Friday 15 December 2017

Gilroy sees red at Dubs

MAYBE hindsight will show it to be the perfect wake-up call. Dublin are All-Ireland champions, but they can't keep luxuriating in that status, however welcome it sounds, over the coming months.

On Saturday night, Kerry came to town still smarting from the bloody nose inflicted upon them last September.

They wanted the two Allianz League points more, but it wasn't all about hunger or motivation either. During a one-sided second half they imposed their iron-will on proceedings and, in the process, Dublin reverted to old bad habits that clearly haven't gone away completely.

They coughed up possession. They ceded midfield. They fouled within Bryan Sheehan's prodigious range far too often, to such an extent that Sheehan could afford to miss 50 per cent of his deadball attempts and still emerge as the game's top scorer by a country mile.

They lost their discipline in other ways too. More specifically, Eamon Fennell, whose crass elbow into Sheehan was among the more blatant red cards you will see all spring.

Maurice Deegan didn't miss that 67th-minute flashpoint, and so Fennell will sit out this Saturday night's trip to Castlebar with -- presumably -- some harsh home truths still ringing in his ears about each player's individual responsibility to the collective cause.

Still, as they say in some parts, it's only the league and Dublin will inevitably get better -- fitter, sharper, perhaps less heavy-legged too after a demanding January of training catch-up.

They'll have to, mind you, because the rest of the country now has Dublin fixed firmly in its sights. "We have tons of work to do," Pat Gilroy admitted afterwards.

It's worth pointing out that with the season in its infancy, they have already lost twice -- to Kildare in the O'Byrne Cup, now Kerry in NFL Division One. This equals their total number of competitive defeats for 2011, when they suffered an early O'Byrne Cup exit to Westmeath and then what many construe as a blessing in disguise, the league final fadeout against Cork.

Typically, Gilroy didn't mince his words in assessing where it went wrong during a second half that saw Dublin surrender a 0-7 to 0-5 interval cushion and end up on the wrong end of a 1-14 to 0-11 defeat.

"Our effort in the second half wasn't what it should have been," he said bluntly. "We were very good in the first half, we worked very hard, but I suppose our use of the ball in the second half was terrible."

These unforced errors, Gilroy surmised, "knocked the stuffing out of us" as the second half progressed. Dublin's workrate consequently dropped; Kerry "completely got on top around the middle"; and "once all those things start to go against you, then you probably start to look very tired. There is no question Kerry were the better team and we have got to make that ground up."

What Saturday night also re-emphasised is that Dublin aren't remotely the same potent force without the two senior Brogans on the field.

Alan and Bernard remained seated for the full 70 minutes (bar warming up briefly in the last quarter), and Gilroy afterwards indicated: "They are probably two or three weeks away really from match fitness. You could be playing them (against Mayo) but they would probably get an injury because they are not up to the match pace. So you have to be careful and think of the long road."

In their absence, Kevin McManamon was Dublin's chief font of penetration, troubling Killian Young at centre-back and finishing with three points from play. His third score after 39 minutes might even have been a goal, following a sublime crossfield pass by Diarmuid Connolly. Prior to that, however, it was a first half to forget for Connolly who tallied four wides (five in total) including an early short-odds contender for Worst Free of 2012.

His St Vincent's club-mate, Tomás Quinn, was far more composed in his first-half contribution although he will rue the early goal chance deflected out for a '45'. Alongside, Eoghan O'Gara saw little enough possession and when the ball did reach his orbit, nothing seemed to stick.

Gilroy reasoned that Dublin could have been "five or six" ahead at half-time, but Jack O'Connor would obviously have a different take when reflecting on Kerry's first-half squanderlust, topping the scale at 12 wides. Not that it mattered once Kerry upped the ante. They were already two points ahead when Darran O'Sullivan effectively put the game beyond reach with an exquisitely finished 55th-minute goal.

Overall, Gilroy deemed that his defence coped quite well given the extent of Kerry's second-half pressure. He had praise for debutant Craig Dias, who was fully tested by the perennially busy and probing Paul Galvin but who, according to his boss, "looked very comfortable out there and did a lot of very good things".

However, Gilroy was less enamoured of Dublin's indiscipline, including Fennell's reckless red. "It's just not on. It's a ridiculous thing for us to do; we can't afford to be doing it," he said.

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