Friday 20 September 2019

Michael Verney: 'Kerry's failure to go for jugular in final moments will haunt them'

Anatomy of a goal: From Ryan’s line to Spillane’s sizzler
Anatomy of a goal: From Ryan’s line to Spillane’s sizzler
Shane Ryan of Kerry collides with John Small. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

The holy grail was in the tip of Kerry's fingers when they edged ahead for the first time with Killian Spillane's 66th-minute point but rather than put the game to bed with an extra man at their disposal, they seemed determined not to lose it.

So much had gone perfectly to the Kingdom script before that but with their shot to become the GAA's greatest history-breakers in their grasp, the foot came off Dublin's throats and they allowed them the oxygen to fight another day.

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Twelve minutes - including injury-time - were played after Spillane's point but, amazingly, there would not be another Kerry shot as Dublin owned possession and hunted in packs to retrieve a couple of lost causes within that time.

Three late substitutions were the only Kerry notes in that closing period while the Dubs pushed for the equaliser with Brian Howard off cue with a shot, a Cormac Costello point over-ruled by Hawk-Eye while Diarmuid Connolly was also off target and a Paddy Small effort dropped short.

Rather than going for the jugular and trying to extend their advantage, Kerry sat back and invited the five-in-a-row-chasing Dubs to do what they do best and close out a game in clinical fashion, and they nearly paid the costliest of lessons.

When Kevin McManamon made up serious ground on David Moran to help execute an unlikely turnover in the 73rd minute which led to Dean Rock's leveller, it looked like history beckoned when Rock had a difficult free to win it at the death.

Kerry would have kicked themselves all the way back down the M7 had that bisected the posts as everything had went swimmingly until those final minutes. Even in Keane's wildest dreams, he couldn't have predicted that his defensive match-ups would work so well.

Jason Foley - who picked up Rock and was taken for three points - was the only defender that didn't break even, at worst, with his direct opponent as Tom O'Sullivan and Tadhg Morley held Con O'Callaghan (0-1) and Paul Mannion (0-2) better than anyone could have imagined.

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The likelihood of that happening again in Saturday week's replay, or Jack Barry snuffing out Brian Fenton's influence to the point where he was a non-entity, is slim. With every card falling in Kerry's favour, this was a glorious opportunity that they may live to regret.

The opening quarter was all about Kerry but the scoreboard didn't reflect it as Paul Geaney was denied goals on two occasions inside 13 minutes with James McCarthy saving his sixth-minute shot with his knees before Stephen Cluxton palmed his penalty away.

The Dublin 'keeper was clearly three yards off his line when the penalty was taken and David Gough - who had a decent game and got nearly all of the other major calls on the money - should have ordered a retake.

An aggressive press on Cluxton's kick-outs bore fruit on a number of occasions early on - and in the third quarter - as their 4-4-4 formation up front forced the game's finest goalkeeper to go long with surprisingly limited success.

Mistakes

There were also uncharacteristic mistakes from the Dubs with a whopping four turnovers inside 11 minutes - that normally wouldn't happen over an entire game - and it's hard to think the champions could be this bad again after a rude awakening.

David Clifford gave a performance for the ages as he terrorised Jonny Cooper and Mick Fitzsimons but it's hard to envisage the naivety of their play being repeated or any Dublin defender being left with acres of space in front of them as Cooper was when fouling him for the penalty.

It wouldn't be any surprise if Cian O'Sullivan was recalled to provide protection around the 'D' and act as a sweeper given the trouble which Clifford - and later Tommy Walsh - caused around the goal and the latitude which they were afforded.

Much like the hurling final two weeks previous, a sending-off changed the game. Dublin were cruising somewhat before Cooper was rightly dismissed for persistent fouling and Kerry missed a trick by not instructing Stephen O'Brien to put the head down every time he had the ball for the opening minutes of the second half and test John Small's questionable discipline to the limit.

Had Gough shown Tom O'Sullivan the line in the 52nd minute as many incorrectly said he should have for a harmless tackle on John Small, Keane's side would not have rallied to the extent which they did and having Paul Murphy as the extra defender forced a major rethink from the Dubs.

Having Paul Murphy as the extra defender forced a rethink from the Dubs. They refused to go at the heart of the Kerry defence because of Murphy's presence, instead taking several pot shots which aren't associated with this side while relying on the brilliance of Jack McCaffrey marauding forward from the back.

If Kerry had been able to shackle McCaffrey - his influence really should have been negated in the second half given their numerical advantage - then Sam Maguire would be resting in their laps and Gavin White just couldn't get to grips with his attacking forays.

Much was made of Dublin targeting Shane Ryan's kick-outs given his big-game inexperience but it never materialised and being down a man meant he was not put under the pressure or scrutiny that many expected.

That will be different the next day as Dublin will have the full complement while their lauded impact from the bench didn't show directly on the scoreboard, another area which Kerry lorded as Spillane (1-1) and Tommy Walsh (0-1) caused havoc as subs.

Jim Gavin dropped a struggling James McCarthy back onto Walsh once he was sprung but the Kerins O'Rahillys powerhouse had a direct hand in 1-1 as well kicking a point. They gave the impact Keane desired.

With Seán O'Shea hitting ten points from ten shots, it would have been a massive injustice had he finished on the losing side but it's hard to see him producing such kicking perfection the next day.

Almost everything Kerry folk hoped for in a dream scenario happened in a bizarre sequence of events - with Spillane's 56th-minute goal the catalyst - and they still didn't prevail.

It's hard to get away from the thought that you only get one chance to upset history against the game's greatest. Offaly took theirs in 1982 and Kerry may live to rue this day as it was there for the taking.

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