Kerry 1-15 Dublin 0-11
It was wild in every way but the most famous rivalry in Irish sport did nothing to halt the general sense that the forces are shifting. With David Clifford absolutely regal in the storm which raged across Tralee town, Kerry deepened the sense of Dublin gloom. The weather may deflect the sense of crisis away from Dublin but in the short term, they remain a deeply vulnerable animal in the cage of Division 1 football.
This was a night for the fire or the pub so the Kerry crowd showed up in droves. They could have played this on a North Sea oil rig and the conditions would not have been any more challenging for the athletes. But to apply the universal GAA phrase of reasonableness: look it.
The stout taps were busy in downtown Tralee from mid-afternoon. And Six Nations be damned: the locals took shelter under the military-green Austin Stacks stand a full two hours before throw-in. It's as well they don't use metal detectors here because they would have been going berserk with the gods of yesteryear hauling All-Ireland medals out of their back-pockets.
The famous faces were everywhere, silvering a little now and, like the rest, looking forward to it. The Kerry crowd passed around chip punnets and listened to Mark Leen giving a polished full hour of retro classics - Ingelbert and Neil in the driving rain. And when he gave the visitors a rendition of Bagetelle’s Summer in Dublin even as the Kerry team took the field to rapturous applause, we were reminded that Ireland is at heart a very strange and wonderful country.
But the crowd did not show up for a concert. They showed up for payback. And for 35 minutes, they got it. Kerry played with the Atlantic Ocean for the opening half and they gave a clinic. It was 1-14 to 0-4 at the break - and that after the rare sighting of a David Clifford penalty miss. Needless to say the Fossa man did not suffer a loss of confidence from the experience. He went on to strike two breathtaking points that were in perfect synchronicity with the wild weather and found Dara Moynihan with a lightning hand pass for Kerry’s 38th minute goal.
So it is something to note that the best Clifford on display was the brother Paudie, who set the tone for Kerry with his breakneck energy and defensive covering, his speed and his accuracy and imagination in possession.
Kerry’s happiness, of course, meant further evidence of Dublin’s disintegration. Whether it is temporary or something more serious remains to be seen. They looked like themselves for the first 15 minutes, working hard to smother Kerry on the kick-out, spreading the ball wide with the old patience which reduced the crowd-noise to a murmur. They will point to the 23rd minute as a reason for grievance.
Dean Rock lobbed a point only to see the ball crash off the post, hit Kerry goalkeeper Shane Murphy and end up in the net. But as the Dubs celebrated, referee Noel Lane consulted with his umpires. Dublin’s Niall Scully was black carded for an off-the-ball block on Dan O’Donoghue. The goal was cancelled out. Kerry shrugged and hit their famous rivals for 1-8 without reply.
As Pat Spillane battled manfully with his brolly on the windswept sidelines, Ciaran Whelan declared on TV before the throw- in that what Dublin were primarily looking for from this evening was evidence of a super-structure that would carry them through the season. As he spoke, the man on the tannoy stroked his pencil through several of Dublin’s most garlanded names. James McCarthy and Con O’Callaghan would not start. Dublin would line out with a forward line composed of players listed as substitutes in the programme: Lorcan O’Dell, Cameron McCormack and Dean Rock.
Ciaran Kilkenny started in his customary brisk, orchestrative fashion but once the Kerry midfield pair began to boss that sector, Dublin's possession dried up. And it must be noted that they were attacking into a torrent of the finest Kerry rain that money can buy. It fell on them in great cinematic waves as down the other end, the Kerry stars pleased the crowd. It felt cruel. The locals loved it. The inevitable skirmish, in the 33rd minute just confirmed that the pandemic is on the wane and that the close-up-and-personal stuff is back on the cards.
Dublin managed just one point for the first 10 minutes of the second half, when Kerry played without the black-carded Jack Barry. An early full-out press didn’t disrupt the Kerry defence - and it’s harder to press when you are trailing by a dozen points. Strange mental territory for Dublin all of a sudden, particularly for the Fenton and Howard generation who, for a long time, did not know how it felt to lose.
The rain actually cleared and the mood within the Stacks stadium was for a bit of a statement: an out and out walloping. The team threatened but couldn't fully oblige. Paul Geaney scuffed a tap in goal chance in a generally lively performance.
The second-half, though, was a literal damp squib. How startling, to see the Dubs launch long hopeful ball into their inside line and to fire the long-range, lower percentage scores that were virtually banished during their invincible summers.
As the contest deteriorated, tempers frayed. Conor Lane flashed liberal yellows to maintain order. The abuse David Clifford took in the second half was borderline: like Michael Murphy a decade ago (and now), he is going to need proper protection.
Maybe some part of the Kerry crowd was disappointed that it was so easy. The sky-blue beast had grown into something mythical in their imagination. There will be much alarmist talk about the ‘decline’ of the Dubs throughout the league. But they are still a strong bet to retain the Leinster championship and have plenty of time to re-emerge as some version of their former selves when the evenings are long and bright.
Nobody cared about that tonight. The final whistle brought with it a yell of excitement that the world was righting itself. The scoreboard beam was matched only in brightness by that of Pat Spillane. The final tally was enough to make them forget about the tough years when Dublin filled their thoughts - and that Tyrone are the All-Ireland champions.
At least for the weekend.
KERRY: 1 S Murphy; 2 D O'Donoghue, 3 J Foley, 4 T O'Sullivan; 5 P Murphy, 6 T Morley, 7 B O'Beaglaoich; 8 D O'Connor (0-1), 9 J Barry; 10 B Spillane, 11 S O'Shea (0-5, 0-3 frees), 12 D Moynihan (1-1); 13 P Clifford (0-1), 14 D Clifford (0-5), 15 P Geaney (0-3, 0-1 mark).
Substitutes: 20 T Brosnan for 15 P Geaney (63 mins), 18 M Burns for 12 D Moynihan (64 mins), 19 G Crowley for 6 T Morley (71 mins) 23 D Casey for 2 D O’Donoghue (71 mins).
DUBLIN: 1 E Comerford (0-1 free), 2 L Gannon, 3 D Byrne, 4 S McMahon; 17 D Conlon, 6 B Howard (0-1), 7 J Small; 8 B Fenton (0-1), 9 T Lahiff; 10 S Bugler (0-1), 11 C Kilkenny (0-1), 12 N Scully; 24 L O'Dell, 20 C McCormack, 15 D Rock (0-5, 0-4 frees).
Subsitutes: 14 C Archer for C O’Dell (51 mins), 13 R Basquel (0-1) for 20 C McCormack (51 mins), 15 R McGarry for 12 N Scully (65 mins), 21 K McGinnis for 7 J Small (68 mins), 5 CJ Smith for 17 D Conlon (71 mins).
Referee: N Lane (Cork).