The vast majority of the 45,838 Croke Park crowd on Saturday evening didn’t get what they came to see simply because the visitors didn’t allow it.
Kerry weren’t ruthless but they didn’t have to be. They were just better, their clutch of greenhorns cohesively knitting in with the bevy of household names.
Like last year’s league game, Bryan Sheehan finished with eight points but his performance was more considerable on this occasion, even if he did notch five of Kerry’s 17 wides.
Sean O’Sullivan, with three, was second to him in that inauspicious list, clocking up all of them in the first half before he was benched in the 50th minute. Indeed, all six of Kerry’s forwards had a wide to their name by half-time. There were bound to be cobwebs, but O’Connor admitted he was concerned by those 12 first-half wides.
“Obviously, we need to sharpen up because we kicked a ridiculous amount of wides. Of course (I was concerned). We dominated a lot of the possession and we were doing particularly well on the Dublin kick-out when they kicked it out long. (Stephen) Cluxton is clever, he went to plan B which was to go short and they won the last seven of their kick-outs before half-time.”
O’Connor, glowing in his tribute to the younger players, credited his experienced crew for settling the side at the break. It was noticeable how Kieran Donaghy, captain in Colm Cooper’s stead, cajoled players after each score to push up the field towards the Dublin goal.
Just like in their 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final rout of Dublin, the “full court press” on Cluxton’s kick-outs worked a treat. Pat Gilroy figured Dublin lost their first five of the second half as the likes of Paul Galvin cleaned up on his restarts.
It was from a Galvin fetch that the only goal of the game was scored, the wing forward fetching, then delivering, an angled ball into Paddy Curtin. The substitute’s squared hand-pass found an alert Darran O’Sullivan who slotted the ball into the net.
Around the centre, Anthony Maher was particularly effective after coming on for Seamus Scanlon at half-time. Alongside Sheehan, he gave more purpose to the Kerry midfield and starved the Dublin forward line of a lot of possession, especially Kevin McManamon who was dynamic early on. Then again, Dublin didn’t help themselves either, as Gilroy acknowledged.
“Our effort in the second half wasn’t what it should have been. We were very good in the first half. We worked very hard. Our use of the ball in the second half was terrible. The amount of balls we kicked away really knocked the stuffing out of us particularly as the half wore on.
“Some of the stuff was just silly mistakes and then our work rate was dropping. Kerry completely got on top in the middle of the field in the first 20 minutes of the second half. Once all those things start going against you, you probably look tired. We realise we have plenty of work to do, there is no question Kerry were the better team. We have got to make that ground up.”
As Gilroy mentioned, he gleaned positives from the opening half when his defenders put excellent pressure on the Kerry forwards, forcing them into making speculative and often off-balance shots at goal.
They took a two-point lead going into the interval — 0-7 to 0-5 — but it flattered them. Sure, they were more economic with their chances but Kerry had created close to 20 scoring opportunities. Ominous, it certainly was.
For the second game in succession, Gilroy found himself addressing the discipline of a midfielder.
Against Kildare in the O’Byrne Cup semi-final, he had hauled off Michael Dara Macauley after he had picked up an early yellow card.
On Saturday, there was little he could do about Eamon Fennell, dismissed 16 minutes after his introduction for a late challenge on Sheehan.
The St Vincent’s man looks set to be the first player to receive a match ban under the trial rules.
“It’s an area that we clearly have to be a lot better in,” said Gilroy. “It’s not on. Whatever chance you have with 15 men, if you are down to 14 you are going to be in big trouble. That’s something we have to work on. I didn’t see the incident. The referee was right beside it. I’m sure it must have been a sending off. It’s a ridiculous thing for us to do.”
Gilroy was more forgiving of his defenders who, as Kerry exerted more force in the second half, were forced into fouling in scoring areas, although a couple given to Barry John Keane looked innocuous enough.
However, the placement of substitute Kevin Nolan, an All Star wing-back, on Keane in the inside line was a mismatch in size and he maximised it.
Keane bagged three points himself, two coming late on, in a promising performance. He wasn’t the only one on an evening Kerry hope is the start of things to come and not just a means of forgetting the past.
Scorers for Kerry: B Sheehan 0-8 (5 frees); J O’Donoghue (2 frees), BJ Keane 0-3 each; D O’Sullivan 1-0.
Scorers for Dublin: T Quinn 0-4 (3 frees); K McManamon 0-3; S Cluxton (1 45, 1f) 0-2; B Cullen, D Connolly 0-1 each.
Subs for Kerry: A Maher for Scanlon (h-t); P Curtin for S O’Sullivan (50); D O’Callaghan for D O’Sullivan (inj 61); A O’Mahony for Crowley (66); D Bohan for Keane (71).
Subs for Dublin: P Flynn for Brogan (inj 44); K Nolan for Fitzsimons (inj 51); E Fennell for McConnell 51); D Kelly for O’Gara (63); S Murray for Macauley (64).
Red card: E Fennell (67, straight).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)