Kerry 1-18 Dublin 2-14
Did ‘Winning Streak’ air earlier than scheduled Saturday on RTÉ? An edge-of-the-seat game of risk and reward in Tralee climaxing with a roll of the dice and everyone leaving Austin Stack Park with something in their pocket.
Of course, the ones spinning the wheel trouser the lion’s share.
Kerry’s 2019 squad is populated with up to 17 All-Ireland minor winners of various vintage, and the boost to their belief systems from a victory over the ‘top dog’, as manager Peter Keane called Dublin, can only be measured in giant bounds. Certainly, it’s more substantive than the two league points the Kingdom accumulated.
Not that Dublin will be unduly frazzled, whether it be their supporters in a crowd of 11,982 who skipped down Boherbee afterwards, or the team coach which made haste for the capital. Jim Gavin says that his squad has been on a different fitness trajectory to Kerry’s over the past month, his sense being their hosts Saturday night are considerably further down the road than the champions.
Be that as it may, the spirited and defiant Dublin effort to pull the game out of the fire in the wake of Michael Fitzsimons’ 60th-minute dismissal spoke of a resilience and pride that will serve them well in their pursuit of footballing history. They held Kerry scoreless from the 57th to the 75th minutes, gaining parity at 1-17 to 2-14 in the second minute of additonal-time through a Cormac Costello free.
What has he learned about his tyro talents over the course of three league victories thus far, Peter Keane was asked afterwards. “That they can cope,” he said. On that basis, there’s an open stretch of opportunity and possibility ahead.
Dara Moynihan and Tom O’Sullivan are already bolting themselves into summer plans, and the likes of Briain Ó Beagloaich, Adrian Spillane, Gavin O’Brien, Shane Ryan and Diarmuid O’Connor are asking all the right questions of management. Most interesting is the high percentage of good decisions they’re making, and there won’t be a more demanding crucible outside Croke Park than hosting Dublin under lights in Tralee.
Kerry’s appetite for work is voracious and while Donie Buckley will hone that once he gets his feet properly under the table – he’s only been involved a couple of weeks at this stage – he, along with fitness head, Jason McGahan, has something genuinely exciting to be working with.
The Kerry players got a HD view in Tralee of how clinical champions go about their business. The Kingdom produced a nigh-flawless first-half but only went into the break with a two-point advantage (1-11 to 2-6).
First, Dublin strung 25 passes together – 22 of them hand-passed – to create the lane for Con O’Callaghan to goal (via Ó Beaglaoich’s unhelping hand), and three minutes before the break the same Kerry defender, who’d give a good account of himself in a race with a motorbike, was skinned by Paul Mannion for the visitors’ second goal.
Neither Ó Beaglaoich or his colleagues felt sorry for themselves though. In the wake of both Dublin goals, Kerry went straight back up the pitch and pointed via two of the newbies, Tom O’Sullivan and Gavin O’Brien. It lends credence to the view that this incarnation of Kerry representatives have no historical baggage when it comes to confronting the Big Blue.
“The priority for us is to learn,” Keane explained. “But you are still talking about a team going for five-in-a-row in the championship which has also won five of the last six Leagues. Everyone wants to test yourself against whoever is the top dog. And our lads want to test themselves.
“Of the 37 or 38 players (in the extended squad), around half were involved in the four-in-a-row Kerry minor wins, so they are all young, and they’ve all got a bit to find out. But fellas have been given an opportunity to put up their hand and some of them have certainly taken that.”
Kerry twice enjoyed a five-point lead and a four-point gap with it after 56 minutes, but there was never a settled sense on this affair. Dublin threw Macauley, McManamon and Paul Flynn into the mix but Kerry’s changes made their mark too. Tommy Walsh pointed, David Moran should have, but he atoned with a sumptuous dummy and simple pass to tee up the winner for corner-back Peter Crowley.
In the game’s 74th minute, it still felt it was in a washing machine cycle. Kerry registered 19 scores, but their best work, like the Tyrone win, was without the ball – and in pursuit of the ball. Jack Barry hounded Brian Fenton like it was Tralee 2017, and the defensive shield was resolute until they started to seek the comfort of the finish line after a 56th minute Sean O’Shea free put them 1-17 to 2-10 in front.
“To be five points down, and a man down, we finished really strong, which is very pleasing,” Gavin smiled afterwards. “We could have come away with a point, you could see the desire and the drive which was great to see. We’ve faced challenges like this before and responded to them.”
Doubtless they will. Entertaining Mayo in another Saturday night showdown in a fortnight offers such an opportunity and another floodlit festival.
Shouldn’t it be like this all the time?
Scorers for Kerry: S O’Shea (0-8, 6 frees, 1 45), S O’Brien (1-1), P Geaney (0-2), D Moynihan (0-2), G O’Brien, T O’Sullivan, J Sherwood, T Walsh and Peter Crowley (0-1 each).
Scorers for Dublin: D Rock (0-5, 4 frees), P. Mannion (1-2, 1 mark), C O’Callaghan (1-0), J McCarthy (0-3), C Costello (0-2, 1 free), D Gavin, B Fenton, (0-1 each).
KERRY: S Ryan; P Crowley, J Sherwood, B O Beaglaoich; T Morley, P Murphy, T. O’Sullivan; J Barry, A Spillane; D O’Connor, S O’Shea, D Moynihan; P Geaney, G O’Brien, S O’Brien.
Subs for Kerry: T Walsh for D O’Connor (half time); M Griffin for Spillane (52); G Crowley for Geaney (55); D Moran for Morley (60); M Geaney for G O’Brien (69).
DUBLIN: E Comerford; M Fitzsimons, E Murchan, E Lowndes; J McCarthy J Cooper J Small; B Fenton, D Gavin, N Scully, C O’Callaghan, B Howard; P Mannion, C Costello, D Rock.
Subs for Dublin: P Andrews for Lowndes (half time); J McCaffrey for Cooper (47); M D MacAuley for Gavin (62); K McManamon for Rock (62); P Flynn for N Scully (63).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).