Saturday 25 November 2017

So much of what Kerry planned for unfolded but they may have to go back before they go forward

Kerry football must start looking further down the line as an era draws to a close

Dublin and Kerry players exchange views after Darran O'Sullivan's opening goal. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin and Kerry players exchange views after Darran O'Sullivan's opening goal. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Nineteen minutes into an already high-voltage All-Ireland semi-final, Kerry won their first free from within scoring range when James McCarthy was hunted into holding on too long around his own 20 metre line.

As Colm Cooper stood over the kick the movement at the other end of the field was quite striking.

Mark Griffin pushed right out from the full-back line into midfield, Peter Crowley made a shorter journey from half-back.

Others migrated into more advanced positions too. Behind them they left four v two in Dublin's favour.

Cooper converted to reduce the deficit to 0-5 to 0-3 but when Stephen Cluxton placed the ball on the tee to restart there was a four-man phalanx spread out across the field right in front of him. Behind them the columns pushed up to fill the space.

For the first time Cluxton had no immediate outlet nearby, but got his kick away to Paul Flynn and Dublin soon were three points clear again.

The seeds were sown however for what was to come. Cluxton's kick-out would be targeted after the set-piece of a free when there was time to get into positions. Otherwise it was too risky.

So when Kerry won their second free within range 10 minutes later the press was just as high and concentrated.

This time Cluxton got his co-ordinates wrong, hooking a restart destined for John Small out near the Hogan Stand sideline into Paul Geaney's arms. From there Donnchadh Walsh and Darran O'Sullivan combined swiftly for a goal.

Read More: Tomás Ó Sé: There's no shame going down to best Dublin team of all time

Energy and momentum coursed through green and gold shirts on the field and into the stands. It felt like Dublin were on the ropes for the first time in 12 months.

When Cluxton lashed the next kick-out over the Cusack Stand sideline that feeling only intensified.

Walsh got an intercept on Michael Darragh Macauley, Cooper slipped a trademark point and when the next kick-out went down the throat of David Moran, Anthony Maher's goalward kick hung long enough for Paul Geaney to put sufficient pressure on Cluxton to spill over his own line.

The ghost of Sean Quigley had revisited Dublin's much celebrated goalkeeper.

After a near flawless season so far he was back in territory last occupied in the last quarter of All-Ireland quarter-final against Fermanagh and the closing stages of the drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo last year.

Once more he looked vulnerable, so too did the team. Nothing unnerves a Dublin team more than the sight of Cluxton in such meltdown.

Kerry had failed to retain eight of their own 14 first half kick-outs but their success on four at the other end in the closing minutes of the first half turned this game on its head.

But half-time could not have presented itself with any better timing for Dublin after a 10-point swing in just 14 minutes. They won the second half by six points.

Read More: 'They knew what happened and they stayed in control of the situation' - Gavin

We credit their athleticism, their skill, their physicality, even their resources. But sometimes we can lose sight of their sheer bloody-mindedness and will to win.

"We've seen it," said Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice. "We saw it today, we saw it in 2013 and we saw it against Mayo last year - in the big games they've shown great resilience and strength of character."

This Kerry team finds itself at a crossroads now. They've thrown everything at this Dublin team and haven't come up with the solutions to beat them. Not surprisingly, after a season with the No.8 shirt on his back, Kieran Donaghy was sited at full-forward with Paul Geaney flanking him to test Dublin's aerial defences.

They got success out of that, the kick-out press and the propensity of defenders like Mark Griffin, Killian Young and Shane Enright to attack space hard.

But as the game wore on that became a riskier strategy as Dublin got to grips with it. When Peter Crowley was halted by Kevin McManamon's shoulder to the chest in the 73rd minute Kerry were in an advanced position seeking an equaliser but referee David Gough deemed it to be fair.

Minutes earlier Paul Murphy was penalised at the other end for handling the ball on the ground but there was no evidence of that on any of the camera angles available.

Fitzmaurice didn't want the memory of this classic to be framed however by his criticism of a referee who ran the gauntlet of Kerry supporters as he left by the Cusack Stand tunnel afterwards.

"I made a decision coming down the corridor I'm going to bite my lip because if I say anything that becomes our reaction - which isn't the reaction. The reaction is that Dublin are an outstanding team and I don't want to be looking at the paper tomorrow or Tuesday and it saying 'Fitzmaurice said this about the ref'. I'm going to bite my lip on it."

Fitzmaurice has four years completed now as Kerry manager and after extending his term by just one more year after the 2015 All-Ireland final the curtain may well close on this era.

Read More: Dubs stay 'Alive, Alive-oh' after Croker classic

Marc O Se has probably played his last game, Aidan O'Mahony too while Donaghy had the look of a man who knew he wouldn't be back.

They restored a lot from an anaemic performance in last year's final and again in the league final earlier this year, a match Fitzmaurice feels skewed the reality of where Kerry were.

"I know it's there. The way that we were written off earlier in the summer in my mind was crazy," he said. "I knew what was there and I knew what was coming today. There was a huge analysis after the league final that we were so far off the mark. We were down four key players.

"We were only three points down after 65 minutes. Now Dublin were by far the better team and were always going to win that game but the way we were written off after that surprised me."

One of that quartet was Geaney, who was such an influence until his 66th minute withdrawal for O Se, a move that mystified many Kerry supporters.

"We took him off because Dublin had pressed up at the time and we were playing with a sweeper. We needed to get another back on so it was a tactical change," said Fitzmaurice.

There shouldn't be too much concern about Kerry's future however, not with conveyor belt of really talented minors emerging over the last three years - David Clifford and Sean O'Shea the latest to draw attention on yesterday's evidence.

But they may well have to take a step back before they go forward again. Fitzmaurice has framed this period perfectly with a simple observation. "We threw everything we had at them and it wasn't enough."

Irish Independent

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