Wednesday 13 December 2017

When Kerry saw Blue tide turning

IT might be a bit early in the day for reminiscence of old battles between great rivals, particularly when we've been saturated with coverage of the most dramatic chapter right through the winter.

But on cusp of the beginning of another Allianz League campaign, it's well worth revisiting the first part of Dublin's newfound mini-dominance over their great Southern nemesis.

There exists in Dublin a prevailing train of thought -- supported neatly by hindsight, of course -- that February 7, 2010 and Dublin's first win on Kerry soil in 28 years was a foundation stone, a landmark victory on the way to last year's sweetest of sweet All-Ireland successes.

It was the day that Dublin went to Killarney to take on the All-Ireland champions and beat them in their back yard. It was the day the likes of Paul Conlon, Rory O'Carroll, Philly McMahon and James McCarthy were given their first real cut at this level of football in a defence which had been wiped, first by Kerry in August of the previous year and then, ruthlessly and calculatedly, by Gilroy.

It was the day Kevin McManamon and Michael Darragh Macauley (who lined out at centre-forward) gave the first glimpses of the attacking spark they would eventually provide.

It was the day a new, albeit more primitive, rough-and-guts-type version of Dublin's new defensive system was unveiled, when Dublin dispossessions were abundant and Kerrymen were choked of space by hordes of blue jerseys.

And it was the day Dublin survived a late second-half surge and a fightback from one of football's superpowers to hang on for dear life and a narrow victory. All new departures for the Dubs at the time but all vital traits which would develop and improve to culminate in their crowning moment 18 months later.

"I don't think the results really matter here at this time of year," said Pat Gilroy then of Dublin's two-point win, but the evidence and public utterances in the time which has elapsed since have been totally contradictory.

Gilroy has, however, always been consistent that the '09 All-Ireland quarter-final destruction by Kerry had been dealt with and banished by the group that October and that that day in Killarney was less about revenge and more about his often-stated 2010 goal of "closing the gap on the top teams".

"We went down there to try and beat the All-Ireland champions and get two points," explained McManamon this week. "It wasn't about bragging rights. We just wanted to beat the All-Ireland champions."

McManamon started his first league game that day alongside Blaine Kelly in a two-man full-forward line, the third designated member of which -- David Henry -- spent almost all the match in Dublin's half back line in front of Kieran Donaghy.

At the time, Pat Gilroy's 'tough love' approach with Bernard Brogan was a work in progress, Diarmuid Connolly was still flitting between squad member and self-imposed exile and Alan Brogan yet to awake from his winter slumber.

Brogan the younger is the classic case in point of what Gilroy was trying to and eventually did, achieve. The Dublin manager left his top scorer from the previous season out of the team for the fist three rounds of the league, or as Bernard himself later explained: "until I learned to work harder off-the-ball."

Nine months later, Brogan's metamorphosis would be complete when he developed from stylish prolific corner-forward to all-action Footballer Of The Year.

"There's no point in doing this and then next week playing brutal," Gilroy surmised afterwards, a week before his team went and beat Derry in Parnell Park. "We need to perform all the time like that. We need to get a consistency in what we're doing and not to have these big flash games and then a poor game ... that's been the problem for us. We put great performances into the championship, followed by terrible ones."

After successive victories, there spawned a ripple of optimism that something different was stirring in the capital.

But so traumatised were the blue faithful by what had transpired so sickeningly at Kerry's hands just five months previously, the expectation sided with caution and the new blue cubs were spared the customary hype which the stringing of two wins usually prompts. No harm.


That day, though, helped bring about a new attitude from Dublin, one synopsised perfectly last week by Mick Fitzsimons. "I don't have a hang-up about Kerry," he said. "I don't have any mental scars from being beaten by them repeatedly. It's probably similar to the All Blacks. A lot of teams fear them because they continually beat them but, luckily enough, a lot of the lads don't have that problem."

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