-ball score on an evening when they secured their status as the most successful football team of all time.

There may be more to come too. There will be departures from the squad, but the average age of Saturday's starting outfield 14 was 26 years, low enough to suggest the journey is far from over.

And judging by Stephen Cluxton's form, there's absolutely no reason to believe that, at 38, he won't be Dublin's captain and No 1 again next year.

Apart from controlling the goal area with supreme assurance and accurately targeting the majority of his kick-outs, he made a crucial save from Stephen O'Brien in the 53rd minute at a time when a goal would have brought the sides level.

Paul Geaney takes on Dublin duo David Byrne and Jonny Cooper (left). Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Geaney takes on Dublin duo David Byrne and Jonny Cooper (left). Photo: Sportsfile

It was a game-changing moment in a superb contest as Dublin scored the next point, which extended their lead to four and gave them a clear view of the summit. This time, they weren't going to be stopped on the final ascent, adding a further four points while Kerry managed only two.

Kerry had outscored Dublin by 1-4 to 0-2 in the final 20 minutes of the drawn game, a superiority probably based on their numerical advantage following the dismissal of Jonny Cooper. It was different this time.

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With even numbers, Dublin were far better equipped to deal with whatever demands came their way. And while Kerry gave it their best shot, the gap in experience between the teams was always going to be crucial.

Ultimately, it was a case of battle-hardened, ultra-confident champions carefully manipulating their game in their direction while Kerry made life hard for themselves in a variety of ways.

Dublin's James McCarthy celebrates after the final whistle. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin's James McCarthy celebrates after the final whistle. Photo: Sportsfile

Their shot-selection, especially in the final quarter when they were chasing the game, was frequently poor, while the manner in which they conceded a goal to Eoin Murchan immediately from the throw-in for the second half was almost comical in its carelessness.

David Moran appeared poised to fetch and launch an attack, but instead knocked the ball in Murchan's direction. Still no obvious problem for Kerry, whose defence was in place, but for reasons that will haunt them right through the winter, they allowed him to sprint all the way to the strike zone, where he pinpointed his shot to the corner of the net.

Moran chased without ever having a real chance of catching him, but where were the defenders? Staying with their direct opponents clearly wasn't the right option when such a serious situation had developed, yet Murchan continued on his way, unchallenged by any green-and-gold jersey, before scoring the goal that put Dublin on a winning platform.

Full marks to Murchan for exploiting the chance, but it was a bonus Dublin would never have expected so early in a half where they were without the injured Jack McCaffrey who didn't reappear for the second period.

Philly McMahon holds five fingers to the crowd after Dublin’s triumph over Kerry on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Philly McMahon holds five fingers to the crowd after Dublin’s triumph over Kerry on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Level (0-10 each) at the interval, Dublin had made a decisive break and while Kerry pared the deficit back to a point in the 45th minute, they lost the remainder of the game, 0-7 to 0-2.

It goes down as a learning experience for a team with an average age of 24 and while it's sure stand to them next year, they will still have major regrets that they didn't give themselves a better chance of winning.

Murchan's goal should have been prevented, while Kerry failed to take even one of three good goal chances. They also kicked some confidence-sapping wides, whereas economical Dublin didn't miss the target even once until the 43rd minute, by which stage they had scored 1-11. There were other striking differences between the teams too. Kerry got much more out of David Clifford and Paul Geaney than in the drawn game, with each scoring 0-4 from play.

However, Dublin had a trio who kicked 0-4 each. Ciarán Kilkenny, Con O'Callaghan and Paul Mannion would have been disappointed by their performances in the drawn game, managing just 0-3 between them.

They shot a combined 0-12 on Saturday, while also contributing to many other important facets of Dublin's game. Kilkenny was especially effective, returning to the heights of previous seasons after a campaign where he hadn't exerted as much influence as would have been expected.

Brian Fenton, who was joined at midfield by James McCarthy in the first half and Brian Howard in the second half, also did much better than in the drawn game.

That was important too as Moran and Jack Barry were never allowed the freedom they had enjoyed 13 days earlier.

Basically, it came down to Dublin getting more of the glitches out of their system than Kerry, who became the first team since Mayo in 2012 to lose the All-Ireland and Allianz League finals in the one season.

Still, they have established themselves as No 2 and with more young talent to feed into the senior cycle, there's every reason for optimism.

Dublin have been in a permanently optimistic place for several years and clearly have every intention of remaining there.

Unbeaten in 37 successive championship games (34 wins, three draws), they are now in world of their own.

Kerry are within striking distance, with the other challengers, strung out quite some way back. The six-in-a-row is more than a distinct possibility. For now though, they will bask in the glory of a remarkable accomplishment.

Scorers - Dublin: C O'Callaghan, C Kilkenny, P Mannion 0-4 each; D Rock 0-3 (1 '45); E Murchan 1-0; D Byrne, J McCarthy, N Scully 0-1 each. Kerry: D Clifford (1f), S O'Shea (3f) 0-5 each; P Geaney 0-4; A Spillane 0-1.

Dublin - S Cluxton; D Byrne, M Fitzsimons, J Cooper; E Murchan, J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, J McCarthy; N Scully, C Kilkenny, B Howard; P Mannion, C O'Callaghan, D Rock. Subs: D Connolly for McCaffrey (h-t), P McMahon for Murchan (55), C Costello for Scully (56), C O'Sullivan for Byrne (67), K McManamon for Mannion (68), MD Macauley for Howard (74).

Kerry - S Ryan; J Foley, T O'Sullivan, T Morley; P Murphy, G Crowley, B Ó Beaglaoich; D Moran, J Barry; A Spillane, S O'Shea, D O'Connor; S O'Brien, D Clifford, P Geaney. Subs: G White for A Spillane (51), J Sherwood for Ó Beaglaoich (51), T Walsh for O'Connor (55), K Spillane for Murphy (60), J O'Donoghue for Barry (65), D Moynihan for Crowley (71).

Ref - C Lane (Cork)

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