No mercy shown as Dubs deliver deadly display
Dublin 2-17 Kerry 0-11
These are testing times for Jim Gavin.
Yesterday, faced with the challenge of downplaying an at times awesome dismantling of Kerry at Croke Park by his Dublin team, Gavin even contemplated the meaning of the word 'comfortable.'
Dublin, we put it to their manager, had been surprisingly comfortable in their 12-point win, a demonstration of their ruthless efficiency and the impressive strength of their panel in what was their fifth win of this year's League campaign, meaning the avoidance of defeats over the next two weekends would put them in a sixth final in a row.
Jim countered that that was "a perception of what comfortable means."
Which of course is true.
But of the 24,026 people in Croke Park yesterday, it's hard to imagine that many had a different definition of the word as it applied to a victory that suggested a large, gaping gorge had been dug between the teams in the exact spot where Kerry had seemingly filled the gap with a win and a draw in last year's League.
Éamonn Fitzmaurice, meanwhile, admitted the whole day had been "a chastening experience," accepting that Dublin had become small and distant from their vantage point in the chasing pack.
"Didn't see it (going) that way coming into the game," Gavin stressed, "but certainly I think both halves, the first half (1-8) the second half (1-9) so some consistency there, 2-15 probably from play, two frees in the game missed a few, created quite a few scoring opportunities, missed a few goalscoring opportunities which have to be tightened up for the next game."
Yesterday, Dublin kicked just four wides, their efficiency up front being a notable and recurring theme in this year's League.
After starting in a gear below Kerry, they had them lapped by halfway through the second half.
In the 25th minute, the Dr Crokes wing-forward Micheál Burns kicked Kerry's eight point of the match to get them to within one of Dublin.
That was their last score until the 54th minute, at which point Dublin had added 1-8 and effectively won the game.
"Coming up to half-time, we tightened up on our passing which was a little bit loose in the first half," Gavin explained.
"We tightened up in the second half and we got the performance as a result."
The way Fitzmaurice saw that period, "Dublin really got after us. They punished our mistakes.
"For whatever reason then we seemed to go into our shell a bit, which was disappointing.
"But look they're an outstanding team and we can see where we're at, we can see where they're at, at the moment, and there's a gap there that has to be bridged.
"If you are going to beat Dublin in Croke Park," he added, "you are going to have to do pretty much everything right and we didn't today."
Never was that more apparent than in the 20th minute yesterday when Seán O'Shea skewed a shot wide having rounded the advanced Stephen Cluxton and with just a back-tracking Jonny Cooper on the line.
"If he took it there would have been a different complexion on the game," Gavin acknowledged.
Cooper was exceptional again yesterday.
His interception from an attempted short David Clifford free in the first half started the move that led to Niall Scully's second Dublin goal in successive matches.
In the second half, after Clifford had taken Cian O'Sullivan for three points, Cooper completely eclipsed the former minor prodigy, defending from in front with an energetic zeal, limiting him to just one converted free.
Other stand-out Dublin performers were official Man of the Match Ciarán Kilkenny, and our choice, Michael Darragh Macauley.
Kilkenny scored 1-3 and provided a brilliant ball-winning outlet, charging at the Kerry 'D' from a more advanced position that usual and comprehensively winning his battle with Paul Murphy.
Macauley, meanwhile, was immense, both from kick-outs and in how aggressively and often he smashed into the Kerry defence.
By our calculations, he directly assisted three points and won another free that was converted by Dean Rock in the first half.
After a hugely frustrating 2017, yesterday was the first real sign that Macauley was still capable of the sort of barnstorming performances that saw him win the 2013 Footballer of the Year.
Kerry meanwhile, will lick their wounds this week.
Fitzmaurice has been adamant that the forming of a team from the sparkling material of the last four All-Ireland winning minor teams was a three-year project.
Yesterday merely confirmed his predciction.
"It is ominous at the moment," he admitted, "but we won't lose faith just yet."