Another Kerry-Dublin classic in Tralee ended in a welter of excitement and a third successive Allianz League Division 1 victory for the Kingdom. And that doesn’t even begin to tell the story of a tussle that offers seductive evidence to those prosecuting the case there is nothing wrong with Gaelic football.
Any chance they could just make this a best-of-five series between these two?
Kerry supporters stayed well past the final whistle to greet their manager and players off the pitch. The significance for them was greater than the two points on offer in the context of the new and younger direction Peter Keane is taking the Kingdom.
In the end, Kerry wilted in the face of extreme Dublin pressure, with the All-Ireland champions levelling in injury time but the hosts created a last chance, which they converted via the fist of Peter Crowley to claim the win.
At three different stages of this contest, Kerry opened up a five point lead, but Dublin kept coming back for more, even after corner back Mick Fitzsimons was sent off for a second yellow.
That the hosts led by only two points at half time was startling in itself, and a testament to Dublin’s enduring ability to bounce back off the ropes. No sooner had Stephen O’Brien billowed the Horan’s end net in Tralee after 23 minutes than Con O’Callaghan was responding in kind at the other end, via a helpful deflection off Briain O’Beaglaoich.
The Gaeltacht defender moves like a motor bike, so to see him skinned by Paul Mannion three minute before half time was a sobering moment in itself for the hosts. Mannion’s goal – the pass from Cormac Costello to him was a forward’s fodder – ate into the biggest lead of the half. Before it, Kerry had moved five points clear at 1-10 to 1-5 on the back of two Sean O’Shea frees.
At the break it was 1-11 to 2-6 for Kerry.
Gavin O’Brien made his first start for Kerry and if the hosts lost a bit of experience with David Moran not starting, they lost nothing with his club colleague’s size and mobility in the middle third.
Though Dublin began the second half with a Darren Gavin point, it was still Kerry who showed the greater tempo. Sean O’Shea was dominating the game insofar as anyone could in such a richly flavoured contest. Two frees and an assist had Kerry four clear before the Kingdom won possession high up the pitch allowing Tommy Walsh to claim his first point of the second part of his Kerry career. Five ahead for the second time.
Most of the 11,892 crowd roared with approval.
However Jim Gavin’s men were just getting started. Paddy Andrews and Jack McCaffrey came in and the Dubs began to advance more and more into Kerry territory.
Paul Geaney was turned over in the 51st minute and Con O’Callaghan was squaring up for a goal chance at the other end within seconds before he was pulled to the ground. Rock converted the free to reduce the gap to two points, 1-15 to 2-10 after 52 minutes.
Dara Moynihan is doing a fast job of putting himself front and centre for summer planning, and he won another free for O’Shea to convert on 56 minutes, 1-17 to 2-10. David Moran came on and started on the 40, another example of the fluidity of this Kerry set up. He had a chance to put Kerry five up but wided while falling.
Two yellows in the 63rd minute meant an early departure for the already booked Fitzsimons, with Peter Crowley also cautioned.
With five minutes remaining of normal time – about the only normality on an exhilarating evening for football – Brian Fenton pointed for the visitors. A late charge? Did we expect anything less.
A Mannion free was followed by a Cormac Costello point, which came off a panicky Kerry turnover. Paddy Andrews had the chance to level but hit a post, but when Costello was presented with a 72 minute free he didn’t disappoint. 1-17 to 2-14.
One more twist though. Kerry, recovering their poise, opened a gap on the right flank and Stephen O’Brien presented possession to the onrushing David Moran. The veteran kept his cool to set up Peter Crowley for the winner.
Scorers for Kerry: S O’Shea (0-8, 6 frees, 1 45), S O’Brien (1-1), P Geaney (0-2), D Moynihan (0-2), G O’Brien, T O’Sullivan, J Sherwood, T Walsh and Peter Crowley (0-1 each)
Scorers for Dublin: D Rock (0-5, 4 frees), P. Mannion (1-2, 1 mark), C O’Callaghan (1-0), J McCarthy (0-3), C Costello (0-2, 1 free), D Gavin, B Fenton, (0-1 each)
KERRY: S Ryan; P Crowley, J Sherwood, B O Beaglaoich; T Morley, P Murphy, T. O’Sullivan; J Barry, A Spillane; D O’Connor, S O’Shea, D Moynihan; P Geaney, G O’Brien, S O’Brien.
Subs for Kerry: T Walsh for D O’Connor (half time); M Griffin for Spillane (52); G Crowley for Geaney (55); D Moran for Morley (60); M Geaney for G O’Brien (69);
DUBLIN: E Comerford; 2 M Fitzsimons, 7 E Murchan 5 E Lowndes; 9 J McCarthy 3 J Cooper 6 J Small; 8 B Fenton, 21 D Gavin, 12 N Scully 19 C O’Callaghan 22 B Howard; 11 P Mannion 13 D Rock 14 C Costello.
Subs for Dublin: P Andrews for Lowndes (half time); J McCaffrey for Cooper (47); M D MacAuley for Gavin (62); K McManamon for Rock (62); P Flynn for N Scully (63);
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)