Friday 20 September 2019

Tomás Ó Sé: 'Dublin's aura has slipped. The fear is gone. The final proved that these are men - not machines'

 

Con O’Callaghan is tackled by the Kerry trio of Paul Murphy, Tom O’Sullivan (4) and Stephen O’Brien during last Sunday’s drawn final. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Con O’Callaghan is tackled by the Kerry trio of Paul Murphy, Tom O’Sullivan (4) and Stephen O’Brien during last Sunday’s drawn final. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Tomás Ó Sé

So seven days out from the replay, maybe I should let you in on a secret.

A lot of the Dublin and Kerry players will just want this over now. They'll have spent the early part of this week especially wrestling with negative feelings about having to go again. That was certainly my gut reaction immediately after drawing the 2000 final against Galway.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

The initial vibe was one of serious deflation. There was such a sense of anti-climax to it all, a feeling of let-down. If I'm honest, for the first couple of days, I'd nearly have been happier to have lost the game than to have another opportunity.

I remember thinking, 'Jesus, I have to go at this again, work through all the nervous energy, the tickets, the talk, the hype, everything... all coming down the tracks again'. I remember being physically shattered on the bus out of Croke Park that evening and honestly wondering how on earth I'd ever manage to get a head of steam up again.

It took a couple of days to rinse that despondency away but, once the body began to recover, the mind followed.

And before you know it, you're back in the cocoon again, sealed away from the outside madness of an All-Ireland final. It's important then that the right men say the right things.

In our case, it was Seamus Moynihan reminding us that nothing had been lost even if it felt that way.

I'd imagine someone like David Moran will be that man in Kerry this week. A player I've been tough on in the past, but one who was magnificent on Sunday.

GAA Newsletter

Expert GAA analysis straight to your inbox.

Lord God, I came away from Croke Park buzzing. When I hear people quibbling about the number of mistakes in a game like that, I wonder do they mistake Gaelic football for ballet. The intensity guarantees mistakes. It's what makes it a spectacle.

And something definitely changed with Dublin.

Their aura slipped. I couldn't help think of Ivan Drago in the 'Rocky' movie where he suddenly starts looking human and Paulie shouts from Balboa's corner, "He's a man, not a machine!"

That was Dublin last weekend, yet they survived. Kerry had them by the throat with ten minutes of that game remaining but, from there, I just sensed fear and hesitation in Peter Keane's men.

In fact, some of the stats for the last 12 minutes of the game are really worrying. Kerry got turned over in possession five times through that period and didn't have a single shot on goal. Not one! It was the polar opposite of what I'd expected from them if they were still close coming down the home straight.

The Dubs had six shots in that period and just one score. But their manic aggression, that fierce pride they have in themselves as champions, was the most compelling force in evidence.

People have said - and there's a certain degree of truth in it - that Dublin's subs made little impact on the scoreboard. But, my God, their work-rate was unquestionable, the likes of Eoin Murchan, Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin McManamon all forcing turnovers.

Without those turnovers, Dublin's drive-for-five could be over now.

As it happened, Kerry players that I would have questioned beforehand - men like Tadhg Morley, Gavin Crowley, Jack Barry, Jack Sherwood, Adrian Spillane, Tommy Walsh, Killian Spillane, Brian Ó Beaglaoich - were all outstanding.

Bear in mind that I tipped Dublin and someone as shrewd as Peter Canavan was tipping them to win that game by 11 points.

I could see why. We all imagined a gulf to exist between these teams - maybe not 11 points, but a gulf nonetheless - and fully expected Dublin to be too streetwise for this young Kerry team. But it didn't happen and we saw a side of Dublin last Sunday we didn't think we'd ever see in a Jim Gavin team.

We saw them shooting from stupid places. We saw them panicking in defence. We saw that great layer of composure that has all but come to define them slowly slipping away.

Honestly, it's a long time since I felt so proud of a Kerry team. They stood up to be counted against, arguably, the best team we've ever seen.

It started with early turnovers on James McCarthy, Michael Fitzsimons and Paul Mannion. Those turnovers were nearly as good as scores because of what they communicated to Kerry supporters. And they were down, 100 per cent, to work-rate.

Five times Kerry stole Stephen Cluxton kick-outs in the game and I think, for the replay, they'll have to lift that to seven or eight. It's possible. A lot of the Dublin kick-outs that were successful were only marginally so because Kerry's press was hugely effective.

And Moran, Adrian Spillane and Jack Barry won the midfield battle hands down.

One thing I loved was that In the very first minute, Barry took on Michael Darragh Macauley and left him for dead. That sent an immediate message: 'I'm not just here to do a marking job!'

I rate Brian Fenton as one of the greatest midfield players I've seen, but Moran definitely outplayed him last Sunday.

I sat up until 2am on Tuesday watching the game back and one thing that struck me was how Moran was the one doing the talking in the pre-game huddle. He was marking his territory as the boss and it showed in his subsequent performance.

But, make no mistake, there are two different types of creature in each dressing-room this week. The ones in a good place mentally after last Sunday and those inclined to beat themselves up for an under-par performance.

And one thing you know for certain is that, in Dublin's case, those who underperformed in the drawn game will be determined to bully their way to a different outcome today week.

On that front, Gavin will feel he is working with a fair degree of certainty. These Dublin players are tried and trusted in the white heat, so much so it's kind of unheard of for any of them to have two off-days in a row.

But Gavin will know too that he got little bounce off his bench and I wouldn't be surprised to see a few changes in that department for the replay. Because right now it looks like there's a gap in quality between his starting 15 and those now euphemistically called 'finishers'.

More worrying still for him is that his backs visibly struggled without the protection of a sweeper.

Pace and directness troubles the Dublin defence and I think the way Kerry dominated at midfield the last day showed that, like any other team, the champions aren't impenetrable. From Kerry's point of view, it was a huge achievement to get so many match-ups right without sacrificing the ability to implement their own style on the game.

Let's face it, only for poor finishing, the canister would be in Kerry now.

Seánie O'Shea gave one of the greatest exhibitions I've ever seen from a young player in an All-Ireland final and, in doing that against James McCarthy, Kerry were hammering the hammer. I think David Clifford, Paul Geaney and Stephen O'Brien will all hope to improve. They are all potential game-breakers who know full well they can do better. On another day, they'd have been licking their lips at the chances coming their way But, more importantly, Keane needs the Kerry players who surprised us with their quality last Sunday to manage a reprise now. He needs them to prove themselves more than one-day wonders.

I suspect Dublin underestimated the Kerry defence (I certainly did) and will probably feel that they're bound to get better returns the next day from Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny, Mannion and Con O'Callaghan.

Maybe the mistake they made was in thinking Dublin's defence would be six-strong. It wasn't. It was 14-strong, starting from number 15 back.

Conversely, Kerry will feel they got their tactic on Jack McCaffrey very wrong. People can criticise Gavin White for that but I would actually question the specifics of the job he was given. Was he told to man-mark? I don't think so.

Because if he was, I think White could do a great job on McCaffrey.

My suspicion is that Kerry didn't expect McCaffrey to do that kind of damage and, against a guy with his kind of pace and ability to see a gap, you just cannot allow him carry the ball into open space.

All that said, I think we've seen a huge development in this Kerry team from the second half of their semi-final with Tyrone. There was the real sense last Sunday of a team coming of age.

That Killian Spillane goal was absolutely magical and Tommy Walsh's role in it spoke of a beautiful redemption of sorts. I wasn't sure about the wisdom of coming back to play for Kerry after being away so long in Australia. If I'm honest, I had Tommy half written off. How wrong was I proved?

John Small did an outstanding job on O'Brien, but his indiscipline makes him a liability if the match officials are paying attention to off-the-ball stuff. Likewise Jonny Cooper. Small and Cooper are fine players but they tend to foul constantly when the ball is nowhere near. Dublin leaned very heavily the last day on Cluxton, McCaffrey and Dean Rock. They were their leaders.

Referee, David Gough, was outstanding by the way. If the penalty wasn't given, I wouldn't have had a problem with it because that kind of contact is happening everywhere on the field in every minute.

Trust me, there's worse going on with throw-ins, hop balls and nearly every single kick-out than what Cooper was reprimanded for in the 12th minute.

Yes, technically, it was a foul. But why is it policed in that area of the field alone?

Other than that, I just couldn't find fault with him on any level. It was probably deeply unfair what he was subjected to from the Kerry side in the build-up, so I'm glad he had such a good day.

Anyway, Sunday was the first time I really sensed panic in this Dublin team and Gavin's loyalty to some of these players is now, inevitably, coming under sharper scrutiny. He's already been getting a sense of that over his decision to bring back Diarmuid Connolly, a move that has effectively squeezed Bernard Brogan out of the match-day squad.

I sensed the Dublin manager was livid after the game and, maybe, part of that anger was directed at himself. The inaction on Cooper, especially, was difficult to fathom.

Considering that Kerry had four clear-cut goal opportunities last Sunday, taking probably the toughest one. Keane must make absolutely certain that these young players don't have their confidence over-inflated for next week.

Because the key to their performance was work-rate, something I sense a couple of the forwards can still raise even higher.

No question, the biggest mistake Kerry could make now is underestimate Dublin's ability to turn this round. Doubting their resolve would be very naive. That said, the aura has slipped. The fear is gone. There's a different energy about this game.

Dublin will be favourites again and they're entitled to be. But I'm really starting to believe that Kerry can do this.

And I suspect they're thinking that themselves.

Indo Sport

The Throw-In: 'Jim Gavin has achieved what Mick O'Dwyer and Brian Cody couldn't do'

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Also in Sport