It was something of an odd chapter in the GAA’s most enduring rivalry.
Perhaps the fact that both counties have suffered massive losses in recent months with the passing of Páidí Ó Sé and Kevin Heffernan.
In remembering these giants of the game, we have been treated of late to footage and stories of many Dublin and Kerry battles ranging from the 50s to the 80s. These were stories a lot of the current Dublin and Kerry teams were brought up on, thus there is always a little extra focus on these games.
Now while a league game in February is unlikely to ever feature on a highlights reel of these counties best encounters, it was very important for Dublin to maintain their current good form against the Kingdom.
There were a number of years, from 2003-2009 that this wasn’t much of a rivalry. Kerry and Dublin met nine times in league and championship with Kerry winning seven and two draws. The one-sided nature of this rivalry was highlighted with the 17-point beating handed out in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final. We always hear about the great respect between Dublin and Kerry teams, but it was getting to the stage where it had been so long since we had beaten Kerry, they had no reason to respect us. Teams earn respect on the pitch and it had been too long since we had bothered this Kerry team.
It was after that embarrassing defeat in Croke Park that Pat Gilroy decided to draw a line in the sand. That off-season saw a change in attitude from management in how we were going to train and how we were going to approach games tactically. When it was announced we were travelling to Killarney for the opening league game of the 2010 season, it gave us something to focus on and target. We set out to ensure Kerry would walk off the pitch that day knowing we were a different team, with our tackling and work-rate the main areas we’d judge our performances on. That display and two-point victory was the starting point for a journey that led to winning the All-Ireland 18 months later.
I always felt a good performance against Kerry counted more than a good performance against another team. I’ve no doubt a number of players from both teams felt this on Sunday and went out to lay down a marker. Dublin will be very happy with the result, but will take greater satisfaction with the manner of victory. They dictated the pace and shape of the game from the very start with their forwards thriving off the quick, direct ball. The Dublin backs were consistently getting out in front of the Kerry forwards, and getting in a number of blocks on the occasions the forwards did get possession and attempt to get shots off. Kerry struggled to make any impact up front and seemed to be unsure as to the shape of their team, especially in the forwards. They will welcome the upcoming three-week break as an opportunity to work on their fitness and game plan.
There has been a lot of talk about the different paths these teams are currently on, Kerry an aging team and Dublin a young team soon to be backboned by two U21 All-Ireland-winning teams managed by Jim Gavin.
Already Kevin O’Brien, Jonny Cooper and Jack McCaffrey have slotted seamlessly into a defence that has shut down Cork and Kerry in consecutive weeks. Up front, Paddy Andrews has added a scoring threat that will take some pressure off Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly, while Ciaran Kilkenny will feature soon with his club commitments now at an end. Others such as Emmet O’Conghaile, Paul Mannion and Philly Ryan will also get chances to impress and push towards a place on the championship panel. It’ll be interesting to see how this Dublin line up develops through out the league when some of the older guard such as Kevin Nolan, Bryan Cullen and Denis Bastick return.
While there is no doubt Dublin will have an influx of new talent to add to a strong existing panel, Eamonn Fitzmaurice will have a different challenge and despite Sunday’s abject performance, it might not be as big a one as people may think. He might not have the same quantity of players to choose from as Gavin but it’s more about the quality of player he can bring through. It also isn’t always the standout underage star who makes an immediate impression, playing with men like the Ó Sés, Galvin, Gooch etc can help make players around them look better and if they fit their style of play, they will be in a position to make an impact.
Too much is made of players’ ages and while Kerry are one of the older teams, just because a guy is over 30 doesn’t mean he still can’t be one of the best players in the country for his position. Kerry have a number of guys who fit that criteria. There is no doubt they will need to introduce speed to certain areas but they might only need a couple of new faces to come in and strengthen their championship team.
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