Crowley's craft steers his side towards the promised land
Once more the clock ran down with Dublin frantically attacking Kerry's evaporating lead.
There were, however, significant differences between Saturday's Bank of Ireland All-Ireland quarter-final replay and the previous week's draw. It is a credit to Dublin's rejection of the idea of a lost cause that they finished within a score of the champions. But that was as close as they had managed since the 15th minute of a disappointing match sporadically illuminated by Kerry's quality and Dublin's second-half determination.
The champions' forwards were exceptionally good for as long as it took to put the match beyond reach. John Crowley's status is reflected in the kudos the Dublin full backs received for holding him to three points in the drawn match. Saturday justified that particular oxymoron. Gifted slightly more opportunity, Crowley ended up with 2-2, plus a vital role in other scores. His attacking colleagues also chipped in, with four of them contributing at least one superb point each from play.
There is every reason to believe there was more in Kerry than they had to produce in the second half but with a seven-point interval lead, the odd rapier thrust was sufficient to keep them comfortably in front. In the drawn match Kerry nearly lost the match by getting too soft on the pedal in the second half. This time around circumstances contrived an antidote.
In the 39th minute Colin Moran was on a full-steam solo through the Kerry defence. Tomβs ╙ SΘ hurtled into him like a torpedo, upending Moran and leaving referee Pat McEnaney with no choice but to produce his red card. ╙ SΘ will miss the All-Ireland semi-final, but his departure ensured a tightened focus and a modified gameplan that suited the protection of a lead. Noel Kennelly switched to wing back and the team dropped back,leaving their blue-chip forwards loitering menacingly in acres of space.
They survived, but Dublin did have chances in the frantic closing minutes. Corner back Coman Goggins, who gave further evidence of his remarkable improvement this season, galloped down the left wing in the 69th minute. He bore in on goal - visions of another number four, Ray Hazely, setting up Barney Rock's equaliser 18 years ago - and struck for goal; but Declan O'Keeffe kept it out and Kerry survived the consequent goalmouth skirmishing. Substitute Niall O'Donoghue had an injury-time shot on goal blocked by Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
To these lost chances can be added the usual litany of missed points, and the revival never reached the threatening stage of the previous week. Then the comeback caught Kerry cold; on Saturday it started earlier and was accordingly more manageable.
Dublin made one change to the announced selection: the out-of-form Ian Robertson was replaced by Ken Darcy. The good start that had been one of the main ingredients in any prescription for a significant Dublin improvement never materialised. In fact, they started as disastrously as they had a week previously. Kennelly had a point within 15 seconds and there followed a period of intense Dublin pressure which yielded only one point, an equaliser from a Declan Darcy free.
Otherwise, there was a litany of wasted opportunities. Moran, now at full forward, made an early break past SΘamus Moynihan but fisted wide. Chances and promising positions were created but no scores went up on the board. A good stream of possession, cleverly broken ball from Darren Homan and Ken Darcy, and some early dynamic moves from Ciarβn Whelan augured well. But poor use of the ball and morale-sapping inaccuracy ensured that Kerry emerged from the early storm unscathed.
Just like last week, the champions struck for an early goal. Crowley had already given Paddy Christie the slip with no serious consequences, but in the 13th minute there was to be no escape. The corner forward shrugged off Christie's attempts to recover and slotted the ball past David Byrne.
All that activity and now a goal behind, Dublin's heads understandably dropped and the floodgates came off their hinges. In nine minutes Dublin went from being level to being outscored 2-4 to 0-1. They trailed a point for every one of those minutes. Crowley's second goal concluded the sequence. Although similar to the first, it was easier because Christie slipped and his man had an unimpeded run.
The result was the same, though.
It was impossible to see how Dublin could work their way out of this. Compared to their opponents' quicksilver attack, they had to work too hard for chances and weren't capable of capitalising on what did come their way. Kerry's defence was also sharp.
Moynihan gave a poised and resourceful display (bouncing Dublin substitute Vinny Murphy into touch in one deft 55th-minute vignette), reading many of Dublin's moves better than they could themselves. Fitzmaurice was also on his game and not even all of Dublin's second-half sound and fury could exert enough pressure to unsettle Kerry.
In the 48th minute Dublin revived the match by cutting the half-time deficit to four. A good move started by Jonathan Magee was carried on by Peadar Andrews and Jason Sherlock. It ended with Homan powering in from the right and his shot - maybe taking a deflection - flying into the net. Declan Darcy's free cut the margin to three.
There was now the possibility of a match but Kerry had too much craft. Substitute Maurice Fitzgerald, Crowley and Michael Francis Russell kicked delightful points and the deficit hadn't crumpled under the impact of Dublin's big move. These final exchanges were emblematic of the difference between the teams.
Dublin were game, huffed and puffed, got some scores and missed others. Kerry were almost languid, coping alertly with the shots being aimed at them - their anticipation and hard work typified by final-quarter substitute William Kirby - protected the lead. At the other end the superior class of their forwards kept the game fluttering above Dublin like a kite: always in sight but always out of reach.