Oh, how the tables have turned…
Eleven days ago, Kerry had only hope in their quest to defeat the Dubs and stop the five-in-a-row. Now, we stare down the barrel of a highly anticipated replay that has most people second-guessing on what to expect.
Last Sunday week’s game had everything. The atmosphere was intense, the football immense and the closing stages wrapped in suspense.
In truth, Kerry left it behind them. They had Dublin on the ropes, they took a sledgehammer to their previously unbreakable wall and showed that cracks really do exist. They may not have sealed the deal but they most definitely rattled them.
Kerry rattled them in their defensive performance and not their striking arsenal. It was a defensive masterclass that started from the front and worked its way back.
A far cry from the side that had all the tools in attack but a lack of substance at the back. Defensively they reduced a red-hot Dublin forward line to just seven points from play, something that hasn’t been done in a long time.
Kerry’s collective effort started with Paul Geaney who despite not scoring was still lauded for his tireless work rate around the pitch. He committed a few fouls and picked up a yellow card but the Dingle man threw his body at every ball.
Stephen O’Brien chased and harried blue shirts all afternoon. The Kenmare man twice dispossessed James McCarthy on one of his trademark forward runs and given the havoc that Jack McCaffrey caused in the drawn game, O’Brien might be the secret to pumping the breaks on the Clontarf flyer.
While the only Spillane on people’s lips after the game was Killian, who came of age on the grandest of stages. It was Adrian who turned over Dublin on multiple occasions and helped Kerry dominate midfield. An area where more often than not Dublin look untouchable.
The Templenoe man was ably assisted in the middle sector by Jack Barry, David Moran and later Jack Sherwood who dictated what was a war of attrition from start to finish. We are so used to seeing Brian Fenton and Michael Darragh MacAuley dominate proceedings but their physicality paled in comparison to what they met last Sunday.
At the back, Gavin Crowley steadied the ship like a ten-year veteran and was to Kerry what McCarthy should have been, and normally is, for Dublin. He charged forward to great effect when needed and kicked a vital score in the second half.
All the talk in the build-up focused on the potency of Dublin’s full-forward line and how the form of Paul Mannion and Con O’Callaghan would ultimately swing the game in their favour. However, what transpired couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Mannion has consistently hit five, six, seven points from play all season but he finished the drawn game with two points thanks to Tadhg Morley who made life difficult all day long.
Morley caused headaches for Dublin’s key men all afternoon and was a dog in defence from start to finish. It’s been levied at Kerry that there is no leader in their defence. We’re calling bulls**t on that one because Morley epitomised leadership.
Lastly, Shane Ryan was excellent for a young goalkeeper in his first All-Ireland. He may have kicked two restarts over the sideline but he was calm in possession and never wilted under huge Dublin pressure. His contribution to Kerry’s goal, also, must never be understated.
Defensively, the Kingdom put in a huge shift eleven days ago and it restored faith that this isn’t a one-way street and that both teams have something to play for.
The narrative heading into Saturday’s replay is that Dublin are never going to play as badly again, that several key players failed to perform and that should see them over the line but what about Kerry?
David Clifford contributed just two points, O’Brien scored once while Geaney failed to score and squandered two gilt-edge goal chances. What if Kerry can merge this defensive performance with an attacking display akin to the one we saw against Mayo in the Super 8s down in Killarney?
What if David Clifford grows in confidence having got an All-Ireland senior final under his belt? What if Stephen O’Brien plays with the vigour that has seen him emerge as a genuine Footballer of the Year contender?
While fans may have clung to hope the last day out, as the days’ tick closer and closer towards the replay there’s a genuine belief that Kerry can actually do it.