Saturday night, the first day of February, an orange weather warning across the country and still 26,000 fans turn out to watch the first game of the National League under lights.
This isn’t exactly a parallel to what attracted H.G. Bissinger to Odessa in the summer of 1988 to study the attraction of high school American football with the Permian Panthers — though it has some accidental associations such as the passion of local people, the greater meaning of shallow victories over your oldest adversary, and maybe the community need to live out a dream though the players.
The majority home support came buoyed by last year’s All-Ireland success and the early opportunities to see how their heroes had wintered. However, Jim Gavin’s present to the fans was to roll out only four of the starting 15 from last year’s All-Ireland final. This is hardly an effort to appease the masses but more of a show of strength to those looking on that the Dublin talent base is not limited to the 2013 panel.
I’m not sure that this work as planned. After 45 minutes and Kerry in a dominant position, Gavin had to put on MD McCauley, Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion to rescue a result. The strength in depth may not be as readily available as some people think. Midfield remains a real problem area. There is no-one to complement MDM.
Point-scoring forwards are also rare in Dublin, with the entire full forward line wanting to turn and take on the man on every occasion.
For every negative there is a positive. Cormac Costello is the positive. Pacey and extremely direct, he created multiple opportunities and made his impressive marker, Paul Murphy, work very hard for the 70 minutes. This was an interesting dual as the Rathmore lad was a very clean tackler and always attempted to get the ball. Both these players have promising futures in their respective teams.
Kerry are clearly rebuilding following the loss of elder players and are using the league as an opportunity to consolidate a panel for the summer championship.
A key character in ‘Friday Night Lights’ is Boobie Miles. In his mind he was the best running back in Permian High School history. He was widely applauded by recruiters and seen as a major college student athlete; however, he suffered from major injuries and raised the question “could he regain his former footing as a star? Or at the age of 18 was he already a has-been?” Somehow when I read the book my mind just kept coming back to certain promising GAA players. One such player was David Moran. I would suggest that from 2007 Kerry have been looking a replacement for Darragh O Sé. David Moran had promised to be that player but injury had prevented his emergence as a serious contender. Today is the start of that journey for David, but the same question asked of Boobie must be asked of Ogie’s son. Admittedly, it is early in the season but his timing was suspect, evidenced by the consecutive 50’s that he climbed high to fetch and dropped both, uncontested. Nor will he need the statisticians to illustrate the amount of passes that went astray or the lack of support options he provided to his forwards. The encouraging thing, however, is that he was the most active of the midfielders on show. His timing and passing can all be corrected within this current league campaign.
The immediate problem for Eamonn Fitzmaurice is the lack of obvious new forward talent. James O’Donoghue remains an exciting talent and is quickly becoming the most dangerous forward around. Donnchadh Walsh offers a specific and necessary package, and Barry John Keane is a busy bee, but others offered little of note, though that’s a little harsh on the rookies like Stephen O’Brien. The entire half-forward line was replaced and O’Brien only played in patches during the second half. What Fitzmaurice must be searching the county for is a big full-forward who wins his own ball and scores. The second half of this game was more like ping pong for Kerry, with ball after ball immediately rebounding when kicked into the forwards.
I’d like to give a special mention for Aidan O’Mahony. More specifically the player that Aidan used to be — strong, aggressive and physical. This Kerry team so badly misses this physical presence. Twice yesterday Aidan had opportunities to complete two massive hits. The first, when he had Phillip McMahon teed up only for Phillip to slip, the second when he was poised to steamroll Ciaran Kilkenny but for some reason failed to execute. The old Aidan wouldn’t miss either and the game is worse off for this.
Dublin won this match but the score and the result are irrelevant. Phil Moley, a taxi driver for Armagh players in the good days often gambled small sums on National League matches but discouraged those who betted from participating in the early rounds of the league as managers experimented and players shed the winter fat. The league is a breeding ground for future talent and hopefully we saw the start of a good year for David Moran and Cormac Costello.
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