THERE was retribution in the Killarney air yesterday, but no one in the Dublin football camp was celebrating after beating the All-Ireland champions in this NFL Division One opener.
A two-point league victory cannot erase the memories of last August’s championship meltdown, but as part of their rehabilitation this was an encouraging starting point. They travelled home last night as the first Dublin team since November 1982 to take league points from the locals in Killarney but perspective was the buzzword in the Dublin ranks afterwards.
For manager Pat Gilroy, the key is building on this display: “I don’t think the result really matters, it’s more about performances. It’s all about consistency, there’s no point playing like that today and not following it up next week. We want to see how young lads acquit themselves out there and I was very happy with how hard everyone worked for us today. But look, it’s a February league match and that’s all it is.”
Gilroy went with just five of the side that started in last summer’s trouncing and that was reflected in how Dublin played free of inhibitions in the opening half. Their work-rate from the outset was ferocious, and they also played some bright, engaging football.
Midfielder Eamonn Fennell brushed aside the recent club transfer talk that has dogged him to gain a strong foothold around the middle with partner Ross McConnell. Fennell’s best work was done in an attacking sphere, as along with centre-forward Michael MacAuley, he sliced open the Kerry rearguard with astute angles of running. The good news continued elsewhere around the pitch with Rory O’Carroll, Paul Flynn and Kevin McManamon validating their case for inclusion with high-standard displays.
For Kerry an early league defeat will not prompt grave inquisitions. With several names missing, their teamsheet underwent a huge makeover from last summer’s side while manager Jack O’Connor was also absent from the sidelines due to a family bereavement.
Dublin’s greater dynamism suggested they are further advanced in their training schedule and it will take Kerry a few games to shake winter aches from their limbs. For all of Dublin’s early sparkle, Kerry competed well on the scoreboard in the first half. That was principally due to the excellence of Paul Galvin who kept his team afloat with his marquee moment arriving in the 23rd minute when his quicksilver footwork created a great point.
But Dublin were full value for their 1-6 to 0-6 interval lead, with Fennell notching two points and McManamon posing difficulties for Kerry defender Pádraig Reidy. The uncharacteristic laxness of Kerry’s passing from defence was another key factor as sloppy handling gifted Dublin cheap points, and but for fatal dithering by MacAuley in the fourth minute, they could have goaled after an errant Tommy Griffin sideline.
When Dublin did hit the net in the 32nd minute, it was a product of their own invention. Ross McConnell arrowed a brilliant pass forward and McAuley deftly flicked on to Paul Flynn, who shot emphatically to the net.
In contrast, Kerry’s inside attackers Barry John Walsh and Paul O’Connor’s ambitions to impress were not helped by the paucity of possession fed into them in the first half. Kerry’s principal tactic was to lump high balls to ‘Star’ at the edge of the square, but Dublin were alert to Donaghy’s threat and effectively crowded him out when he gained possession.
Dublin’s ploy of clogging the middle third deprived Kerry players of the space they needed to execute clean deliveries forward and that practice continued after the interval. Flynn, McManamon and the improving Blaine Kelly all set umpires flags fluttering and when Paul O’Connor kicked a 50th minute free, Kerry trailed 1-9 to 0-7.
Kerry’s fortunes did enjoy resurgence in a helter-skelter finale. Aidan O’Mahony and Declan O’Sullivan started channelling the action towards the Dublin half, while frees from O’Connor and Walsh ate into the Dublin lead. The play was growing ragged at this stage and referee Rory Hickey had to keep a tight rein as skirmishes developed. Kerry needed the boosting injection of a goal and created several frantic scrambles, but it was not until Walsh finished a Killian Young cross in the 72nd minute that they hit the net.
Momentarily Dublin’s grip on the game weakened but Kerry’s pursuit of an equaliser was undermined when MacAuley intercepted a Seamus Scanlon pass to race through and punch over the clinching point.
Kerry selector Ger O’Keeffe, deputising for O’Connor, admitted they collided with a superior side: “Dublin came down with big intentions and that showed, in the first half particularly. They were far fitter, I’d say they’d probably more work done than the president of the GAA might have thought since January. It’ll be a lesson to our younger lads that you don’t win games just because you’re All-Ireland champions.
“We’ve a lot of lads out and Declan O’Sullivan suffered a dead leg there, but we’d be hoping to get them back over the next few weeks.”
Scorers for Dublin: P Flynn 1-2, E Fennell 0-3, B Kelly (0-2f), K McManamon 0-2 each, A Hubbard, B Brogan (0-1f), M MacAuley 0-1 each.
Kerry: P O’Connor 0-5 (0-3f, 0-1 ‘45), BJ Walsh 1-1, P Galvin 0-4.
Dublin: B Brogan for Kelly (49), D Kelly for Hubbard (62), T Diamond for McManamon (68).
Kerry: A O’Sullivan for Quirke (47), Padraig O’Connor for Corridan (47), J O’Donoghue for Paul O’Connor (55), BJ Keane for D Walsh (66), K O’Leary for D O’Sullivan (inj) (66).
Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare).
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