DAVID Moran draws his head back, throws his eyeballs to the sky and thinks not again.
For a man that Kerry relied so heavily upon in so many big games, he just had huge misfortune in big moments of their ties with Dublin.
You say big moments but spilling a ball 80 yards from your own goal wouldn’t feel like it at the time, or a decision to punch a ball rather than catch it on the throw-in, as with Eoin Murchan’s decisive goal in the 2019 replay.
Kerry are on the attack in last summer’s meeting when he fumbles the receipt of a handpass at his feet. James McCarthy pounces. Instantly it’s panic stations.
Tadhg Morley has hardly been moved out of the hole for three months. He has to go and choose between marking Cormac Costello and dropping off. He does neither.
Thirteen seconds after Moran’s fumble, the ball is in the Kerry net. The five-point gap is down to two and that swiftly becomes zero. Sean O’Shea’s monstrous free with the last kick pays Kerry’s bail.
That moment will have been seared in Ciaran Meenagh’s mind as he rewound and rewatched the Kingdom’s quarter-final win over Tyrone.
Three times in the first 15 minutes, Tyrone players sallied down the middle of the goal. Three times they were turned over, and the Kerry players celebrated as if they’d scored a goal.
The protection of the centre of their goal, with Morley the keyholder, has been everything to this Kerry team in the last 18 months.
As Costello’s goal showed, you have to get him out of the hole and hurt them when he is.
It was interesting that Meenagh said after Sunday’s game that they’d prepared for every eventuality including if All-Ireland champions decided to go without a sweeper.
The Kerry defenders took their positions at throw-in with great certainty. Morley marched straight in to Ciaran McFaul. If they’d intended to get him sitting in the pocket sweeping, McFaul was never going to be the man they’d leave off free.
It seems, in hindsight, that Kerry got that one wrong.
Both sides allowed the game to become man-for-man. Kerry clearly felt they had the attacking advantage in that situation, that the space for the Cliffords and O’Shea and Geaney would be too much for the Oak Leaf defence to cope with one-on-one.
Paudie Clifford got a point and Paul Geaney didn’t score. It took O’Shea the whole first half to get into it, even though Derry lost his man-marker after just eight minutes.
The injury to Padraig McGrogan’s ankle as he kicked an early point was hugely significant for the Ulster champions.
Even still, they came to Croke Park and had a cut at it. They were unflinchingly brave from start to finish. Odhran Lynch almost got caught out a few times over his head but that’s been the way all year. Chrissy McKaigue has bailed them out on so many 50-50 balls that if he’d lost, it was a certain goal.
You felt a bit for McKaigue on Sunday, though he wouldn’t want you to. It was just an all-or-nothing approach. As Meenagh said afterwards, they couldn’t both protect the space in front of David Clifford and really hurt Kerry.
To hurt Kerry, you have to get Morley out of the hole. And to do that, you have to play man-for-man football.
Galway did it for a while in last year’s final. Their good first half was built on it, as was the freedom Shane Walsh got to engage in a one-on-one battle with Tom O’Sullivan.
Mayo did it in Killarney and could so easily have had six goals.
The six-in-a-row Dublin team taught everyone to be terrified before they’d set foot on the pitch. That led to widespread fear and everyone shutting up shop, hoping just to be beaten by as little as possible.
Despite what happened on Sunday, Kerry will probably want a man-for-man final because they’ll feel they have the better full-back line of the two teams.
It takes very little to change how we perceive a team. All summer, Kerry have looked very human and Dublin even moreso.
No defenders like to be run at. They don’t like to be exposed and made defend in one-on-one situations. Who wants Brendan Rogers or Gareth McKinless or Shane McGuigan coming directly at them with all the advantages modern forwards have?
We’ve had a lot of the possession stuff this year that’s bored us all to tears.
That only happens when teams allow it to happen, and they only allow it to happen because of the fear of what happens if they lose the ball rather than concentrating on the damage they can do with it.
It felt like Derry had stored it all up for this All-Ireland semi-final that they’d felt all year they’d be in. That they’d hidden the plan away and kept it.
The question now is whether they maintain that type of approach and try to get better in those types of frantic, end-to-end encounters, the kind you get in Croke Park in June and July and that ultimately define your season.
Not just Derry but everyone else in the fishbowl of contenders. There’s not much to separate the top eight but you think of Armagh, sitting at home wondering what might have been now if they’d been that bit more proactive against Monaghan.
The football has been pretty terrible at times this summer but it takes very little to swing it. The benefits of a front-foot approach were so evident at the weekend that you hope others take notice and feel that it’s the way to go.
Kerry got to 20 points in the end. The whole idea was that Derry would have to stop them getting above 15 or 16 because they’d never get there themselves. Yet they hit 1-15 and should have hit the 20-point mark.
Nothing has changed in that sense. You still need to be hitting 20 points in Croke Park. And if you’re not hitting them elsewhere, you’re probably not gonna hit them on the big day.
Attack remains the best form of defence.