Thursday 14 December 2017

Dubs discover again the acrid taste of defeat

No arguments as Kerry end run - and give hope to rest

Dublin's Ciaran Reddin is tackled by Kerry's Donnchadh Walsh, left, and Tadhg Morley
Dublin's Ciaran Reddin is tackled by Kerry's Donnchadh Walsh, left, and Tadhg Morley

At one point in his post-match briefing at Croke Park, Jim Gavin remarked: "There'll be lots of takeaways from today, that's for sure."

He wasn't mulling over the competing charms of a Thai red curry or a chicken tikka masala.

Another one of Gavin's buzz words is "learnings" and he referenced it again yesterday, insisting Dublin learn from every game, win, lose or draw.

But the truth of his four-and-a-half year reign is that Dublin have lost very few games - this was just his seventh - so the presumption is he'll learn even more from this very rare event.

Dublin had gone a record-breaking 36 games unbeaten prior to this initially intriguing, ultimately captivating Allianz Football League Division 1 final. There could be no complaints that they never made it to 37 - even though they came within the width of a Hill 16 upright of forcing extra-time.

And in fairness to Gavin, he was magnanimous in defeat, keen to salute the merit of Kerry's one-point win and desperately keen not to "talk ill" about anything his opposite number might have said midweek.

For all Eamonn Fitzmaurice might caution that it's "still the month of April", this was a huge victory for the Kerry manager and his players.

They can now prepare for summer with a pep in their step, a first league title in eight years safely pocketed. Whereas Dublin must go away and mull over what all this means.

Gavin himself conceded that he'll have to reflect on his league final selection, and ask himself "did we start the right players and bring the right players in?"

But, whatever about individual calls that worked or backfired, perhaps the biggest 'learning' for Dublin from this topsy-turvy spring campaign is that their in-game consistency has deserted them.

The impressive fightbacks against Tyrone, Donegal, Kerry (in Tralee) and Monaghan highlighted the wonderful resilience of this team of champions. But they also masked some erratic tendencies that left them vulnerable to a select few rivals.

Dublin's Dean Rock is tackled by Kerry's Donnchadh Walsh and Peter Crowley
Dublin's Dean Rock is tackled by Kerry's Donnchadh Walsh and Peter Crowley

This came back to bite them during the third-quarter in Croke Park, as 53,840 fans watched on, wondering if the so-called Unbeatables had finally met their match.

Dublin had led by 0-10 to 0-9 at the end of nip-and-tuck first half. The contest had briefly threatened to run away from Kerry when they twice trailed by three - first after a typically effortless Diarmuid Connolly point, and again via Dean Rock's tap-over free after Jonathan Lyne dragged down Connolly making a beeline for goal.

It was a stonewall black card and Lyne walked. As the above paragraph underlines, Connolly was starting to enjoy some traction on his first 2017 start.

But then Connolly himself saw black - for the second time in a week - in a costly moment of stupidity. It happened well away from the ball, with Dublin going forward; Connolly deigned to haul down Gavin Crowley (ironically just introduced for Lyne) in a bid to gain a potential attacking advantage.

Green-and-gold diehards in the Cusack Stand howled; linesman Ciarán Branagan brought it to the attention of Roscommon referee Paddy Neilan; and Connolly's truncated afternoon was over.

We're not suggesting this was the winning and losing of a game in which several marquee Dubs underperformed... but Kerry were emboldened from here to the break, kicking four the last six points.

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice shakes hands with Dublin manager Jim Gavin
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice shakes hands with Dublin manager Jim Gavin

And then, on the restart, they hit six on the bounce to leave Dublin in a spin.

Kerry's costly fouling tendencies had been flagged in advance, but now it was Dublin's turn to give away frees through sloppy and at times reckless tackles.

Philly McMahon gave up two tap-over frees for Paul Geaney - it should have been three, as Geaney himself was caught by a high Philly arm and then, after treatment, dropped the resultant free short.

Others factors were conspiring against a Dublin team that wasn't its usual, unflappable self. They were undermined by careless turnovers; by Brian Fenton's surprisingly mute contribution as he was shadowed everywhere by Jack Barry, allowing a dominant David Moran to set the midfield agenda.

Dublin were also struggling to make any inside headway, although a scoreless Bernard Brogan was hardly helped by the quality of delivery.

It took the introduction of Paul Mannion to spark some life into Dublin. Trailing by five, Mannion's brilliant individual point on 53 minutes ended a barren third-quarter ... and then his 61st minute goal, cutting the deficit to one, gave them reason to believe another epic comeback was possible.

By then, though, Kerry would have been out of sight but for McMahon's last-ditch goalline block to deny Kevin McCarthy on the rebound after the excellent Stephen Cluxton had repelled the equally influential Tadhg Morley.

The final ended on a knife-edge, Bryan Sheehan's 73rd minute point proving a deserved match-winner, even if Mannion (again) hit back and then Rock, from 48 metres, came oh so close to preserving the run for another 20 minutes at least.

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