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More at stake than just points for Dublin

Continuation of recent record against Mayo would give Farrell great start

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Dublin's James McCarthy gets away from Kerry's Tommy Walsh during their Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 1 match at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Dublin's James McCarthy gets away from Kerry's Tommy Walsh during their Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 1 match at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Dublin's James McCarthy gets away from Kerry's Tommy Walsh during their Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 1 match at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

It may have been the first game the season, a new decade and the dawn of a managerial era, but the abiding images of Dublin on Saturday night were familiar ones.

Brian Fenton slaloming elusively, caressing the ball as though partly motivated by the conservation of energy.

James McCarthy, both bandaged and bloody, careering squarely into Kerry tacklers.

Ciarán Kilkenny making himself the central character in the late, big plays.

Afterwards, just before the Dublin bus departed Croke Park, Stephen Cluxton could be seen holding court on board, issuing whatever class of debrief a team that has won everything requires after a League game in January.

The only real difference was Dessie Farrell.

In the League, managers can generally influence the public discourse around results and performances by assigning context and mitigation.

Injuries. Lack of preparation. Third-level involvement. Winter rust.

Farrell's adopted stance was that the performance was the only thing that mattered to him.

And on Saturday evening, it ticked all the unvarnished January boxes: competitive, flinty, courageous.

He even evoked Páidí Ó Sé with his contention that the Dublin players had "a lot of dirty petrol in the engine that needs to be cleaned out over the next couple of weeks".

Peter Keane meanwhile, did the quintessential Kerry thing of shrugging his way past any suggestion of significance to what we had just seen.

Sure, wasn't it the last Saturday in January?

Which was undeniably true. But still, Keane - not a man prone to flourishes of hyperbole - half-conceded the importance of Kerry not losing on Saturday night.

"Look, you could say that but sure look, had we won I wouldn't have been jumping out of my skin in here and had we lost I wouldn't have been crying," he stressed.

Optics

"You know, it's a league game in January - it wouldn't have been crazy had we lost the game."

No. But the optics of losing to a Dublin team still sun-tanned from their team holiday wouldn't have been great either.

Keane and Farrell are both managers whose actions speak louder than their publicly-consumed words.

They might not have admitted to placing a high value in a result on Saturday night, but they were each motivated enough to select the strongest team available to them.

In Farrell's case, the Dublin starting 15 had an identical average age to those who began last year's All-Ireland final replay.

A team that contained no débutantes and 73 All-Ireland medals.

If actually winning the game wasn't a high priority, its transformation from a flowing first half into a fraught, frequently cynical second one was an inexplicable and unfortunate coincidence.

Referee Seán Hurson issued one card in the first half, Eric Lowndes' black card in the 37th minute.

He showed 14 in the second - 10 yellows, two further black cards and two reds.

So the result mattered. More than anyone involved cared to admit. Or the rest of us assumed beforehand.

Full deck

It meant that Farrell avoided defeat on his first night at the hands of the team he had already predicted were "coming with a full deck, and coming in a big way" for Sam Maguire this year.

And it added to Kerry's recent troubling record in Croke Park, albeit without the further scarring of another defeat.

One win in their last nine matches there is bizarrely un-Kerry-like form.

They have beaten Dublin just once in Croke Park (the 2017 League final) in their last 11 attempts, a run that goes back to 2012.

As it happens, that year was the last time Dublin lost a game of any description to Mayo.

Indeed, they lost two of them that year; one a crushing League defeat in Castlebar after which Pat Gilroy publicly scolded his players, and the other, the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final that transpired to be his final match as manager.

Since then, Mayo have failed to beat Dublin through 15 League and Championship games, constituting the entire span of Jim Gavin's managerial tenure.

Or 2,708 days by the time they meet in MacHale Park on Saturday evening.

Farrell explained the presence of so many front-liners in the Dublin team on Saturday night as "a question of the players that were available to us".

Haste

Given the haste with which he was appointed, the associated complications in constructing a management group and the presence of "dirty petrol" in the tanks of his players, maintaining an unbeaten record against Dublin's two primary rivals would represent a significant early success for him.

"In at the deep end," Farrell observed on Saturday evening when asked to turn his attentions from Kerry and Croke Park to Mayo and Castlebar.

"It's a great way to focus the minds."