Dublin know gun still pointed at them even if Kerry missed first time around
Repetition of league narrative provides unexpected championship script for Jim Gavin's team
Kerry’s impressive Jack O’Shea in action against Brian Fenton who was a subdued figure for once for Dublin in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
On-screen entertainment gives us a choice of lessons from Sunday’s unrelenting All-Ireland.
One is the western genre of the tracker, inscrutably examining plants, footprints, riverbank indentations as he determines the direction taken by his quarry, who may start off many miles ahead but who equally knows retribution is in inexorable pursuit.
The line that Kerry are coming has been common parlance in the last year or so in the wake of the county’s success at minor – a less mentioned but arguably as relevant five-in-a-row as the almost mythical task being undertaken by Dublin’s seniors and one which yielded seven of their starting 15.
In terms of the opening metaphor, Dublin just managed to get their horses out of town at the weekend, as Kerry closed in on them. The chase is still on and the distance narrowing all the time. Can the champions take it into a new reel or does it all end here in the more familiar surrounds of mid-September?
Alternatively and more specifically, the widely shared quotation from The Wire, spoken by the character Omar Little: “Lesson here, Bey – you come at the king, you best not miss”.
We will know in less than a fortnight whether Kerry prove to be implacable hunters or chastened pretenders and whether Dublin are deposed or untouched.
One clear lesson from the draw is that once more, the league provided more contemporary evidence than was perhaps realised, as the counties squared up to a first championship tilt in three years. Sunday wasn’t the first time that Kerry have halted a Jim Gavin five-in-a-row.
In the 2017 league final Dublin were looking to hit the same mark but came up just short, having lost a key player to indiscipline in the first half and with Dean Rock narrowly missing a late free to save the day.
Neither is that the end of the comparisons. There were even provocative comments by Eamonn Fitzmaurice – then Kerry manager – in the lead-up to the match and on the field, Brian Fenton was curiously subdued.
This was counterpointed by David Moran’s display, combining energetic contributions in defence and attack and high-quality catching.
In the weeks before the final – which brought it to a halt – Dublin’s unbeaten sequence in league and championship had included a slightly fortuitous escape from Tralee where Jack Barry had successfully inhibited Fenton although he tends to switch about in the middle rather than trail his man throughout the 70 minutes.
He managed to repeat the dose in the 2017 league final– a premonition of last weekend’s events and refutation of the assumption that completing the task on dark spring nights in Tralee is no guide to big days in Croke Park. Of the starting centrefielders, Fenton was the only one not to score.
Like last Sunday, Barry wasn’t on this occasion all over Fenton but in sufficient proximity to limit his effectiveness, discouraging him as an option in space and restricting him to routine possessions.
The champions’ only win in this fixture in the last five meetings since Barry first appeared was last year’s league fixture in Croke Park.
An interesting parallel with the 2017 final is that Michael Darragh Macauley caused upheaval coming on as a replacement in the second half rather than starting as he did at the weekend. Another who did significant damage off the bench was Paul Mannion, scoring 1-2 as opposed to this time around when Tadhg Morley marked him effectively.
That league in 2017 proved a false dawn for Kerry and Mayo avenged the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final replay defeat to reach the final.
The following season, Kerry arrived in Croke Park for the league fixture with Dublin. It was an interesting exercise even though the young team was well beaten by 12, 0-11 to 2-17 and provided two of the coming stars, David Clifford and Seán O’Shea with a first senior run out at the stadium.
Again, and maybe prophetically, Clifford caused a lot of difficulty for his marker, Cian O’Sullivan, who had to be moved with Jonny Cooper taking over – perhaps a factor in Jim Gavin’s persistence with Cooper despite the penalty and yellow card, which ended badly in a second yellow before half-time.
O’Sullivan’s unavailability as a replacement on Sunday weakened Dublin’s defensive options but as a defensive co-ordinator as you’d imagine that he wouldn’t have been deployed on Clifford.
In March 2018, Kerry’s chances sank when two of their most threatening forwards, O’Shea and Paul Geaney had to go off injured at half-time. Geaney had hit the post and – in a forewarning of last Sunday – put in a brilliant pass for O’Shea, who blazed wide having made space for the shot.
Jim Gavin accepted afterwards that had O’Shea’s goal gone in, the match might have taken on a different complexion.
It was probably Fenton’s happiest outing on Barry and, although he drew a black-card foul from Kerry’s other centrefielder Barry O’Sullivan, he again didn’t get on the scoreboard.
But overall, the slightly distrusted league precedents in relation to Barry and Fenton – as detailed on these pages by Eamon Donoghue after the All-Ireland semi-finals in a piece prophetically calling for the Kerry to go again with the selection despite the former’s lack of game time this summer – were proved to be quite reliable.
Dublin, for all their dominance, really survive on their wits at this stage of the championship but they are good at it and the sheer daunting impact of having to cope a man short for over 40 minutes can’t be overlooked when assessing the lessons of last Sunday.
Nonetheless, Kerry have now delivered in championship on their recent league successes against the champions. You come at the king, you best not miss but Dublin know the gun is still pointed at them.