Dublin 1-19 Kerry 1-19
Long may they dance, these two. Dublin and Kerry tangled and tangoed into the night in the first league game of the year, ending it not only all square but squaring up to each other too. David Clifford kicked the equalising free as Croke Park frothed and ended up walking off with his jersey torn to bits after a bit of a post-final whistle sort-out with John Small. The 42,502 crowd went off into the night giddy at what the year might bring.
Kerry had it, lost it and just about got it back in the end. They were three points up in the 65th minute and a point down twice in injury-time and still walked away level for the night. They led for most of the second half but got Ciarán Kilkennyed as time ran dead, the Dublin attacker bursting into life by kicking couple of points and winning the free that looked to have settled it in Dublin’s favour. Except Clifford is Clifford.
“It looked that the game was kind of sliding away from us a little bit,” said Dessie Farrell afterwards. “There was sort of not much energy coming from our lads but somehow they summoned the energy from somewhere and showed great character going down the back straight to get their noses in front at the death.
“I think what pleased me most was being able to get out on the pitch with the lads and get to the business at hand. There’s been a lot of talk and a lot of this type of thing over the last few weeks and it’s just great to get the lads back and start working on the practice ground. And obviously the reason you do that is to play on nights like this so it was great to get everyone out there.”
It was one of those games that made the argument for having two referees, mainly so one could buy the other a pint afterwards. On the whole, Sean Hurson did a fine job here, managing to keep the lid somewhere in the vicinity of the top of everything. The game saw two red cards, two blacks and a year's supply of yellow. Hurson was booed variously by both sets of supporters, which probably means he was more right than he was wrong.
All in all, it was a belter of a game for a January night. You had James O'Donoghue, fizzing away with three points from play in the first half alone. You had Brian Fenton seeing him and raising him at the other end, scything through for four typically graceful scores of his own, leaving Kerry defenders like toppled skittles in his wake. You had Conor McHugh, grabbing his chance – and the year's first point from a mark in Croke Park.
And of course, you had Clifford, scorer of the game's opening goal on 19 minutes. Gathering out in front of David Byrne 40 metres from goal, he faced up the Dublin full-back, threw a shape to shimmy around him and brushed off the late-arriving Eoin Murchan before finishing low past Evan Comerford.
Fenton was imperious though and Dublin gradually fashioned a half-time lead. Their goal arrived on 31 minutes, Dean Rock slipping in behind the cover to snatch up a pass from Paddy Andrews. Brian Ó Beaglaoich provided the contact and Rock gratefully went to ground, dusting himself off to dispatch the penalty.
Add it all up and Dublin went in at the break 1-10 to 1-9 ahead. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable half of football and it was always going to be a bit much to ask for them to repeat it. A scrappier and bittier second half was pretty much inevitable.
The fact that Dublin didn't score from play until James McCarthy popped a point in the 66th minute tells you something of the nature of that second period. Eric Lowndes spent the first seven minutes of the half in the sin-bin and Kerry made fine use of the spare man, Paul Murphy materialising for a couple of well-taken points. Sean O'Shea was faultless on the frees throughout, and Kerry had pushed on into a 1-16 to 1-13 lead by the 65th minute.
But even with Jim Gavin gone, Dublin are still Dublin. They came in waves for the remainder, throwing Kerry into the spin cycle to see could they survive. McCarthy's point was followed by a brilliant Kilkenny mark on the edge of the semi-circle. Aaron Byrne came off the bench to stitch a point on his debut, Kilkenny pitched up on the end of one of those eternal Dublin pass-the-parcels to level it on 70 minutes.
Stoppage time went on and on. Niall Scully kicked the Dubs into the lead, Geaney iced a free to draw it. Kilkenny won a 75th minute free that looked to have done the business but as tempers rose and the Dubs lost their discipline, Clifford's free sent everyone back to their corners unbeaten.
Amid the hubbub at the end, Dean Rock came over and tapped Clifford on the chest for a free well-taken. Game recognise game.
Let the year run long.
Dublin: Evan Comerford; Eric Lowndes, David Byrne, Philly McMahon; James McCarthy (0-1), John Small, Eoin Murchan; Brian Fenton (0-4), Brian Howard; Niall Scully (0-1), Conor McHugh (0-2, 0-1 mark), Ciarán Kilkenny (0-3, 0-1 mark); Kevin McManamon (0-1), Paddy Andrews, Dean Rock (1-6, 0-6 frees, 1-0 pen).
Subs: Sean Bugler for Scully (blood), 2-8 mins; Bugler for McCarthy (blood), 10-19 mins; Bugler for Scully (blood), 28-33 mins; Paul Mannion for Andrews, 43 mins; Bugler for McManamon, 53 mins; Aaron Byrne (0-1) for McHugh, 55 mins; Rory O'Carroll for McMahon, 64 mins; Dan O'Brien for Bugler, 77 mins.
Kerry: Shane Ryan; Jason Foley, Tadhg Morley, Shane Enright; Paul Murphy (0-2), Gavin Crowley (0-1), Brian Ó Beaglaoich; Tommy Walsh, Adrian Spillane; Gavin O'Brien (0-1), Seán O'Shea (0-5, 0-5 frees), Stephen O'Brien (0-1); James O'Donoghue (0-3), David Clifford (1-3, 0-2 frees), Paul Geaney (0-1, free).
Subs: Killian Spillane (0-1, 0-1 mark) for O'Shea (blood), 2-7 mins; Liam Kearney (0-1) for Adrian Spillane, 17 mins; Graham O'Sullivan for Ó Beaglaoich, 33 mins; Killian Spillane (0-1 mark) for O'Donoghue, 50 mins; Micheál Burns for Walsh, 58 mins.
Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone)