So can we all agree Gooch is fine at 11?
For the first time this season, an opponent recorded more shots than Dublin in the first half. No team this summer had managed to rack up more scoring attempts than Jim Gavin’s side in 35 minutes of Football, be it first or second half, prior to this game. Kerry’s 16 efforts edged Dublin by the minimum and Colm Cooper’s creativity was crucial to their half-time lead. Cooper, who score 0-2 from play in the half, did his best work in finding opportunities for those around him. A run of three scores in the first half emphasised his dominance. Kerry’s first goal on 7 minutes, from the boot of James O’Donoghue, began with a Cooper pass that broke Dublin’s defensive cover. Cooper fed O’Donoghue again on 10 minutes for a point and then began the move in the 12th minute that led to Donnchadh Walsh’s goal. The next score for the Kingdom was one of Gooch’s first half points. Having established his presence as a passing threat, Cooper was now starting to find room for chances of his own.
Cooper’s brilliance aside, Kerry’s best provider in the opening period was Dublin’s defence. The decision to put Ger Brennan on Gooch backfired but that was the least of the worries for the Leinster champions. The execution at the back was vile. Errors were in abundance with players mistaking their assignments on loose balls, standing inside the 20m line on kick-outs, and showing glaring inaccuracy in the passing game. This kind of sloppiness can hurt an elite team in the early rounds; at this point of the summer it’s guaranteed to be damaging.
Unexpected accuracy aids Dublin
Despite Kerry’s barrage in the early going, Dublin were within a score at the break. Given their almost guaranteed 50 per cent return on shots this season, Gavin’s side had an outlier when they desperately needed it. Their 10 of 15 return was the result of a few factors. The goal, naturally, ensured matters were close at the break, but Kerry’s commitment to attack also gave Dublin more room to time their shots. Jack McCaffrey, who somewhat surprisingly was being covered by Walsh, fed Michael Darragh MacAuley for their opening score and the perfect run continued through to the 0-3 mark. Bernard Brogan’s shot from the left crept over the bar on 4 minutes before Diarmuid Connolly forced a turnover and converted from an open position a minute later. It was Dublin’s response to Kerry’s second goal that made the major difference before the break. A run of 1-5 from 6 shots screams of small sample size but it also meant Dublin had started the game on a ridiculous 9 from 11 streak. Such were the errors at the back that Dublin’s most consistent attacking spell of the championship went largely unnoticed.
Kerry drop deep, Dublin switch cover
Eamonn Fitzmaurice was well aware going into this game that his side couldn’t maintain a hard pace for the duration. The level at which Kerry’s production dropped off after the break was worse than he would have feared. Part of this was down to his strategic shift. Kerry played a much deeper defence in the second half, looking to slow Dublin’s comeback. It’s inarguable that this worked in the direct sense, Dublin trailed for more of the game. The impact it had on the Kingdom’s attack however was devastating. Kerry managed just 10 shots after the break, with 4 of those coming in the opening 9 minutes of the half. Kerry subsequently suffered a 14 minute scoreless spell where they managed to record just a single effort on the uprights. This dearth of chances was heavily impacted by poor supply and exacerbated by Gavin’s own adjustments.
Dublin had tried to reduce Cooper’s creative impact with the introduction of Philly McMahon in the first half. McMahon was essentially a seventh defender playing between the lines but his impact in this role was minimal. At half-time Gavin made a decisive switch. Denis Bastick was introduced at midfield and Cian O’Sullivan. The Kilmacud Crokes man has spent most of his career as a defender and took a novel approach to marking Cooper. Run like hell and get in front of him for every ball. It should be noted that O’Sullivan was played beautifully by Cooper for his goal in the 2011 decider, a neat run back from the 13m to 20m line forcing the defender into an impossible decision. In this game Cooper would have no such space to confuse O’Sullivan. The pace of the Crokes man cut off the supply to the Dr Crokes man. Such was O’Sullivan’s success in this role, Cooper would only lay off two scoring chances in the second half, that it’s easy to wonder why he wasn’t assigned the gig from the off. This however would ignore the contribution O’Sullivan made in creating space for scores during that rather productive first half from the Dublin forwards. Gavin recognised that O’Sullivan’s contribution to attack was easier to replace than his defensive presence and made the right call at half-time.
Given how late in the game Dublin took the lead for good, it’s easy to argue that the final margin was flattering. This case however holds up poorly under scrutiny. During Kerry’s barren spell, Dublin put up 8 shots and scored from 5 of them. The difference, in a surprise to no-one that regularly reads this column, was the impact of Dublin’s substitutes with Dean Rock leading the charge. The Ballymun Kickhams man has been Gavin’s best weapon off the bench, offering versatility in the forward line. Rock’s 0-2 during this spell helped push Dublin into the lead for the first time since the game’s opening stages. Gavin opted for pure athleticism in his subsequent attacking changes, withdrawing Bernard Brogan and Paul Mannion for Eoghan O’Gara and Kevin McManamon. Neither substitute will ever be praised for their unerring accuracy but Gavin had enough scorers on the field to allow the duo to push the tempo hard in the closing stages. McManamon grabbed the headlines with his 67th minute goal, fed from a lovely touch my MacAuley, but it was his grinding with O’Gara that made the bigger difference down the stretch. Kerry’s bench options simply couldn’t compete with Dublin’s depth. Gavin’s side went 11 of 20 in the second half, recording more scores than Kerry had shots.
In terms of drama this game was stacked but on the whole it played out largely in accordance with the script. Kerry started fast with an eye for goals as they sought to put up a big lead to defend down the stretch. Dublin trailed at the break but not significantly, putting the onus on Kerry to keep the pressure on in the second half. The younger and deeper Dublin side ensured this wasn’t going to happen and only a late pair of scores, which saw Kerry re-take the lead 7 minutes from time, stemmed the tide. McManamon’s goal broke the game open but it was the end result of a lengthy process. Dublin kept pouring forward into the breach and like Harfleur, eventually Kerry were no longer defensible.
For Fitzmaurice this was a bold effort to get his team one more game but he simply didn’t have the tools at his disposal. The Kingdom pushed the tempo hard in the early going but left too much room at the back for their lead to be substantial. Once Kerry finally addressed their defensive frailties, the tank was running dry. Dublin did what they have done repeatedly this season and flayed an ailing opponent. Gavin will finally face a side capable of matching his side’s approach to the final quarter when they square off with Mayo in three weeks’ time.
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