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EXCLUSIVE The Kingdom will believe they’ve found a blueprint to rattle the Dubs

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David Clifford showed his leadership qualities for Kerry against Dublin last Sunday. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

David Clifford showed his leadership qualities for Kerry against Dublin last Sunday. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Seán O'Shea of Kerry gets away from Brian Fenton of Dublin who played in an experimental role which didn't work out too well. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Seán O'Shea of Kerry gets away from Brian Fenton of Dublin who played in an experimental role which didn't work out too well. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

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David Clifford showed his leadership qualities for Kerry against Dublin last Sunday. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

There is something special about Dublin versus Kerry and last Sunday’s pulsating contest was the latest instalment in their recent storied history.

There are those who would have you believe, by their strict definition, that it is not a proper ‘rivalry’ – I just don’t get this.

They argue that for it to be a real rivalry the winner has to be alternated regularly, but for me I define it as: do the counties bring out the best in each other?

And most certainly Dublin v Kerry, and Dublin v Mayo have brought out the best in each other, and provided some of the most dramatic edge-of-the-seat contests we’ve witnessed in the last decade.

They are the games that still seem to generate the most public interest in ‘neutral’ counties, so for me that’s part of a proper rivalry.

Last weekend provided plenty of excitement across the divisions with forward play, in particular, providing lots of talking points.

There were some great individual moments of skill and overall individual displays – Westmeath’s Kevin Maguire, Mayo’s Paddy Durcan, Donegal’s Michael Langan (in the absence of Michael Murphy), Meath’s Cillian O’Sullivan, Derry’s Shane McGuigan and Monaghan’s Conor McCarthy to name but a few.

Also, the quality of point-scoring by Clare’s centre-forward Eoin Cleary continues to be one of the highlights of this year’s league campaign.

However, it was at Semple Stadium where we witnessed two of the modern titans of the game showcasing their extraordinary talents. Though it’s early in the season, the portents are strong for Con O’Callaghan and David Clifford.

O’Callaghan scored two first-half goals against the Kingdom and it might well have been four in a potent display in the opening 35 minutes.

After a fairly understated opening, Clifford came to life in the second period and hauled his team back into the game.

For such a young player, who shoulders the huge burden of great expectation in his county, he showed great leadership and took the responsibility on, along with the likes of Paul Murphy, to take Dublin head-on after the change of ends.

Peter Keane’s men, I think, will take a psychological lift from the nature of their second-half comeback.

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Seven points down early in the half, following Cormac Costello’s point, Kerry made Dublin look average – it’s not too often we say that.

Ok, it’s just the league and if you look back to last year Tyrone ambushed Dublin in Omagh, so we need to be careful not to put too much stock in these things, but there was an attitude change by the Kerry players shortly after half-time.

Having looked naive, and perhaps showing Dublin too much respect in the first half, Kerry dictated the terms of the contest in the second period.

Between the 44th and 60th minutes Kerry outscored the Dubs 0-8 to 0-1, but it wasn’t just that statistic which stood out, it was how they did it to draw level with 10 minutes to play.

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Seán O'Shea of Kerry gets away from Brian Fenton of Dublin who played in an experimental role which didn't work out too well. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Seán O'Shea of Kerry gets away from Brian Fenton of Dublin who played in an experimental role which didn't work out too well. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Seán O'Shea of Kerry gets away from Brian Fenton of Dublin who played in an experimental role which didn't work out too well. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

They attacked Dublin’s kick-out with ferocious intensity and forced Dublin into a succession of uncharacteristic errors.

Dublin players got caught in possession, coughed up the ball and misplaced passes as their usual methodology and patterns seemed to desert them, because of the pressure being exerted.

When Dublin needed someone to emerge as a ball-winner, or an outlet in the middle, to take the pressure off of Evan Comerford’s kick-outs, Dublin players were marked absent.

In the second half, Dublin were out-worked. The first principles of this great team were not present. Perhaps fitness was a factor.

Pat Spillane was on the radio last week talking about the massive amount of running and bike work the Kerry players had undertaken in accordance with their individual programmes during lockdown and their work-rate and athleticism in the second half was impressive.

This is what will have annoyed the Dublin management most – the fact they were out-worked. Not the fact they drew a game they looked in control of, and were still leading by three points late on, despite the below-par nature of their second-half display.

This brings me to one of the other talking points of the game – the positioning of Brian Fenton at times in the Dublin forward line.

Dublin are well catered for in the forward division, particularly on the inside line, less so at midfield and in the full-back line.

So, I was surprised to see an experiment with regard to Fenton, but maybe it was a red herring or curve ball ahead of the championship? Or maybe, more possibly, it was to see how the inexperienced Tom Lahiff would manage at centrefield in a different partnership?

I suppose the league is the time to try things out, but on last Sunday’s display I don’t think Dublin will repeat that experiment anytime soon.

One footnote on last weekend’s action that could prove central to games later in the year were the injuries picked up by numerous players.

Armagh, who need to defeat Donegal to make the semi-finals, look set to without Ryan Kennedy, Jamie Morgan, Paddy Burns and Aidan Forker. Donegal talisman Michael Murphy pulled up with a hamstring, while John Small did likewise and looked in considerable pain when being helped off the Thurles pitch.

Should the Ballymun Kickhams man be absent for a considerable length of time, it would be a massive blow to Dublin. He is a defensive linchpin, an enforcer who protects his defence. If he is ruled out long-term, it will have Dublin’s management working hard to come up with alternatives.

So, to this weekend’s action . . . while some counties know their fate already, it should still provide more great entertainment.

Will this trend of open, high-scoring football continue into the championship? To be honest, I have my doubts.

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