Fitzmaurice: ‘Young players got a real look at the top level’

Kerry manager was impressed with his side after they managed a draw against Dublin

Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s Kerry side almost managed to stop Dublin from completing a historic unbeaten run. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s Kerry side almost managed to stop Dublin from completing a historic unbeaten run. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Kerry and Dublin played out a Saturday night draw in front of 11,858 paying guests that was a nutty little gem of a thing all by itself.

Dublin equalling the all-time unbeaten record of 34 matches is, of course, a marvel. Just as Kerry failing to beat Dublin for the fifth successive encounter is surely a cause for what passes for anxiety in this part of the world. But let’s not fixate on context, for it is the most tiresome route to an early old age.

This was a cracking game of ball, niggly and fidgety and compelling as all hell. Kerry should have won and Dublin should have won. For long spells in the second half, one was up as the other was down. Kerry kicked four points on the spin after half-time and then couldn’t get a hand on the ball while Dublin reeled off six on the bounce in 13 minutes.

That Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s young team rallied to go two ahead in injury time even as Jim Gavin poured quality off the bench with a heavy hand says only good things about them. That they couldn’t hold out probably says more about the earthquake-proof skyscraper Dublin have built over the past two years.

“They put pressure on you, on the player in possession and the player you’re trying to get it to,” Fitzmaurice said afterwards. “That’s what makes them so good and that’s what probably makes the top teams different from other teams.

“But like I said, look, a lot of our younger players and more inexperienced players got a real look at what it’s like at the very top level of the game tonight and I would think, on initial reflection, that they came through the test very well . . .”

Staccato beat

Both sides know how to get on the other’s last nerve and so it got tetchy at times. Flash fires popped up here and there across the pitch, some of them picked up by the referee and his merry men, some of them not so much. Sean Hurson could have done with a few extra heads, never mind eyes in the back of them.

A game like that can only run to a staccato beat and yet it carried a tune nonetheless. Kerry took the first lead, Peter Crowley corkscrewing to leg over a point on nine minutes after David Moran put him in. After Paul Geaney floated over a gorgeous score from the left on 11 minutes – Philly McMahon did everything right but couldn’t stop him – the temperature rose a degree or two higher. In the stop-start to-and-fros, the referee had to start dishing out yellow cards. Tadhg Morley and Ciarán Kilkenny, Stephen Cluxton and Geaney, Crowley and Mick Fitzsimons. It was all going on.

Kerry were all over Cluxton’s kick-outs, with Fenton and Michael Darragh Macauley able to have little of the influence that savaged Mayo a fortnight ago.

But Kilkenny kept showing and going and Dean Rock landed a couple of 48-metre frees to edge them back into it. By half-time, both sides had five points on the board and there was probably a little more diss for Kerry in the state of parity, given that they’d missed three decent goal chances.

And though they came out with pistols drawn after the break, the four-point lead they were able to compile inside the opening 15 minutes of the second half couldn’t and didn’t survive Dublin’s tightening of the screw. Gavin sent on Cian O’Sullivan, Paul Flynn, Kevin McManamon, Eoghan O’Gara and Paul Mannion, one after the other like cannon fire.

Upped the pressure

They upped the pressure and sliced the seconds Kerry had in possession. Kerry started giving up frees and Rock took them like he takes them. Conor McHugh threw into the pot as well and with six minutes to go, Dublin were 0-11 to 0-9 up.

Over and back, see and saw. Geaney and David Moran drove Kerry forward, Barry John Keane popped up for a score and helped put Donnchadh Walsh through for another. Kerry led 0-13 to 0-11 heading into injury-time.

But the Dubs don’t die. A goalmouth scramble coughed up a free for Rock to bring it back to one. A misplaced Kerry free on their own 45 set McManamon away. Recycle, loop, recycle. Mannion with the equaliser. All square. Long whistle.

For Kerry, ending a four-game losing streak against Dublin wasn’t the big whoop of the night. As Geaney explained afterwards, properly turning up was the thing.

“It’s not that we lose games, it’s how we lose them. When we looked back at those four games against Dublin in league and championship, performance was what we were worried about – having not performed like we said we would.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to improve, to do what we said we were going to do for 70 minutes. And I think for the most part, that’s what we did tonight.”

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