Dean Rock’s enjoyed his finest hour yesterday...
Dublin’s character and mental strength
Not since this stage last year, when Mayo opened up a four-point lead, have Jim Gavin’s men been in a situation where you felt a game was going away from them. Kerry had some success at times in last year’s final and this year’s league final, but nothing like the 10-minute spell that closed the first half yesterday. When Paul Geaney bundled the second goal over the line Dublin were on the ropes and needed half-time fast.
Dublin management and players often talk about sticking to the processes but trusting a game-plan is easier when you’re dictating games. Half time was crucial to rediscovering a rhythm, and there was no sense of panic in the second half. Making up a five-point deficit without scoring a goal underlines that.
Leading championship scorer and reliable free-taker again, but Rock also gave arguably his best overall display in a Dublin jersey. Shot 10 out of 11 frees and added two points from play, one in either half. And his desire to make hard runs into space to show for direct ball made him an excellent outlet. In the first half, he won a key ball in front of Mark Griffin and Aidan O’Mahony to set up Philly McMahon for his goal chance and in the second half he laid on a score for Brian Fenton. In addition, he worked tirelessly pressing the Kerry defence when in possession. A complete performance from the Ballymun man.
When both teams sit down to analyse this game to review areas to improve, the starting point for both will likely be their own kick-outs. No-one will need to point out the obvious to Stephen Cluxton. He has set such an incredibly high standard over the years, so when you see the seven or eight minutes before half-time it can be hard to get your head around. After allowing numerous early short kick-outs, it looked like Kerry decided to press on kick-outs after they had a kickable free, the stoppage allowing them to push right up and be ready for the kick-out. Similarly, at the other end, Brian Kelly had a tough afternoon and struggled to find his men. At key times there seemed to be no kick-out strategy in place with Kelly often taking the wrong option. In the 65th minute, he attempted to find Bryan Sheehan who was outnumbered three on one, resulting in Dublin winning possession and working a free that levelled the game.
Kerry’s old guard
After such a keenly-contested, high-quality game, it is hard to focus on the negative impacts of the result. As I stood in the stand, watching the players shake hands and exchange pleasantries following the final whistle, I found myself focusing more on the Kerry players. Far be it for me to retire anyone, but the reality is that yesterday will be the last day in Croker for a number of great servants. Men like Kieran Donaghy (who at times is treated like the pantomime villain by Dublin fans), Aidan O’Mahony and Marc Ó Sé will likely consider their inter-county futures and while the outcome of this game will stick with them, they will know they went out on their shields. They won’t be the only players to weigh up what is coming down the line and a lot may depend on Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s next move.
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