It’s Sunday night with Monday back to school ahead of us in the morning and The Sunday Game paused on the DVR I’ve only time for a few quick thoughts at this point on today’s action at Croke Park. With three weeks to go to the final, though, there’ll be more than enough time to chew the fat on all salient issues before this and then.
The Dublin-Kerry match was nothing if not absorbing and with Croke Park packed to the proverbial rafters – or nearly, the official attendance today was just over 81,500 – it certainly felt like a major championship clash. Six goals and 29 points later it felt as if we’d just seen a re-run of the OK Corral.
Dublin finally persevered in this shoot-out but a better team than Kerry would surely have pushed on having lashed in those two early goals – though Mannion’s punched riposte to the second one was astonishingly good – and Kerry’s limitations were increasingly exposed the longer the day wore on. They died in the second half against Cork, they did the same against Cavan and then eventually did so again today, only this time they didn’t have a big enough lead to fall back on. They still could have squeezed home – they led by a point with five minutes to go and Declan O’Sullivan missed a chance to restore that one-point lead with a minute of normal time left – but then finally were floored by that late Dublin fusillade.
You have to admit that there’s something about a Dublin goal at Croke Park which makes the place really come alive:
And, of course, the second late one put the tin hat on it altogether:
It was a gutsy win for Dublin but, unlike many of you in the comments tonight, I wouldn’t exactly be overdoing it with the superlatives where it comes to them. The Dubs may have ended the day with their best team on the pitch but major questions can rightfully be posed about Jim Gavin’s team selection for this one. The two young corner backs O’Brien and Cooper were cleaned out in the first half and Ger Brennan was never able to come to terms with the Gooch either. McCaffrey never got the chance to rampage forward in the way he’d done in previous games and in the forwards Kilkenny and Mannion (who, in spite of that goal, did little else of note) both ended up getting hauled off, with neither of them sparking in the way they’d been expected to.
Gavin put his faith in youth this year and the way the five young lads that he started struggled quite badly today now leaves him with a bit of a dilemma for the final. Does he leave the two lads in the corner on and hope we don’t do the same to them? Or does he put Philly on from the start and hope he doesn’t start WWIII before five minutes has gone? Does he think Jack will get a better licence to roam against our suffocating defence than he did today? And will Kilkenny or Mannion do better against us than they did against what was a poor enough Kerry defence?
The bottom line is that Gavin – a rookie senior manager, don’t forget – is now heading into an All-Ireland final with serious doubts about one-third of his starting side as he prepares to face a settled, battle-hardened outfit, one that’s capable of matching his charges in tempo and has a bench that’s at least as good. There’s set to be a fair amount of head-scratching in the Dublin camp over the next few weeks, I reckon.
My own take – as I said on the post-match audio earlier on – is that we shouldn’t be in any sense in awe of Dublin after today’s performance. What we’ve seen from our lads this year – ranging from the utter destruction wreaked on Galway and Donegal to the manner in which we slugged our way through Tyrone’s tricky challenge last weekend – is at least equal to anything we’ve seen from the Dubs this year. Can we beat them in three weeks time? Too bloody right we can.
And we can be confident, very confident in fact, that the minors will get us in the right mood for the big one by landing the Tom Markham Cup in the curtain-raiser on the 22nd. Roscommon should, of course, have come through today to make it a unique all-Connacht All-Ireland but it looked like they suffered from a bad dose of stage fright and allowed a limited but game Tyrone to snatch the spoils from under their noses.
In truth, neither side looked all that hot in today’s minor semi-final – on today’s showing (not to mention our lads’ display last Sunday) it’s hard to believe that Roscommon should have beaten us in the Connacht minor final back in July but they had enough possession that day to do so and they had more than enough to prevail today as well. When the game was there to be won in the final ten minutes, however, they simply wilted and put up little or no resistance as Tyrone poured forward to claim the game’s winning scores.
We should have enough class to handle the Red Hand lads easily enough in the final but, of course, the thing we’ll need to be prepared for in three weeks time is all that nasty, cynical stuff that the young Tyrone lads showed today they were fully fluent in too. You know the kind of stuff – all the things they don’t coach Tyrone teams to do in any kind of systematic way.
It would give me immense pleasure to see our lads give them a right hammering in the final … and then see the seniors do the same to the Dubs. If Carlsberg made All-Ireland final days, in other words.