Saturday 20 January 2018

Kerry win Division 1 final in thriller as Kingdom end Dublin's unbeaten streak

Kerry 0-20 Dublin 1-16

Fionn Fitzgerald of Kerry lifts the Division 1 cup after the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park, in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Fionn Fitzgerald of Kerry lifts the Division 1 cup after the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park, in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

This time the Gods smiled on Kerry in a tight finish against Dublin in a final in Croke Park. Leading by three points going into injury time, the 2017 League final appeared to be heading for extra time when Dean Rock lined up to take a 48m free as the clocked ticked into the fifth minute of injury time.

Rock – who already had six points to his credit but had missed a first-half free – drove the ball towards the Hill 16 end where it dropped off the right hand upright and fell into the arms of Kerry's Ronan Shanahan.

Referee Paddy Neilan stretched out his arms as Shanahan was bundled to the ground to signal the end of an extraordinary contest which Kerry will wonder why they didn't win a lot more comfortably.

But what mattered to the Kingdom was that they finally beat Dublin. Amazingly, it was the Kingdom's first win over Dublin in a national final since the 1985 All-Ireland decider, and their first victory over the Dubs in Croke Park since 2009.

This was the 10th clash between the sides since Eamonn Fitzmaurice first took charge of the Kingdom – and it was only the second time he had tasted victory.

The loss brings to an end Dublin's extraordinary 36-match unbeaten run in league and championship – coincidentally Kerry were also the last county to beat them in 2015.

This victory doesn't make up for the losses that Kerry endured against the Dubs in the 2011 and 2015 All-Ireland finals, as well as the 2013 and 2016 semi-finals together with last year's League final, but it does wonders for the 2017 championship.

It is no longer a foregone conclusion that Dublin will complete the three in a row – it is how they react to the setback which will set the tone for their autumn campaign.

Kerry had hinted that they might finally have the measure of Dublin when they drew with them in Tralee last month – on that occasion they frittered away a two point lead in lost time.

Playing mostly understrength sides Dublin's form has been erratic during the league – they drew three of their games – though ironically, on the day, they fielded their strongest side since last year's All-Ireland final replay they lost.

The black carding of former Footballer of the Year Diarmuid Connolly five minutes before the break after he was spotted by the linesman dragging Kerry substitute Gavin Crowley to the ground didn't help Dublin's cause.

Ironically, Crowley had just replaced Kerry sweeper Jonathan Lyne who was black carded after he pulled down Connolly moments earlier.

As he had done in Tralee, Jack Barry relegated Brian Fenton to a minor role in the contest and this ultimately contributed to Dublin's demise.

Still, for most of the first-half they played on the front foot. Paddy Andrews, who started at full forward, was winning most of the ball coming into his sector though Ronan Shanahan was denying him any opportunities.

But at the other end, virtually none of the ball going into the Kerry full forward line was sticking as Cian O'Sullivan did a masterly job in the sweeping role.

Nonetheless, Kerry stayed in touch on the scoreboard and created the half's best goal chance when David Moran's effort was brilliantly blocked by Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton.

Dublin pushed up on Brendan Kealy's re-starts, which forced him to kick long, and Kerry lost three of his kick-outs whereas they only managed to steal one of Cluxton's restarts.

Every time Ciaran Kilkenny went on a burst he looked capable of exerting damage. Dublin were three points clear 10 minutes before the break but Kerry ended the half well closing the gap to a single point at the break (0-10; 0-9).

Once Kevin McCarthy equalised in the 39th minute it was essentially one-way traffic for the next 20 minutes. Now Dublin couldn't get to the ball to stick inside in their full forward line and once Kerry started to run at their defence they exposed weaknesses.

They hit five unanswered points – including three converted frees from Paul Geaney and a monster point from his cousin Michael to go five points clear before Paul Mannion hit Dublin's first  point of the second half in the 53rd minute. His final tally of 1-2 meant he was the game's leading scorer from play.

Tadhg Morley was now the most influential player on the field as Kerry drove forward in numbers. Dublin introduced Paul Mannion, Michael Darragh Macauley, Kevin McManamon and David Byrne in an effort to stem the tide.

Three of them played a key role in kick-starting the Dublin comeback in the 62nd minute. Byrne did exceptionally well to keep a wayward kick out from Cluxton in play; the ball was moved up along the left flank where Macauley supplied the final pass for Paul Mannion to shot low into the net.

Suddenly it was back to a one point game (0-17; 1-13). Initially Kerry held their nerve with a Geaney free and a magnificent point from the impressive David Moran as he fell to the turf.

Dublin outscored Kerry 3-1 in the remaining five minutes and twice reduced the deficit to a single point but in all the mayhem, Kerry substitute Bryan Sheehan kicked what ultimately proved the winning score.

The game management skills of Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy nearly undid all their good work in the dramatic finish. Having nearly gifted Dublin a goal chance with a short clearance, three of his last four kickouts were secured by Dublin.

This led directly to Dean Rock's late, late chance as Mick Fitzsimons was hauled down by substitute Anthony Maher – who was black carded – but this time Rock's radar was slightly off.

Kerry survived to secure their 20th League title and dashing Dublin's hopes of a fifth league tie on the spin. Roll on the championship

Dublin: S Cluxton; P McMahon (0-1), M Fitzsimons, D Daly; J McCarthy (0-1), C O'Sullivan E Lowndes; B Fenton, C Kilkenny (0-2), P Flynn (0-1), D Connolly (0-1) C Reddin (0-2) B Brogan, D Rock (0-6, 4f), P Andrews. Subs: N Scully for Connolly (BC) 30m; P Mannion (1-2) for Andrews 41m; MD Macauley for Reddin 48m; K McManamon for O'Sullivan 49m; D Byrne for Lowdes 60m; E O'Gara for Flynn 68m;

Kerry: B Kealy, R Shanahan M Griffin, F Fitzgerald; T Morley, P Murphy (0-1); P Crowley; D Moran (0-3 1 45), J Barry (0-1); J Lyne, M Geaney (0-2), D Walsh (0-2); K McCarthy (0-1), P Geaney (0-8, 5f), J Savage (0-1) Subs: G Crowley for Lyne (BC) 27m; D O'Sullivan for Savage 59m; BJ Keane for McCarthy 62m; B Sheehan (0-1) for Walsh 67m; A Maher for Barry 70m; A Spillane for M Geaney 72m

Referee: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon)

The attendance was 53, 840.

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