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Football is the first half winner as Fenton and Clifford hog stage

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ALL SQUARE: Rival managers Peter Keane and Dessie Farrell shake hands after Saturday’s stalemate. Pic: Sportsfile

ALL SQUARE: Rival managers Peter Keane and Dessie Farrell shake hands after Saturday’s stalemate. Pic: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

ALL SQUARE: Rival managers Peter Keane and Dessie Farrell shake hands after Saturday’s stalemate. Pic: Sportsfile

Before it all turned feisty and fractious in the second half, before Seán Hurson became the busiest man in the stadium, Dublin and Kerry had entertained the masses with a Gaelic twist on the Harlem Globetrotters.

Two goals and 19 points by the midpoint, 1-14 of that from play. Even a cynic would have struggled to spot the cynicism.

As Dublin and Kerry decided to play ball, two familiar heroes stood tallest.

This was the Brian Fenton meets David Clifford show.

When both sides broke for tea and stats, Fenton had pulled the trigger four times and been rewarded with 0-4, one off his left, three off his right. This was more scores from play than any other teammate or rival - all this from midfield.

Yet the influence of Kerry's freshly anointed skipper was almost as, if not equally, profound.

By half-time, Clifford had scored a wonder goal to breathe hope into a previously faltering Kingdom, dummied his man to clip an effortless point, and teed up scores for James O'Donoghue and Stephen O'Brien. He had also chanced his arm with a (too) rapidly taken free that nearly produced a goal out of nothing, ultimately settling for a tap-over instead.

Suffice to say, Fenton and Clifford were monopolising the latest Dublin/Kerry script.

A curiosity of several previous duels has been Fenton's relative lack of impact - most notably in last year's All-Ireland stalemate.

In a mark of grudging respect, Kerry have detailed a man-marker to stymie the Raheny man while seeking to decommission his influence at kickouts. Jack Barry has been that soldier, more than once ... but with Barry on All-Ireland club duty in Croke Park earlier on Saturday, with All Star David Moran missing through injury and with Adrian Spillane forced off with ankle trouble after just 16 minutes, Kerry were ill-equipped to counter Dublin's rampaging No 8.

Especially with Seán O'Shea, operating as a makeshift midfielder, struggling to track all his runs.

"We lost Seánie Shea with a blood sub, and he came back on with a big head bandage. And Adrian was gone, so maybe we weren't going as nicely as we would have liked to around the middle because of that," admitted Kerry boss Peter Keane.

"Like, Fenton went to town in the first half - he kicked four points."

It didn't last; perhaps it couldn't. The influence of both Fenton and Clifford dipped considerably as the game degenerated from free-flowing to fractious ... and yet both came back to the fore in stoppage-time.

When Brian Howard knocked down a Kerry kickout into his partner's path, Fenton immediately rose his hand in that familiar signal to precipitate some 40 seconds of Dublin keep-ball ending with a Niall Scully point to edge the hosts in front.

There was still time, however, for Clifford to win one equalising free (for Paul Geaney) and to convert another at the death.

Inevitable

All of which prompted the inevitable question about Kerry's new skipper and how, just turned 21, he had worn the captaincy lightly.

"Yeah, but you'd have expected that off David Clifford, whether he was going to be captain or nothing. He did what he was asked to do," was his manager's give-nothing-away response.

Keane was more forthcoming on the contribution of Clifford's first half partner-in-pillage.

James O'Donoghue ignited a slumbering Kerry with his first point on 15 minutes; by half-time he had taken Eoin Murchan for 0-3 and teed up Clifford for another.

Even though he was replaced after 50 minutes, O'Donoghue's earlier sparkle was a beguiling throw-back to his 2014 Footballer of the Year peak. The Legion clubman has been blighted by cruel, recurring injury - but on this evidence, all the magic is not lost.

"He played very well against Clare in the opening round of the championship," said Keane, harking back to early last summer, "and I suppose after 40-45 minutes the hamstring went on him. And it effectively ruined his year.

"That was a big setback, because we were expecting a big year out of him last year."

Perhaps there's a big one yet to come.