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Kerry and Dublin played out a thrilling encounter in Tralee on Saturday night that went right down to the wire.
It was a game that had everything spectators want in terms of skill, tension and drama and went a small way towards restoring faith in a game that has had plenty of detractors.
The end result saw a 1-18 2-14 win in favour of the Kerry men who maintain their undefeated start to life under Peter Keane.
Kerry are receiving plenty of plaudits for their performance and rightly so.
Their defence was excellent from start to finish, not just at the back but also in support of the attack. Jack Sherwood found himself up the field from full-back on more than one occasion and chipped in with a score. Tom O’Sullivan repeatedly threatened and penetrated the Dublin half-back line, whilst corner back, Peter Crowley, nabbed the winner.
Dara Moynihan and Gavin O’Brien both put in serious shifts in what was undoubtedly the biggest test of their senior careers thus far.
Moynihan picked up the man of the match award, but the player that was vital to Kerry’s win on Saturday night was Kenmare’s Stephen O’Brien who chipped in with 1-1 in a performance to remember.
In part three of our Allianz Deep-Dive series, we take a look at Stephen O’Brien’s inspired performance in Tralee.
The Kenmare man wore 15 on the night, but in reality, he drifted all over Austin Stack Park helping out in defence, picking up on loose ball, taking scores and being involved in the most important score of all.
The first bit of play we are going to highlight is O’Brien’s reliability and bravery to do the dirty work. It’s the third minute of the game. Dublin have just equalised and, from the resulting kick out, the ball breaks.
O’Brien waits in the wings before pouncing on the loose ball. Despite three Dublin players being closer to the action, he reacts fastest to gather.
He shows strength in the tackle to win a free kick which he sends to the far side of the field. Kerry go through the phases before Gavin O’Brien is fouled leaving Sean O’Shea with the opportunity to kick them back in front.
This next passage of play from O’Brien is arguably the best individual play of the game.
Both teams have started well and there is an intensity to the game. Dublin are attacking when Brian Fenton kicks it inside towards Paul Mannion. In fairness, it isn’t the greatest of passes as he is surrounded by four Kerry men. Nonetheless, Kenmare’s own is back there helping his defenders.
Mannion is first to the pass, but O’Brien is straight in on top of him.
He puts in the shoulder tackle and forces the Dublin forward to touch the ball on the ground. Free out.
Kerry are patient in their build-up opting to pass it short and look for the opening, which in turn, is created by that man O’Brien as he comes storming through centre-field to pick up the ball.
He lays the ball off to Peter Crowley but continues on with his run.
Crowley spots O’Brien on the overlap and gives it back to him.
O’Brien takes the ball at pace and drives into the open-field to send it over the bar.
O’Brien also scored Kerry’s goal, which proved decisive on the night.
Whilst Kerry’s number 15 didn’t play the conventional corner-forward role, he did show all the trademark traits of a quality inside man when he followed in this long ball before pouncing on the break to fire home.
23: GOAL Kerry!
Stephen O'Brien fires home!
— eir Sport (@eirSport) February 9, 2019
O’Brien was lethal in the opening 35 minutes, he scored 1-1 but he also played a direct role in numerous other scores.
His second half display was more workmanlike as Kerry battled tooth and nail for their victory in Tralee.
Towards the end of the game, O’Brien was utilised as a lone forward as Kerry attempted to see the game out, this was more than likely due to tiredness considering the hours worth of football that the Kenmare man had put in.
O’Brien’s best contribution of the second half came when it mattered most, for Peter Crowley’s Kerry’s winning score.
Operating at full forward, he comes out to collect a pass on the right wing.
O’Brien cuts inside past two Dublin defenders before spotting the onrushing substitute, David Moran. He passes across. Meanwhile, Crowley has ghosted into the full forward line, almost on top of Evan Comerford.
This creates the space for Moran to attack the centre, meaning the Dublin defender marking Crowley has no option but to close down the space.
Moran evades three Dublin defenders with a beautiful side-step and is left with the simplest of passes to Crowley who scores the winner.
Kerry deserve the plaudits that have been coming their way after Saturday’s epic encounter, but none more so than Stephen O’Brien who led by example as one of the senior men on this Kerry side.
He tackled, ran, assisted and scored. Overall, he was key to Kerry’s victory.