Even for the most partisan Kerry supporter in a fine crowd, there wasn’t much to take the mind off the gnawing chill in a one-sided first half of this Allianz League clash at floodlit Tralee.
Kerry were cruising at 2-7 to 0-6 as the teams headed for the dressing-rooms. Dublin took a long time to return to the fray, but when they did, it was with an entirely different attitude; suddenly, the All-Ireland champions had a battle on their hands, and the crowd was treated to a heart-warming contest.
Four goals we saw, two in the first half from Kerry, two in the second by Dublin during their period of dominance, and every one a cracker.
The first goal came in the 3rd minute, a mesmerising move that was too sharp for Dublin to defend, cooly finished by Declan Quill. Also, the home side’s pressure defence meant the Dubs never had the same options in possession, and consequently had to work much harder for their scores.
Given the ease with which they opened up the Dublin defence, it was surprising Kerry had to wait until the 32nd minute for their second goal, but again, it was worth the wait. It started with a midfield block by Tomás Ó Sé, typical of the Kerry defensive effort; Paddy Kelly was again involved, as was full-forward Ronan O’Connor, but this time the finish was provided by a fantastic long-range shot by Paul Galvin that dipped over Stephen Cluxton and under the crossbar.
That score put Kerry 2-7 to 0-5 ahead, seemingly set for a rout. Then, though we didn’t realise it at the time, the start of the comeback. A pointed long-range Tomas Quinn free for Dublin had the Kerry lead back to seven at the break, but no-one took too much notice. Little did we know.
Straight from the throw-in, a typical storming net-smashing goal from Ciaran Whelan; one minute later, a point from his midfield partner Shane Ryan, and wham bang, it was 2-7 to 1-7, game on.
For the next 20 minutes, with Ryan and Whelan dominating midfield and the kick-outs, Dublin edged ever closer, and came within a point (2-9 to 1-11) as sub Mark Vaughan made his mark. Kerry switched the Ó Se brothers, Darragh (who started at centre-back in place of flu-victim Eamonn Fitzmaurice) going to midfield, Tomás to half-back, and it worked - three points in rapid succession restoring the four-point cushion.
Cue the second Dublin goal, another beauty, substitute Jason Sherlock with a super final pass and Declan Lally giving Diarmuid Murphy no chance. Just a point in it again, ten minutes remaining, not a sinner left their seat until referee Michael Deegan blew the final whistle, Kerry finishing with their noses just in front.
“They’re not Munster champions, All-Ireland champions, National League champions for nothing,” mused Dublin manager Paul Caffrey. “There was no individual to blame, we’re a job in progress.”
In fairness to his side, Dublin deserved at least a share of the spoils, and would have had but for wayward shooting, 14 wides to six the final count, including two simple missed frees. “We didn’t come down here to make up the numbers, 23 years is long enough to be waiting for a Dublin team to win here in the National League, now it’s going to be 25.
“We made a lot of unforced errors in the first half, but in the second, we cut down on that. I’ve no magic wand, never had, this is all about the players. We were far smarter in the second half, far more economical in our movement of the ball, but it’s down to the players, they turned it around, not Paul Caffrey. It was Tyrone two weeks ago, Kerry tonight, and they’re the teams we’re aspiring to catch up with and learn from.”
: Kerry: D. Quill 1-5 (one free); R. O’Connor 0-4 (0-2 frees); P. Galvin 1-0; E. Brosnan 0-2; C. Cooper, L. Hassett, 0-1 each. Dublin: C. Whelan 1-2; D. Lally 1-1; C. Keaney 0-2; M. Vaughan 0-2; T. Quinn (free), S. Connell, Liam Óg Ó hEineachain, S. Ryan, 0-1 each.
: D. Murphy; M. O Se, T. O’Sullivan, M. Lyons; A. O’Mahony, D. Ó Se, S. Moynihan; K. Donaghy, T. Ó Se; P. Galvin, E. Brosnan, P. Kelly; D. Quill, R. O’Connor, C. Cooper. Subs: L. Hassett (Kelly yellow 35); W. Kirby (Donaghy 55); B. Sheehan (Hassett 67).
: S. Cluxton; P. Griffin, P. Christie, S. O’Shaughnessy; P. Casey, B. Cullen, P. Andrews; C. Whelan, S. Ryan; D. Lally, L Óg Ó hEineachain, S. Connell; D. O’Callaghan, C. Keaney, T. Quinn. Subs: M. Vaughan (O’Callaghan 35); C. Moran (Casey 35); C. Goggins (Andrews yellow 42); J. Sherlock (Ó hEineachain 54); D. Homan (Quinn 64); B. Cahill (O’Shaughnessy yellow 65).
: M Deegan (Laois).