The real bonus for Jack O’Connor and his players was avoiding a defeat which looked probable until a late recovery yielded an Aidan O’Mahony goal seven minutes from the final whistle.
Dublin boss Pat Gilroy felt that his side would have won but for “running out of steam” in the last 10 minutes: “It was disappointing to give away the goal, because we defended those high balls very well all day. Still, we were very happy with the way we played.
“I think we are definitely getting better. Having the lads back from Kilmacud allows us to put a proper shape on it. What’s important is that the guys are getting to play the way we want them to play.”
The pattern was set in the opening quarter, when the exchanges were keen and the teams evenly balanced. In their better moments, Kerry looked in a different class, such as when Tommy Walsh won good possession under pressure, David Moran kicked scores from distance and the forwards combined well.
One of the best came as early as the ninth minute when Paul Galvin ran on to a great pass from Walsh only to shoot wide across the face of the goal. And Dublin passed up a good chance six minutes later (after a misplaced pass from Darran O’Sullivan), which saw Mark Davoren kick over the bar from close range after goalkeeper Diarmuid Murphy had stopped a Paddy Andrews shot.
There was also much to admire in Kerry’s defensive play, which saw Aidan O’Mahony make an early impression in the centre and Tommy Griffin settle to play very consistently. It was noteworthy that Aidan O’Shea looked very strong at full-back until a hamstring strain forced him off after 19 minutes. However, Daniel Bohane did very well when he replaced him and Kerry needed to be strong in front of goal to limit Davoren, one of the returning Kilmacud Crokes contingent (which included the son of former Clare player Pat Burke who was introduced early at centre-forward).
Kerry were not so impressive when the pressure came on from Dublin, which emanated from a more mobile midfield where Ross McConnell was first to impress and then Darren Magee. The result of their efforts in attack — where Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly did very good work on the wings and Davoren regularly threatened — was the quality of ball into the Kerry attack disimproved.
The consequence was a reduced contribution from Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy, who were tightly marked by David Henry and Denis Bastic respectively, and less involvement from Walsh. Darran O’Sullivan, typically, got in a lot of work on the left wing but while the individual effort could not be faulted, collectively, Kerry were not functioning effectively. At the break, it was 0-9 to 0-7 for Dublin.
The second half was only a minute old when that lead was stretched by Davoren’s well-taken goal, which was created by Magee. Kerry, meanwhile, had to cope with the loss of Padraig Reidy, forced off injured just before the break.
In general, the momentum stayed with Dublin until important scores from Darran O’Sullivan and Cooper (when he indicated to the referee that a “holding” offence prevented him from trying for a goal) encouraged Kerry greatly.
There were further signs of a Kerry recovery evident from the immediate impact of both Micheal Quirke and midfield and Sean O’Sullivan at half-forward and later, the efforts of Anthony Maher alongside Quirke. The half-backs also were much more forceful, with Tomás Ó Se going forward frequently and Griffin excelling.
Yet after Andrews, star corner-back Henry and the hard-working Connolly put over three quick Dublin scores to open up a six-point gap with just over 15 minutes remaining, it looked ominous for Kerry. However, that changed with O’Mahony’s 65th-minute goal, before Donaghy’s tenacity produced a deserved equaliser three minutes later.
In remaining time, substitute Alan Brogan looked to have scored a winning point until his shot came back off the upright and, in injury time, Sean O’Sullivan hit an angled kick just outside the post for Kerry. It seemed that neither side was fated to lose.
Scorers for Dublin: M. Davoren 1-3; D. Connolly 0-4 (0-2 frees); R. McConnell, C. Keaney (0-2 frees) and P. Andrews 0-2 each; D. Henry and P. Burke 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kerry: A. O’Mahony 1-0; C. Cooper 0-3 (0-1 free); B. Sheehan (0-1 free), Darran O’Sullivan, T. Walsh and D. Moran 0-2 each; P. Galvin, T. Ó Se, S. O’Sullivan and K. Donaghy 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: S. Cluxton (c); A. Hubbard, D. Bastic, D. Henry; G. Brennan, B. Cullen, P. Griffin; D. Magee R. McConnell; P. Flynn, K. Bonner, D. Connolly; C. Keaney, M. Davoren, P. Andrews.
Subs: P. Burke for Bonner (12th minute); A. Brogan for McConnell (58th); S. Ryan for Flynn (61st); D. Lally for Connolly (67th); Rory O’Carroll for Henry (inj, 68th).
KERRY: D. Murphy; T. O’Sullivan, A. O’Shea, P. Reidy; T. Griffin, A. O’Mahony, T. Ó Sé; S. Scanlon, D. Moran; P. Galvin, T. Walsh, Darran O’Sullivan (capt.); C. Cooper, K. Donaghy, B. Sheehan. Subs: D. Bohan for O’Shea (injured 19th minute); K. Quirke for Reidy (injured 34th); A. Maher for Sheehan (second half); M. Quirke for Scanlon (41st); S. O’Sullivan for Moran (48th); K. O’Leary for Darran O’Sullivan (66th).
Referee: P. McEnaney (Monaghan).