Kerry get so much right but 14-man Dublin hold firm to keep five alive

Dean Rock’s late free drifts wide as sides set to meet again on Saturday week

Dean Rock’s late free went wide as the All-Ireland SFC Final ended in a draw. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Dean Rock’s late free went wide as the All-Ireland SFC Final ended in a draw. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Dublin 1-16 Kerry 1-16

So there will be an All-Ireland football final on the third weekend of September after all. Dublin survived a marauding second half from Kerry here to get out of dodge with a replay. Though Dean Rock had a late free to win it, so close to the Cusack Stand that he all but started his run-up from the first row of seats, he pulled it wide on the near side.

A fair result all round? It would be hard to argue too forcefully to the differ. Dublin played out the whole of the second half with 14 men, Jonny Cooper having walked just before the break on a second yellow card. But for a wondrous afternoon of zip and zing from Jack McCaffrey, the weight of it all would likely have been too much to carry. Along with Stephen Cluxton and the excellent Brian Howard, McCaffrey was one of the few Dubs to excel himself.

On the Kerry side, they were able to absorb indifferent performances from David Clifford and Stephen O’Brien, their two go-to men all summer. Others picked up the slack, with David Moran putting in a regal shift in midfield and Gavin Crowley terrific.

Kerry got so much right in this game. Parachuting Jack Barry in as a late replacement had been flagged for a while during the week but that was still no guarantee it would work. He took two massive fetches in the first half alone, forced turnovers and ran forcefully. It was about as much as they’d have hoped for him.

Paul Murphy played at sweeper and did much better there than he had against Tyrone. He set himself a few yards deeper and got hands in where it mattered. Kerry turned Dublin over five times in their defence in that first half – the sort of numbers that nobody outside of Mayo has been able to affect on them in the past few years.

So they were breaking even at midfield and holding their own in defence. Offer that to Kerry beforehand and they’d have gobbled it up, assuming their forwards would do the rest. Problem was, they weren’t firing where it mattered most. Clifford and Paul Geaney were playing well, getting out in front of their men and winning their direct battles. Until it came time to shoot, at which point they fluffed their lines.

Kerry’s Paul Geaney has a penalty saved by Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Kerry’s Paul Geaney has a penalty saved by Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Clifford in particular had a nervy opening. He had Cooper on the run at all times but his finishing was callow and guileless. Inside the opening 10 minutes of the game, he kicked two wides and skied another effort so badly it landed on the 20-metre line. That he was able to gather himself and ice his next chance was commendable but Kerry needed more.

That’s the killer when you’re facing the Dubs. You won’t survive on anything less than perfection. And when your chances come, they have to be in the post-match highlights reel. No ifs, no buts, no sob stories.

Geaney had the first goal chance, six minutes in. Seán O’Shea cut in from the left, got stopped by Cooper and when the ball squirted out to Geaney, he did just about everything right. He danced, he jinked, he shot, he beat Cluxton. He just didn’t beat James McCarthy, covering back on the line.

The second chance arrived within minutes. A high ball into the Dublin square had Cooper and Clifford underneath it and when the Dublin defender did his time-worn accidentally-on-purpose body-check, David Gough decided there was enough in it to call a penalty. It was a clear foul, the only surprise was that the ref gave it. Many have waved play on for far less.

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In the end, it didn’t matter. Cluxton dived to his right and got a strong top hand to Geaney’s penalty to palm it out for a 45. Two Kerry goal chances, no Kerry goals. You don’t beat Dublin doing that. They don’t really allow that kind of thing.

And so it proved. With Kerry 0-5 to 0-4 ahead on 19 minutes, Dublin turned in an oil painting of a goal. Cluxton found a soaring Howard with a kick-out to the Hogan Stand side. Howard came down with the mark and fed Ciarán Kilkenny. Alongside him, McCaffrey was burning a Back To The Future trail in the grass up towards Hill 16 and by the time Kilkenny fed Niall Scully, the Dublin wing back was away and gone. Scully fed him, McCaffrey nailed the finish, Croke Park shook.

That’s how they usually do. From there to half-time, Dublin played their well-worn game of arms-length football with Kerry. They didn’t go and hammer them, they just kept them where they could see them. Rock stitched a nice point after another McCaffrey run, Con O’Callaghan finished off a move that started with a Rock mark. All of Kerry’s scored came from frees, as the Dublin defenders visibly got on Gough’s wrong side.

Dublin’s goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton saves a shot from Kerry’s Paul Murphy during the All-Ireland SFC Final at Croke Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Dublin’s goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton saves a shot from Kerry’s Paul Murphy during the All-Ireland SFC Final at Croke Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The last of them before the break came when Clifford beat Cooper to the ball out on the edge of the D. The Dublin defender tackled as if he wasn’t already on a yellow, clamping Clifford’s arm alongside him and leaving Gough with no option. O’Shea nailed the free and left it at Dublin 1-9 Kerry 0-8 at the break.

Four points down or a man down – which would you choose? Kerry came out as if they knew their feelings on the matter, blazing into Dublin with abandon. O’Shea converted a couple of 45s, one of them coming after Murphy breezed into the Dublin square and rattled the crossbar. Replays showed it took a touch off Cluxton’s finger.

However it stayed out, the facts were starting to look ominous for Kerry. You only get so many chances at goals against Dublin – by now it was three and none had been scored. The next one had to go, you felt.

The game was rocking now. McCaffrey got forward for three points in 12 minutes, as if he’d found a secret passageway to the Kerry goal that was open to nobody else. Kerry responded through Clifford and Gavin Crowley, just to stay on touch. But they were only barely doing so – McCaffrey’s third point put Dublin five ahead.

By now, Tommy Walsh was on the field, a fairy story looking to be told. And for a while, it looked on. One of his first acts was to beast David Byrne out of possession in the 56th minute, feeding the other Kerry sub Killian Spillane in an ocean of room. Spillane had plenty to do but Kerry very much required that he do it – another goal chance missed at this stage would have felt like a dagger. They needn’t have worried. He scythed his way towards goal and faced up Howard before burying a low shot to Cluxton’s left.

Game very much on, Ger.

Walsh had a chance soon after but dragged it wide, only to split the posts within a minute. He promptly went out to midfield to win a kick-out to set O’Shea away and all of a sudden, with 61 minutes on the clock, we had a level game.

Over and back, this way and that. Rock and O’Shea swapped points, each as cool as the other. Gough, who had been finicky enough earlier in the game, went into swallow-the-whistle mode, evidently keen not to be the reason for a result. Moran took another gorgeous mark in midfield and next thing you knew, Spillane had Kerry ahead.

Into injury-time. Seven minutes to be played. Cormac Costello came off the bench and whipped one into the Davin Stand. Point. No, wait. Hawkeye. Wide. Diarmuid Connolly came off the bench to try his luck with a Connolly special from the 45. Wide as well. The drama.

Eoin Murchan, also in off the bench, zipped forward to give Dublin some momentum and found the most reliable Dublin forward on the day. Rock hadn’t time to look at the posts, only to trust that they were where they always are.

White flag. Level game. See you all Saturday week.

DUBLIN: 1 S Cluxton (capt.); 3 J Cooper, 4 M Fitzsimons, 2 D Byrne; 7 J Small, 6 J McCarthy, 5 J McCaffrey (1-3); 8 B Fenton, 9 MD Macauley; 10 N Scully, 15 C Kilkenny, 12 B Howard; 13 P Mannion (0-2), 11 C O’Callaghan (0-1), 14 D Rock (0-10, six frees, one 45).

Subs: 26 P Small for Macauley (53 mins), 23 E Murchan for J Small (58), 18 D Connolly for Howard, 19 C Costello for Mannion (both 68), 22 K McManamon for Scully (70).

KERRY: 1 S Ryan; 2 J Foley, 3 T Morley, 4 T O’Sullivan; 7 B Ó Beaglaoich, 5 P Murphy, 6 G Crowley (0-1); 8 D Moran, 24 J Barry; 9 A Spillane, 10 G White (capt), 12 S O’Brien (0-1); 11 S O’Shea (0-10, four frees, three 45s), 14 P Geaney, 13 D Clifford (0-2).

Subs: 15 K Spillane (1-1) for A Spillane (half-time), 19 J Sherwood for White (49 mins), 21 T Walsh (0-1) for Ó Beaglaoich (58), 18 J Lyne for Crowley (68), 20 D Moynihan for Barry (73), 26 M Griffin for O’Brien (76).

Referee: David Gough (Meath).

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