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Monday 26 September 2016

Dublin issue a scary signal to all

Dublin 2-18 Kerry 0-13

Kerry's Marc Ó Sé had a torrid time against Dublin's Bernard Brogan during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final at Croke Park Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE
Kerry's Marc Ó Sé had a torrid time against Dublin's Bernard Brogan during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final at Croke Park Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

The theory before yesterday's Allianz Football League final was that Kerry were the team best placed to usurp the Dubs this summer.

If that is still the case this Monday, then maybe we should dispense with the formalities of playing the championship and simply hand Sam Maguire over to Stephen Cluxton at a low-key function in the Mansion House.

For if Kerry are nearest to Dublin, then the rest can forget about closing a gap that has become a chasm.

Yesterday's Division One decider showcased everything we can come to expect from Jim Gavin's Sky Blue machine ... they were supremely athletic, relentless in everything they did, and voracious in their pursuit of scores.

The net result was an achievement that may have seemed inevitable, once the above boxes were ticked, and yet one that shouldn't be glossed over blithely just because "it's only the league".

Dublin hadn't won a spring title for 20 years before Gavin entered the cockpit ... now they've amassed four on the spin, a feat unprecedented in the capital, and something not achieved since Kerry in 1974.

Staggering

This also extends his staggering strike rate in major competition, between league, Leinster and the All-Ireland series, to nine out of ten.

And it stretches their current unbeaten run to 22 NFL and SFC matches, 20 of which have ended in victory. That's jaw-dropping consistency.

And yet the pre-match suspicion was that a vengeful and in-form Kerry would test Dublin's mettle, their appetite to go the extra mile for another piece of silver, potentially to breaking point.

And maybe, in fairness, the challengers were up for the battle ... but they didn't have the legs to sustain it. Even before half-time, there was a sense of Kerry gasping to stay in touch.

Perhaps the most remarkable statistic is that Dublin only led by two points after Bryan Sheehan nailed a long-distance free in the 62nd minute. But that scoreline was a fallacy, just as the three points that separated Dublin from Kerry amid the downpours of last September provided a statistical smokescreen.

The only difference here is that the pitch stayed dry and the Kerry dam finally burst, allowing Dublin to plunder an unanswered 2-3 in the home straight. The goals came via Paul Flynn in the 66th minute and substitute Eric Lowndes in the 73rd.

The first came gift-wrapped from the Kingdom, as Brendan Kealy's ill-advised short kickout intended for Jonathan Lyne was gobbled up by Flynn and dispatched with gleeful venom.

The second carried a shade of fortune, as Flynn's point attempt struck an upright in the preamble ... but it was still typical of Dublin's hunger, and Bernard Brogan's acuity, that the four-time All Star was first onto the rebound before teeing up Lowndes. Game, set and 11-point mismatch.

Are there any mitigating factors? Yes, but Éamonn Fitzmaurice shouldn't seek too much comfort in them.

First up is Kerry's numerical disadvantage from the 50th minute, when the advancing Jonny Cooper was flattened in an off-the-ball incident that elicited an audible "whoo" from those who saw it at a full-house Croke Park. Referee Eddie Kinsella singled out Aidan O'Mahony as the culprit, and a Kerry team that was struggling to hang in there with 15 men was now asked to do the improbable with 14.

At the time Dublin were just two points clear (0-13 to 0-11), just as they had been after a sprightly and at-times feisty first half (0-10 to 0-8).

Yet those last ten minutes before the break had suggested that Kerry were starting to creak. They had started brightly enough, with Stephen O'Brien clipping two tasty points and then Colm Cooper selling a solo-dummy to his All-Ireland nemesis, Philly McMahon, en route to his only score.

But then Dublin, trailing 0-6 to 0-5, visibly upped the ante to score five of the last seven points before half-time, and the next two thereafter.

Dean Rock and Ciarán Kilkenny had carried the early half-forward fight for the Dubs, but now others came into their own.

Brian Fenton, looking ever-more assured with every game, burned David Moran for pace before fisting over. Meanwhile, in the space of five minutes, Brogan took Marc Ó Sé for a hat-trick of points - the second of these was particularly memorable for a salmon-like leap above his veteran Kerry marker.

The standard dipped during the third quarter, both sides guilty of sloppy turnovers ... but then as 14 Kerrymen started to flag physically, Dublin could easily have capitalised with an earlier brace of goals.

Soaring

Instead, Kealy denied John Small (after another Brogan burst) and then Rock sent his penalty on the hour soaring over after Shane Enright's foul into the back of Paul Mannion.

Kerry could quibble about a penalty claim in either half that went unanswered; Kieran Donaghy could feel especially aggrieved, late on, after being manhandled by Cian O'Sullivan.

By then, though, Kerry had run out of ideas beyond route-one, as Dublin sailed serenely into league history.

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