Tuesday 21 November 2017

Fitz is still playing catch-up on Dubs

Gavin savours a flying start by league holders ... but laments the glut of goals that got away

Dublin’s James McCarthy is fouled by Kerry corner back Brian Ó Beaglaoich (and was awarded a penalty) during Saturday night’s Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 1 match at Croke Park Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s James McCarthy is fouled by Kerry corner back Brian Ó Beaglaoich (and was awarded a penalty) during Saturday night’s Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 1 match at Croke Park Photo: Sportsfile

"Why we're playing the opening round of the national league in January is really beyond me," admitted Jim Gavin. And yet, schedule complaints apart, Gavin had his Dubs primed to hit the ground running on Saturday night. They were ready; Kerry weren't.

The only wonder of it all is that Dublin 'only' won this Division One opener in Croke Park by two clear goals on a night when they could have bagged a hatful of majors.

Paddy Andrews crowned an explosive evening's work (after a razor-sharp January) with their first goal on 42 minutes while Diarmuid Connolly arrowed an unstoppable penalty nine minutes later, ending any pretence of a Kerry comeback.

Yet the first half had seen Tomás Brady skewing a presentable chance wide, Andrews being acrobatically denied by Brendan Kealy, and David Moran mimicking his All Star 'keeper colleague by saving Dean Rock's point-blank strike. Late on, defenders John Small and Jack McCaffrey took it in turns to sally deep into enemy terrain and smack the woodwork. Even some first half points, via Rock and livewire prodigal Paul Mannion, resembled potential goal chances.

Kerry's full-back line endured a torrid time, but only so much of it was their fault because of the constant blue wave heading their way and the scant protection afforded by a sweeper-free set-up. "I'd be more disappointed with the lads out the field for letting runners go," Éamonn Fitzmaurice remarked.

Kerry's ploy of going man-for-man looked questionable, but their manager maintained there was something more fundamental amiss.


"If you hadn't seen last year's All-Ireland final and you came in and looked at it, you would have maybe said we had beaten Dublin and they were the team that looked hungrier and looked more anxious to prove a point," he mused. "I felt that our attitude should have been better; our work rate wasn't near good enough. Even in possession our accuracy was well off."

There are mitigating factors: Dublin had their holiday in December whereas Fitzmaurice's squad only returned from their foreign travels a month later - an unfortunate necessity when so much Kerry club activity continues so late into the year.

So, last year's vanquished finalists are already playing catch-up on the kingpins. And yet Saturday night also reinforced the impression that Gavin has higher-quality Plan Bs than Fitzmaurice.

Dublin started with nine of their All-Ireland team; Kerry eight. Little difference there.

Evidently, Gavin got a higher return from his front-line men. Andrews tallied 1-4 from play, Rock hit three of his 0-7 via a similar route, Connolly impressed once more with the range of his usually pinpoint passing, James McCarthy's more advanced midfield role enabled him to maraud forward and win their penalty, while Cian O'Sullivan, as ever, tidily closed off gaps in front of a full-back line where Mick Fitzsimons was tight as a drum in ground exchanges (but occasionally troubled by Tommy Walsh's towering presence).

Others rose to the occasion too - none more so than Mannion, back from his studies in China and seemingly keen to make up for lost time.

The Kilmacud speedster exploded from the first gun and, for the opening half-hour, the sharpness of his movement must have left his debutant shadow, Brian Ó Beaglaoich, wondering if senior football equates to organised torture.

To his credit, the An Ghaeltacht rookie stuck to his onerous task and visibly grew into the contest. Even though his foul on McCarthy drew the penalty, he was still the best of an embattled full-back line on a night when All Star Shane Enright's late black card must have come as blessed relief after a skinning by Andrews.

Jim Gavin expressed satisfaction with the performance, the tally of 1-10 from play and the creation of multiple goal chances - he was less enamoured of the execution.

But the Dublin boss cautioned against reading too deeply into Kerry's travails.

"It must be difficult for them, they're only back from their holidays," he said, insisting it "doesn't make sense" to be playing league in late January "with all the talk of the fixture restructuring."

"Kerry are a class side - they've got class players. Class management team. They'll be back," Gavin concluded.

Now another old rival beckons: the bus heads for Castlebar next Saturday night.

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