Another day’s football, another afternoon where events on the field made nonsense of all the professional and amateur punditry (including my own yapping here) that goes on around the championship. In this regard, it’s only fair to point to the prescient analysis put forward by An Spailpín, both back in June and again last week where he warned us clearly what to expect from the Kerrymen when the real questions were there to be answered. The rest of us, myself included, were woefully wide of the mark on The Kerry Question and while I can proffer the excuse that I’ve been breathing in too much of the blue air, that’s no more than an admission on my part that I bought the hype that’s been doing the rounds.
More on that match in a bit but first off it’s right and proper to salute today’s achievement by Ray Dempsey’s minors who qualified for the All-Ireland semi-finals when they overcame, in a very business-like manner, the challenge of Tipperary at O’Connor Park in Tullamore (match report from the Mayo Advertiser here). I caught most of the second half on Midwest and by then all the heavy lifting had already been done. First-half goals by Alex Corduff (who netted after just two minutes) and Darren Coen put our lads into the driving seat and they went in 2-4 to 1-2 in front. After two early points in the second half, they went twelve minutes without scoring but then dangerman Cillian O’Connor bagged our third major and the lads eased home from there, winning in the end by 3-11 to 1-8.
Ray’s lads now have a four-week break ahead of their All-Ireland semi-final with either Down or Dublin. That quarter-final has yet to be played, due to an outbreak of swine flu in the Mourne lads’ ranks, but there’s still plenty of time for the tie to be rescheduled so that the semi-final is played as planned on the 30th. That match will be the undercard to the Kerry v Mayo/Meath semi-final so even if everything goes pear-shaped next weekend, we’ll still be able to use our Combo tickets to shout for the minors at Croker in four weeks time where, with a bit of luck, we’ll get to see them qualify for their second All-Ireland final on the trot.
Our win over the Stone Throwers today was expected but the rout that occurred at Croke Park surely wasn’t. As we know to our cost, any side that gives Kerry a major headstart within the first five minutes of any game can expect that the remaining 65 minutes will prove more than a little chastening. The Gooch’s goal on 32 seconds wasn’t fatal in itself but the way Kerry battered the Dubs with an unanswered barrage of points in the ten or so minutes that followed certainly was. By the time Ciaran Whelan came in for Darren Magee midway through the opening half, the game had begun to take on an eerie resemblance to our fateful 2006 decider against the Kingdom.
The thrashing the Dubs got from Tyrone last year was galling for them but today’s annihilation was of a totally different order and it’ll be difficult to see how they can recover from it in any kind of reasonable timeframe in order to be able to portray themselves once again as credible contenders for national honours. This strange world that Dublin have occupied over the past five years – where they’ve been giants in Leinster but pygmies in the All-Ireland series – is hard to fathom and Joe Brolly put it well today when he said that beating Dublin seems to have become a kind of confidence-building measure for teams seeking to prove that they can cut it on the national stage. Pat Gilroy sure has a tough road ahead of him as he seeks to find a path to redemption for the battered and bruised Metropolitans.
And what of Kerry? Send any Kerry team out to play in a packed Croke Park against the Dubs and I suppose it’s inevitable they’ll perform. How they managed to mutate from the clumsy and clueless outfit we saw in the qualifiers into the fluid, efficient killing machine we witnessed today is anyone’s guess but, in retrospect, I suppose that drawing the Dubs was the perfect outcome for Kerry, not least because they went into the match as marginal underdogs. A win today was always – because of all the Kerry-Dublin brouhaha – going to have the effect of wiping the slate clean and allowing them to make another charge for the summit. To borrow a snooker analogy, today was a shot to nothing for the Green and Gold and, boy, did they pull it off in some style. It wasn’t, as I was suggesting in a few post-match texts today, their All-Ireland but the Kerry lads will feel better about themselves tonight than they’ll have done for a long while.
The apparent rude health within the Kingdom’s ranks if, of course, of more than academic interest to us but there’s absolutely no point at this stage in giving too much thought to how we’d do against them at the semi-final stage. We’ve more than enough to do in plotting our way past Meath and, if we succeed in doing so, there’ll be plenty of time to ruminate on how we might fare against the Kingdom.
With Kerry now alongside Tyrone at 6/4 for Sam, they’ll obviously be huge favourites going into the semi-final against either ourselves or Meath and that might give next Sunday’s winners a tiny sliver of hope ahead of the 30th. Kerry can still get caught in a semi-final – remember their flat form last year having been magnificent against Galway in the quarters – and if they place too much focus on their need to peak like they’ve never peaked before in the final, this could yet leave them open for an unlikely haymaker in the penultimate round. That prospect, however, is one for another day.