For the second year in a row, it ended in a row.
If the enduring image from last year’s donnybrook was Jim Gavin walking obliviously past his and Kerry players as they wrestled on the ground, this time it was a smiling David Clifford leaving the field with his jersey ripped asunder after getting into an altercation with Brian Howard at the final whistle.
Clifford had just underlined his captaincy credentials with a booming free kick to take something from Dublin in Croke Park, the first time Kerry had done so since the 2017 Division 1 final. By the end, Peter Keane was fully engaged on the sideline, but afterwards he shrugged and said he would have accepted it whatever the score.
Kerry, he insisted, could have afforded to lose. “Had we won it, I wouldn’t be jumping out of my skin. Had we lost it, I wouldn’t be crying. Do you know, it’s a League game in January, it’s your first game.
“We’ve about two and a half weeks work done, similar to what Dublin have done. They’re probably at a bigger advantage because they’re on the go for many, many years and they’re used to what they’re doing but it wouldn’t have been crazy had we lost the game.
“On December 15, we have 14 players still playing district championship football in Kerry so our ability to get back was very limited and then you have the team holiday. We’re reasonably happy with what we got out of it for the amount of work that we’ve done and it’s a starting point and we build on from there, we hope.”
To lose having been three points up in the 64th minute would have stung especially as they had been a man up for a combination of 16 minutes before that because of Eric Lowndes’ sin bin and subsequent black card. Graham O’Sullivan also picked up a black card at a crucial late juncture but to be nobbled by Dublin again might have had long-lasting repercussions.
Football fitness may have been lacking at times but pride was there in abundance. There were tans aplenty across the field after the counties’ recent holidays in Bali (Dublin) and Thailand (Kerry), but it wouldn’t be a stretch to believe the thought of this game left a beer or two unfinished on some Asian beach bars.
The idea of Spartan-like training sessions under new manager Dessie Farrell might have tempered Dublin’s break away but he considered himself satisfied with what he witnessed, although his forward line going exactly 60 minutes without a score from play had been troubling.
Such statistics are forgivable but more importantly mendable at this time of year and Farrell’s work with them so far comprised just three full training sessions and a walkthrough.
“It looked like the game was starting to slide away from us a little bit. There was not much energy coming from our lads at that particular point in time but they summoned great energy from somewhere and great character going down the back straight to get their noses in front.”
Three points down, Ciarán Kilkenny stood up, pointing a fine advanced mark in the 67th minute and bringing Dublin level three minutes later with one from play. Niall Scully then put Dublin ahead, which was quickly cancelled out by a Paul Geaney free. Kilkenny cleverly worked a free which Dean Rock converted in the last of the six announced minutes but there was still time for Clifford to conjure some magic.
Aside from that equaliser, there were other positives for Keane like James O’Donoghue’s first-half display when he helped himself to three points. That was a period when Keane was worried about Dublin’s midfield — “(Brian) Fenton went to town in the first half, he had four points” — but to see O’Donoghue, a man he coached at club level, show as he did was encouraging.
“James had a few injuries earlier on in the League last year and we were doing our best to get him back for the opening round of the Championship and after 40-45 minutes the hamstring went and it effectively ended his year. Whereas up to that he’d be going really well in the April/May period.
“So that was a big setback because last year we were expecting a big year out of him. He’s done very well in the last few weeks and he maybe had the benefit last year of not killing himself because of the injury, went fresh into the O’Donoghue Cup with Legion who won it after so many years and it was a big thing for him and he’s carried and taken that through.”
While Farrell accepted Dublin conceded too many scoreable frees, Keane baulked at the idea the game had nasty undertones, even if there were 10 yellow cards, two black cards and two red cards, one of them a late admonishment for Seán O’Shea for a second caution.
“It didn’t feel dirty, did it?” asked Keane. It didn’t seem dirty to me. Ye were watching it more closely from that aspect. Did it seem like a dirty game? There were no great flare-ups, were there?”
The melee at the end would be considered one but we’re getting used to early-season tetchiness between these two.
Scorers for Dublin: D. Rock (1-6, 1-0 pen, 6 frees); B. Fenton (0-4); C. Kilkenny (0-3, 1 mark); C. McHugh (0-2, 1 mark); K. McManamon, J. McCarthy, A. Byrne. N. Scully (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kerry: D. Clifford (1-3, 0-2 frees); S. O’Shea (0-5, frees); J. O’Donoghue (0-3); P. Murphy (0-2); G, Crowley, S. O’Brien, G. O’Brien, L. Kearney, K. Spillane (mark), P. Geaney (free) (0-1 each).
DUBLIN: E. Comerford; D. Byrne, P. McMahon, E. Murchan; E. Lowndes, J. Small, J. McCarthy (c); B. Fenton, B.Howard; N. Scully, C. Kilkenny, K. McManamon; C. McHugh, P. Andrews, D. Rock.
Subs: S. Bugler for N. Scully (blood, 2-7); S. Bugler for J. McCarthy (10-18); S. Bugler for N. Scully (blood, 28-34); P. Mannion for P. Andrews (43); S. Bugler for K. McManamon (52); A. Byrne for C. McHugh (55); R. O’Carroll for P. McMahon (64);
Sin bin: E. Lowndes (35+2-43).
Sent off: E. Lowndes (56, black + yellow).
KERRY: S. Ryan; J. Foley, T. Morley, B. Ó Beaglaoich; S. O’Shea, A. Spillane; G. O’Brien, P. Geaney, S. O’Brien; J. O’Donoghue, T. Walsh, D. Clifford (c).
Subs: K. Spillane for S. O’Shea (blood, 2-7); L. Kearney for A. Spillane (inj 16); G. O’Sullivan for B. Ó Beaglaoich (inj 33); K. Spillane for J. O’Donoghue (50); M. Burns for T. Walsh (58); D. Moynihan for G. O’Brien (70).
Sin bin: G. O’Sullivan (62).
Sent off: S. O’Shea (70+7, second yellow).
Referee: S. Hurson (Tyrone).
The game in 60 seconds
David Clifford’s equaliser, of course. It might have been brought closer to the Dublin goal because of James McCarthy kicking the ball away but it was still at a difficult range for the Kerry captain.
The respect and animosity between these two groups. Dean Rock’s offer of a handshake to Clifford after he kicked the ultimate equaliser was soon followed by Clifford and Brian Howard getting involved in a grappling match and others joining in.
For this rivalry. It’s most certainly in rude health and this left us wanting more.
Paddy Andrews and Kevin McManamon weren’t the only forwards who dried up for that long stretch when the attack failed to score from play but they were the first replaced.
Adrian Spillane (ankle) and Brian Ó Beaglaoich (leg) face a race to be fit to play Kerry after coming off in the first half.
We weren’t going to see too much tactical acumen being demonstrated here so early in the season. Seán O’Shea, as much as people believe his future should be in midfield, was playing more due to a shortage of personnel than anything else. Paul Geaney’s deeper role was interesting although it didn’t really pay off.
Brian Fenton and James O’Donoghue were the leading lights in the first half but they had quiet second halves. Ciarán Kilkenny played in spurts and when he was involved he was influential. Paul Murphy was among the most consistent.
Seán Hurson had a relatively easy time of it in the first half but things most certainly cranked up thereafter. Most referees would have struggled and even though he seemed heavy-handed at times matters still ended in a feud. He handled the advanced mark and sin bin well, though, and his use of advantage was strong.
Kerry face Galway in Austin Stack Park on Saturday, the same evening Dublin travel to Castlebar to face Mayo.