Roy Curtis: Kerry’s Kingdom in ruins as Dubs move further ahead
INCREASINGLY, Gaelic football’s most storied rivalry seems less about Dublin against Kerry as the present versus the past.
That was the sense in an All-Ireland final so much more lopsided than the final scoreline suggested and, again two weeks ago, as the city boys thieved the Kingdom (2-14 to 0-14) of hope as if they were plundering an unattended poor-box.
The inescapable impression made by those 140 minutes of separation is that Kerry – however absurd a verdict it seems on a team that has contested the last two September Super Bowls – are marching into the summer behind a tattered green and gold flag.
That, for all the promise of recent underage success, the greatest of all football counties appear increasingly superannuated.
At the very highest terrain, Kerry are looking enfeebled.
Among the wretched realities for the giants of the south west – at the end of a hollow sequence of setbacks against a rival they had grown accustomed to towering above – one forlorn truth stands alone.
It is the one that says Dublin, with just the slightest recalibration of their sights, would have equalled the seven concussive blows which Kerry landed on Kildare on that mortifying afternoon last summer.
Worse, all that Eamonn Fitzmaurice could cling to amid the Croke Park wreckage was a toast to absent friends, the comfort that some familiar, if venerable, warriors might soon return to the battlefield.
That even the remnants – and, at a combined 70 years, there can hardly be much more – of Hall-of-Famers Marc Ó Sé and Aidan O’Mahony’s defiance might somehow stitch together the gaping wound opened down Kerry’s spine by the Sky Blue machete.
That Colm Cooper – deep into his 33rd year and separated by a lost year from the certainty of all those golden Sundays – can renovate at least some of the genius that elevated him so far above his peers
That the Gooch’s long-time sidekick Kieran Donaghy, more grizzled again than his old compadre, represents more than the ghost of a gilded past, that the best of Star is not drained away and lost.
And that the languid wand of Bryan Sheehan’s boot will be burdened neither by the captaincy, nor the reality that he too has crested the mountain and advanced into the Badlands of his fourth decade.
Donnchadh Walsh and Darran O’Sullivan offered some of the best of Kerry’s resistance last Saturday week, yet this celebrated pair, too, have passed through the border checkpoint and into the 30s territories.
All seven are among the most decorated, accomplished players the game has known; yet in the pitiless jargon of sport, they are labelled as OAPs; time has stripped away their intimidating aura.
Kerry are, largely, a team of listed buildings: The concern for Fitzmaurice is that even the most glorious athletes, unlike architecture, cannot go on defying time.
Are there some yet undiscovered pages in the divine playbook from which Cooper has summoned so many works of genius?
Can Ó Sé or O’Mahony squeeze the last dregs of resistance from limbs that yearn for more middle-aged pastimes? Is Donaghy’s natural habitat still among the frenetic, bullet-train biosphere of Croke Park in high summer?
It is true that the sabre-toothed menace that is James O’Donoghue, Anthony Maher and Paul Geaney can bring what was absent last week.
But then all three were present on that biblical day last September when only the weather, it seemed, rescued Kerry from slaughter.
The defending champions were blown away by Dublin’s ferocious pace and power; they looked time-expired, bereft.
As dusk fell on the vanquished and the grim autopsies commenced, the Kingdom were left to reflect on what one of their own sadly called the “most comprehensive three-point defeat in history”.
Saturday offered a shot at redemption, so it was startling to see how little resistance Kerry offered to Dublin Lite.
Jim Gavin started without three Footballers of the Year – Bernard Brogan, Michael Darragh Macauley and, the current incumbent, Jack McCaffrey – and many people’s idea of a fourth, Philly McMahon.
The All-Ireland final Man of the Match Brian Fenton, like the four-time All Star Paul Flynn, was also in civvies.
Kevin McManamon, so often the man to apply the stun-bolt to Kerry’s skull, was sitting 10 miles away, a key backroom component as Templeogue claimed basketball’s National Cup.
The spectacular re-flowering of Paul Mannion hinted at Dublin’s awesome depth, while highlighting Kerry’s fragility. On his first start in 18 months, Mannion – who spent much of his sabbatical in China – was unstoppable.
Although the Kerry debutant Brian O Beaglaoich enjoyed some fine moments going forward, he could not live with Mannion’s movement, ball-handling or link play. It is a repeating theme.
Dublin’s best days are accompanied by the soundtrack of shuddering sonic-boom.
Those who watched the fine documentary, All-Ireland Day, will be familiar with how O’Mahony was so perplexed by McManamon’s explosive acceleration that he was forced into black card territory.
Kerry put down Cork and Tyrone last summer; they were as merciless as a barracuda in devouring Kildare.
Yet there is also an inescapable sense that a phenomenal Dublin team are rewriting the rules of engagement.
And that among the new, pitiless Sky Blue statutes might be one bringing down the curtain on the venerable legends who have served Kerry with such selfless grace.