Then Donnchadh Walsh typically ghosted his way behind the visitors’ cover and pointed to put his side two points up. The roar that greeted his score was deafening; the attendance was confirmed as 11,858 but this reaction was, like Paul Geaney described the pace of the game, “close to championship”.
Outside of Croke Park, such a noise hadn’t been heard from Kerry supporters since the 2012 qualifier win over Tyrone in Killarney. Then, as mediocre a team as Tyrone were, a run of three championship defeats to them was brought to an end. Here, Kerry were so close to halting a four-game losing streak to their rivals and thus becoming the latest outfit to beat this conquering Dublin team just as they were the last.
Only they let it slip. Dean Rock’s ninth pointed free a minute later was followed by a most untypical error by Paul Murphy who kicked away a free just as Kerry looked to have regained their composure. Dublin injected some urgency into the attack and Paul Mannion fired over a point.
There was still time for Kerry to mount an attack, even after Ciarán Kilkenny was dismissed for a second yellow card as he illegitimately halted progress, but it came to nothing and it was the boisterous Dublin posse at the Town End who claimed the bragging rights.
Éamonn Fitzmaurice afterwards could see the funny side of a question about Kerry needing a touch of Dr Crokes’ kill-game ability. He was reasonably happy that his men had been able to look Dublin square in the eyeballs and not flinch. “We’re disappointed, absolutely, that we didn’t win the game. I’m proud of the lads from the point of view that Dublin got ahead of us down the stretch as they have done a good few times in the last couple of years and we kept at it and it looked like we were going to see it out. It was unfortunate that a mistake at the end led to a score. We would have loved to have won the day but a draw, we’ll take it as well.”
What Fitzmaurice was more vexed about was the refereeing although he bit enough of his tongue not to divulge the extent of his feelings. He visibly fumed when an incident that left Adrian Spillane floored went unpunished and had a heated conversation with Philly McMahon crossing the field at half-time.
“Some of the frees, to me, looked to be easier to get down at that end than on our side,” he said. Asked if it was frustrating, he shrugged: “It was, at times, it was. It’s a pointless exercise giving out, it’s as simple as that. No, I think you always have to look in the mirror and we did after the performance against Mayo and it was one we had improved on but we weren’t good enough at times in the tackle again and it’s something we’ll work on. It’s early days.”
On an evening when Seán Hurson brandished 13 yellow cards, Rock’s nine frees were key for Dublin. Two of those bookings came in the 23rd minute two minutes after Geaney and Jack Savage were embroiled in an off-the-ball rumble with Stephen Cluxton, Mick Fitzsimons, and McMahon. Cluxton and Geaney were punished, the latter explaining that it started when the Dublin captain reacted to the Kerry forward kicking a ball. Geaney said: “What happened there was that there were just a couple of balls around the goal and I just kicked one of them away and Cluxton just took offence to that. There was a bit of pushing and shoving after that.”
But that was just one example of the malice that pervaded this affair. An attempt by the Dublin fans to commemorate those involved in the Irish Coast Guard tragedy was spoiled by a melee.
Grappling matches, sometimes brought to ground, sprang up everywhere as the game threatened to descend into lawlessness. Hurson looked out of his depth but then few referees would have been able to put any sort of control on this spate of spats.
That’s not to say the game wasn’t entertaining. Kerry were excellent against the wind in the first half, which finished 0-5 apiece, and even though Dublin managed just one point from play for over 50 minutes of football, they exhibited their champions quality in sending over half a dozen scores without answer to take the lead just after the hour mark.
What they brought on from the bench certainly helped and Jim Gavin wasn’t complaining. “At half-time, it looked promising for Kerry. They had a big wind there in the second half and they pushed 9-5 (points) out. We made a couple of tactical switches, boys got back into the game, maybe six points on the spin. I thought our boys were very clinical against a tough goal to score into.
“But as you would expect from a great side like Kerry they came roaring back. See some of the players that came on; just shows you the quality that they had in their squad. They deservedly went two ahead, 72 minutes into the game. All credit to the Dublin players they stuck with our game plan and went through the phases as they have demonstrated. Their strength is the sum of their parts and they all had a part to play in those scores.”
Goal chances were scarce, although Murphy put just wide an early shot having been put through by Geaney, Cluxton’s fingers were stung by a Geaney shot which he parried over the bar in first-half injury-time and in the second half, Kerry had to be sharp to deny Conor McHugh and Brian Fenton in one movement.
Ultimately, nothing was lost and plenty was gained. If Gavin thought last month’s draw with Donegal was worth a month’s training, this equated to two. Dublin are all but certain to become the greatest all-time unbeaten team against Roscommon next Saturday but Kerry have given them food for thought having found the performance, as Geaney claimed, “we’ve been chasing the last couple of years against Dublin”.
Next step is the result but Dublin are a team that have forgotten how to lose.
P. Geaney (0-7, 4 frees); P. Crowley, B. Kealy (45), D. Moran, K. McCarthy, B.J. Keane, D. Walsh (0-1 each).
D. Rock (0-9, frees); C. McHugh (0-2), E. O’Gara, P. Mannion (0-1 each).
B. Kealy; R Shanahan, S. Enright, M. Griffin; P. Crowley (c), T. Morley, K. Young; D. Moran, J. Barry; A Spillane, P. Murphy, D. Walsh; K. McCarthy, P. Geaney, J. Savage.
J. Lyne for S. Enright (inj, 16); S. O’Brien for J. Savage (h-t); B.J. Keane for D. Walsh (blood, 49); D. Walsh for A. Spillane (54); A. Maher for J. Barry (55); D. O’Sullivan for K. McCarthy, M. Geaney for K. Young (both 61).
S. Cluxton (c); D. Daly, P. McMahon, M. Fitzsimons; J. Small, D. Byrne, E. Lowndes; B. Fenton, M.D. Macauley; N. Scully, C. Kilkenny, S.B. Carthy; D. Rock, P. Andrews, C. McHugh.
C. O’Sullivan for D. Byrne (h-t); P. Flynn for N. Scully (42); K. McManamon for M.D. Macauley (44); E. O’Gara for P Andrews (48); P. Mannion for J. Small (inj, 49); B. Brogan for C. McHugh (69).
C. Kilkenny (second yellow, 70+5).
S. Hurson (Tyrone).