GAA Football

Kicking Out: Kerry for Sam in 2020

Kerry may have fallen short in Saturday's replay, but they showed all the signs that they'll be very close to usurping Dublin in 2020. Picture by Philip Walsh

FAIRLY or unfairly, history is written by the victor.

At half-time on Saturday evening, Kerry looked like they had Dublin’s number.

From four points down twice in the first portion of the half, the Kingdom had stopped swaying and steadied up. When Paul Geaney carried the ball 70 yards and drove over the equaliser at 0-10 apiece, the Dubs were the ones wobbling.

Big games always hinge on very small moments. And really, the replay came down to two fouls - one committed and one not.

David Moran’s decision to punch rather than catch will haunt him, but perhaps not as much as the decision not to foul Murchan when he did catch up 25 yards from goal.

He must’ve thought the half-foul would be enough to destabilise the Na Fianna man or allow Tadhg Morley to get across, but alas not.

More than the three points, it gave Dublin a control of proceedings that they had lost in the 15 minutes before half-time.

They’ve received rightful praise for parts of their performance in the replay, most notably scoring 1-17 from play, but think of the goal chance Tadhg Morley had where he was fouled by Con O’Callaghan right in front of goal.

The Dublin full-forward didn’t shirk on his work as he stayed with Morley, but when David Clifford had picked up the ball with his full-back steaming past him, the only Dublin player inside his own 45’ was Stephen Cluxton.

That’s something we simply have not seen from them since the 2014 defeat by Donegal, where they were killed in exactly that space.

What was impressive about Kerry over the two games was the way in which they breached Dublin in the middle third. There was a power and a pace about them on the counter that we haven’t always seen from them.

Initially their defence was too standoffish, but Dublin had learned a lot from the drawn game, as we suspected they would. They kept the ball out of contact and tried to isolate Ciaran Kilkenny out wide on Gavin Crowley, cutting across the line, which worked a treat.

Kerry’s idea of going long in the early moments was routinely vilified, but it wasn’t just about going long.

They had very deliberately pulled Clifford out of where Dublin expected him to be, and tried to isolate Paul Geaney one-on-one against Davy Byrne on the edge of the square.

On the first three long balls, that’s exactly how it turned out, only for the delivery of them to let Kerry down. Geaney got hands to the first but lost his balance in the air. They knew he was stronger in the air than Byrne. All he had to do was catch one of them and Peter Keane would have looked like a genius for withdrawing Clifford and throwing Dublin off the scent.

Calls have been made for Tommy Walsh, particularly in light of the way Kerry’s attacking game began with the long ball, but that treats Jim Gavin as a fool. They didn’t want to isolate Tommy Walsh against a Jonny Cooper or a James McCarthy, because it would have been 50-50 at best. They wanted at least a 60-40 advantage and Geaney, who is known to be good in the air, gave them that advantage over Byrne. That was the point of it. It just didn’t come off.

Where Kerry lose credit is for the backward step they took on Dublin’s kickouts. They never pushed up on Cluxton in the way that had so spooked the Dubs in the first game. And while that allowed them a defensive structure, it removed the sense of anarchy that had caused such discomfort to the champions.

It seemed fairly criminal to be giving the Dubs all that uncontested ball when they’d had such relative joy going after it in the first game.

Murchan’s goal turned the whole tenor of the game, and yet had Stephen O’Brien popped the ball up to Geaney on the far post rather than blitzing it straight at Cluxton, Kerry would have been level again going into the last 20 minutes.

Had that ball hit the net and tied it at 1-13 apiece, who’s your money on then? Dublin had dominated the last 12 minutes with 14 men in similar circumstances two weeks earlier, and with a few of their big men in the middle third tied up, Kerry might well have struggled for the outlets to survive the onslaught again.

But it’s not clear cut. There would have been more space for Kerry to get ball to Clifford and Walsh had they been level or in front, and you’d like to think they’d have learned from the drawn game in terms of using it.

Dublin took the trophy and the spoils but in terms of 2020, Kerry took a lot from the two games. They were rated as no-hopers a fortnight ago, completely written off after their woeful first half against Tyrone.

While they didn’t bring Sam home, Kerry have answered a lot of questions. Shane Ryan’s assuredness suggests they finally have a goalkeeper they can trust.

Tadhg Morley is a serious runner for an Allstar, and Tom O’Sullivan too. Jason Foley has had a very good semi-final and replay. Peter Crowley was a huge loss and will come back in next year.

It was felt earlier in the summer that they were opening themselves up to crucifixion by trying to press man-for-man, but beyond the first half of the Tyrone game, they’ve looked considerably tighter at the back. Paul Murphy has settled into the sweeping role and they haven’t lost anything in attack for it.

Jack Barry has come of age with two huge displays and David Moran is still their spiritual leader.

You’d expect a forward line with their quality to improve on their finishing in the second half.

Diarmuid O’Connor, the two Spillanes, Dara Moynihan, Tomás Ó Sé will be a year older and physically stronger, and the next batch of U20s will be on their way in.

Beyond the goalkeeper, Dublin’s first 15 will definitely remain undisturbed but either literally or figuratively, they’re going to lose a lot of the impact off the bench between this winter and next.

Peter Keane’s side are closer to the top of the hill than we realised. They’re ready to plant the flag.

Kerry for Sam 2020.

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