The begrudgers will tell you that Dublin were only at half-pace, that the league doesn’t count or that the championship is already a foregone conclusion anyway.
However, let’s take the positives where we can. Last night’s clash between Kerry and Dublin went a long way to restoring some faith that there is life in this game just yet.
There was such an intense, but jovial atmosphere in Tralee and having a Saturday evening league game between two of the nation’s greatest sides on free-to-air television was great to see because Gaels shouldn’t have to watch these two on pay-per-view.
The drama unfolded before the game even kicked off as well, with the news that Jason Sherlock had travelled with the Dublin team amid reports that he had walked away from the set-up following a strained relationship with Jim Gavin.
Here are our thoughts on why last night’s encounter was great for so many reasons.
Neither Team Are Truly Up To Speed Yet
It’s true that Dublin have only been back a few weeks from their team holiday and aren’t yet firing on all cylinders. However, it was also only Kerry’s third game under Peter Keane after they waved their right to participate in this year’s McGrath Cup. So whilst Dublin may not be up to speed just yet, the same can be said for Kerry who surely haven’t had that much time to gel under Peter Keane’s stewardship.
Dublin Are Beatable
The game marked Dublin’s second defeat in three league games which means that they face an uphill challenge to make it to a league final.
Dublin coasted to an All-Ireland title last year. After Mayo’s early exit from the championship, the outcome seemed all but inevitable and it proved to be the case as Dublin had Sam Maguire wrapped up by half-time against Tyrone.
Whilst it is only February and there is plenty to football to be played, watching Dublin fall twice goes a long way to restoring faith that someone apart from Mayo can actually give them a contest come to the white heat of summer.
Kerry’s defence was magnificent on the night. Despite conceding two goals, one of which saw Con O’Callaghan dance through their defence, they stood strong to the Dublin challenge, and whilst on numerous occasions, they had 14 players behind the ball, they didn’t play a traditional blanket defence that is designed to not only shut out teams but shut out games.
They defended as a unit and attacked as a unit, very much in the mould that Dublin have become famous for.
Not only were the Kerry players strong at the back, but they produced going forward. Tom O’Sullivan marauded up from left-half back to kick a great score, whilst full-back Jack Sherwood joined the attack repeatedly kicking one point and could have had another and lest we forget corner-back, Peter Crowley, who jaunted upfield in the final minute to score the winning point.
The Stars Of Old
Whilst neither side fielded their strongest 15, there was still plenty of stars on show, some old and some new. For Dublin, Paul Mannion was a constant buzz around the park and showed trademark pace, skill, power and precision to rattle a goal when Kerry looked to be in the ascendency.
James McCarthy kicked three points from play from half-back in a trademark performance, it’s hard to believe he’s only 28 given his consistency, his time at the top and his ridiculous medal haul.
On the Kerry side, Stephen O’Brien had one of his best games ever in a Kerry shirt. The Kenmare man had 15 on his back and whilst he showed all the traits of a corner-forward pouncing on a loose ball to fire home Kerry’s goal, he spent the majority of the game linking defence with attack and doing it perfectly.
There were also some great performances from the lesser known players. Dublin’s Darren Gavin came on for his league debut last weekend against Galway. He also starred earlier this week for UCD in their Sigerson Cup quarterfinal win over rivals DCU.
The Lucan Sarsfields man came in as a late replacement last night and the midfielder looks like someone who could potentially break into this formidable Dublin side come summer time.
Meanwhile, Gavin O’Brien came in as a late replacement for Kerry and never seemed to put a foot wrong. He caught balls and chipped in with a score and overall was vital to Kerry’s win.
Dara Moynihan made sure that everyone in the country remembers his name following a man of the match display. He attacked, he defended, he caught kick outs and scored twice in a performance that had the purists purring.
The Melee In Tralee
Last but not least, whilst we hate to see our games reduced to violence – which has become far too regular recently – you have to admit, at the end of a thriller like that a little bit of pushing and shoving really adds to the spectacle.
Yes, yes, yes. We’ve heard it all before! It’s only February, Dublin aren’t ready yet and the All-Ireland is already won.
Let’s just enjoy what was a proper throwback game of football between two cracking sides who no doubt will meet again come the summer time.