Dublin and Kerry have enjoyed contrasting winters on the back of September’s All-Ireland final but one thing they do have in common is both squads enjoyed an off-season team holiday, Kerry’s slightly later than Dublin’s. As such, both are likely a little behind in where other teams may be in their preparation.
At times, Saturday’s League opener felt like a run-out for many players to stretch their legs and it did not have the bite of last year’s corresponding fixture in Killarney.
While Dublin’s six-point win will not have a lasting effect on established players like Diarmuid Connolly, Cian O’Sullivan and David Moran, it was a different situation for the players involved in two of the more interesting head to head battles.
Paul Mannion was returning to the Dublin team after a year out and was being picked up by the only debutant from either team to start the game, Brian O’Beaglaoich. Mannion will be very aware of the level of competition in that Dublin forward line but from the opening exchanges his movement and ball-winning showed how much of an asset he is to have back. Although Paddy Andrews and Dean Rock did the majority of scoring, Mannion’s fine performance will be a big positive for Jim Gavin.
After a tough opening quarter O’Beaglaoich grew into the task. He was continously being asked to man up one on one with little support from his half back line but produced some excellent examples of the fundamentals of defending such as a full length block on Mannion in the closing stages of the first-half.
The Gaeltacht U21 showed enough over the 70 minutes he should see plenty of game time during the league and while the likes of Marc Ó Sé and Aidan O’Mahony are to return, Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s squad will be happy to have one of Kerry’s next generation pushing for a spot in his full back line.
At the opposite end of the pitch, Michael Fitzsimons and Tommy Walsh were engaged in another duel with a little bit more riding on it than others.
Fitzsimons was getting the first shot at replacing Rory O’Carroll at full back. He’s been around the squad a number of years and while traditionally he has lined out at corner back he has the skill set to play in that central role. He likes to compete out in front with his direct opponent and as is the way with most of the Dublin full back line, he is content to try break any high ball in and trust the likes of Cian O’Sullivan or James McCarthy are there to pick up the breaks. Trying to break high ball on Saturday was easier said than done against someone of the size of the Kerins O’Rahilly’s totem.
Walsh started the game in a withdraw role around the middle of the field and although he had a few possessions he was not making any real impact. Once Kerry moved him back into the edge of the square, he showed encouraging signs of what he can bring. He won a number of high balls and created some good chances for those around him. Walsh has enough football and ability that he will offer much more than just a long ball outlet, but one senses he will need a full league uninterrupted by injury to get some of the sharpness back to maximise his role come the summer.
With the format and fixture layout of this years league, both Kerry and Dublin go into next weekend’s games ahead of a three week break conscious the results against Roscommon and Mayo will likely determine the shape of the remainder of their league campaigns — and what level of opportunity those players who are knocking on the door, will actually get.