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Dublin: 6 °C Saturday 29 February, 2020
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Kerry swagger returns, Dublin have issues to solve and a fascinating replay in store

Ciaran Deely takes a look back at yesterday’s game.

Tommy Walsh and James McCarthy after yesterday's game.
Tommy Walsh and James McCarthy after yesterday's game.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

WE DISCOVERED YESTERDAY that Dublin have finally found a true nemesis, that Kerry can now mix it with the very best and that this rivalry will determine the fate of the All-Ireland titles into the next decade.

This was a game that was all about Kerry for me. At this stage we know so much about
Dublin that there is very little more to learn about them. But we learned so much more about this young Kerry team yesterday.

That Kerry will go on to win the All-Ireland in the coming years is now no longer a doubt for me. They have the players, the know-how and ominously for the rest of the country- they’ve got the Kerry swagger and confidence back.

It was already telling that after the first ten minutes in which Kerry’s forwards had their
Dublin man markers all at sea, that the capital were still in the lead with a 2-point margin. Kerry’s one point from five chances in comparison to Dublin’s three from five  told a story and one which was to continually repeat itself throughout the day.

Then came the penalty decision. Which to me was not a major decision at all. I applaud
David Gough for having the guts to give it. It was a foul and so was the right call. Before the game I predicted Dublin would have a man sent off and Jonny Cooper was my favourite, along with John Small. Both received early yellow cards, and for such tight man markers who continually play on the edge, it was inevitable one was going to get the line. 

Though Kerry were young and inexperienced, it is rare that you see an opposition team give as good as they get from Dublin. During that period, they showed why they will win All Irelands, but also why they perhaps are not quite ready yet. Showing immaturity in some wild shooting and  missing three good goal scoring chances. 

Both teams impressed me so much in their bravery on opposition kick outs. Instead of the typical 3-3-2 zonal positioning of all 6 forwards in position and midfielders, what we saw from both teams was often a 4-4-4 or even a 4-5-3 formation. The problem, of course with such an aggressive press, is that you leave some opposition forwards inside unmarked, including some of the sharpest marksmen in the game. At one point in the second half, there were only two Dublin defenders marking four Kerry attackers inside the Dublin ’65, with even Cluxton marking Tommy Walsh inside. Brave stuff!

stephen-cluxton Stephen Cluxton starred for Dublin yesterday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It is a high risk, high reward tactic and in this case for Dublin, the reward was huge. A laser kick-out from Cluxton found Brian Howard soaring above the Kerry midfield, a quick offload to Ciaran Kilkenny, onto an accelerating Niall Scully who promptly released Jack McCaffrey who put on the burners and he finished with aplomb. One of the best All-Ireland final team goals I’ve seen.

Kerry’s momentum was gone and after 20 minutes the Dubs had hit 1-4 from 8 chances,
with Kerry falling well behind that efficiency in getting 0-5 from 8 chances.  The
excellent Sean O Shea was continually keeping Kerry in it with played balls and from play. The first half at times seemed like a shootout between O’Shea and Rock.

Cooper’s sending at the stroke of half time gave Kerry a much-needed lifeline, but I felt they really could have done with it happening just after half time. Jim Gavin is obviously notoriously diligent, and the half time break would have given him and his management staff a chance to reorganise, which involved Michael Fitzsimons picking up Clifford for the second half, something I felt should have been done from the beginning. I believe Jim Gavin showed momentary weakness in not changing Cooper off Clifford, or even taking him off in the first half.

Once Dublin finally settled and Kerry had enjoyed their near 10-minute bounce from the
sending off either side of the half time whistle, a moment summed up for me the beauty in how Jim Gavin works with this team also. Davy Byrne made a wonderful turnover through pure strength and guile along and set Dublin off on the counter attack again. Byrne had missed all last season, but now was back in for this season. Typical Jim, if the player was performing in training, he gets the nod, regardless of last season.

With Kerry having the extra man, how were they not continuing their full press through the second half? Tiredness I’m sure was a contributing factor. But still, especially since Brian Fenton was having as quiet a game as I could remember and the excellent David Moran dominating in the air and around the pitch with his sublime kicking.

Paul Geaney was surprisingly, but effectively, playing more as a deep lying play maker in the second half and setting the play rather than finishing it off. Often your marksman is also potentially your purest ball player also further out the pitch, but it’s the opportunity cost of losing his presence inside. In this situation I think his play making further out was a wise move, especially with Tommy Walsh and Spillane entering the fray and finishing moves now further up the field. 

As is typical in these big games momentum swung back in Dublin’s favour again and they capitalised on it ruthlessly. They are so efficient in their use of the ball, in how they build a score, suck teams into a melee and then play out of it, switching the ball to the open side where Con and Mannion are left in a one v one situation, or into an overloaded zone of the pitch where careering defender from deep ploughs forward through the mass of bodies and creates an opening for a score. 

I was surprised at Peter Keane for this.  To beat Dublin, I would have flooded that central area with defenders but also half forwards to snuff out that avenue for the Dublin attack. It was surprising to see such gaps opening right through the heart of the Kerry defence.

The indefatigable Brian Howard stationed himself behind midfield in the second half and made the play, sometimes showing his incredible footwork and deftness of movement to get him out of sticky situations and help Dublin launch further attacks. I’ve never seen such a young player play with such maturity. He has all the attributes needed for the crazy cauldron of frantic big matches in Croke Park and you know he is going to perform on the big day.

Sean O’Shea was surely a call for man-of-the-match alongside McCaffrey and Howard- and under pressure he hit a great point in the second half. I love watching O’Shea, as a centre-forward myself, I admire his play making abilities and eagerness to get in on the end of moves also. He is like a more athletic and high scoring Brian McGuigan from that great Tyrone team of the noughties.

sean-oshea-celebrates-scoring-a-point Sean O'Shea celebrates a second-half point for Kerry. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Another thing that really surprised me with both managers was what little changes they
made and how late those changes were. Niall Scully had an extremely quiet game by his standards yet didn’t get replaced till very late on and Diarmuid Connelly entered the fray with little time to have a lasting impact. Could this be a little ray of hope for all other teams out there chasing Dublin that the extreme pressure of the race for 5 in a row is getting to the Dublin management, the refusal to make changes when most needed?

I was, however, more disappointed with Peter Keane’s insistence on keeping a Tommy
Walsh on the side-lines until the 52 minute. I couldn’t understand why he was not introduced into the fray earlier, and even wasn’t the first sub in for Kerry. Now granted Spillane had a huge effect on proceedings also when he came in, but when I wrote a piece previewing the game, I thought Walsh was exactly what the Dublin defence didn’t want to come up against and should start. 

I believe to beat Dublin you must take risks, and everything must go right for you on the day. You never know when such an opportunity comes around again.

Regardless of all the structures, support system and constant talk of trusting the process that Jim Gavin and his management would have put in place to protect against any straying minds and nerves, the players themselves perhaps unbeknownst to themselves will start feeling the five-in-a-row quest jitters. How else can you explain the subdued performances of Mannion, Kilkenny and the usually incomparable Fenton?

My initial feeling after the pulsating action, was that Kerry left their one great chance behind them. But that quickly dissipated to the realisation that these last few minutes, finally, have shown how Dublin can be beaten.  That is a challenge this Dublin team has yet to face- a strong and confident Kerry team that is unafraid of the Dublin juggernaut.

Many people will say Dublin will circle the wagons, problem solve the issues from yesterday. It may be the case that Dublin will achieve the amazing feat of five-in-a-row the next day and that Kerry are not quite ready yet.

You cannot, however, get away from the feeling it will have spooked Dublin that the greatest team of all time could and should have been beaten by such a young inexperienced Kerry team, who will only get better. The replay will be fascinating.

  • Ciaran Deely is a former London manager, Wexford player and a sport scientist with QPR.

Murray Kinsella joins Gavan Casey, Ryan Bailey and Sean Farrell with their immediate reaction to Ireland’s 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup in Japan.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Ciaran Deely

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