If we lived in an alternate reality where the relationship between Jim Gavin and RTÉ was a tad more amicable, the Dublin manager might have been able to get his hands on footage of his side’s dominant league victory over Kerry last Sunday. When Gavin pressed play on the DVD, he no doubt would have been delighted with the display he saw from his charges.
In what was a rematch of last year’s league final, Sunday’s game at Croke Park finished 2-17 to 0-11 in the Dubs favour. The win maintained Dublin’s 100 percent record in the league this year, and all but guaranteed a league final with surprise package Galway on April 1st.
The first half was tight, and a Kerry team filled with exciting youngsters raced into an early lead, seeming to at least partially rattle the All Ireland champions.
The name at the tip of everyone’s tongue this year as regards the Kingdom has obviously been the prodigious David Clifford, and he found himself marked by Cian O’Sullivan in the early exchanges. Clifford excelled in the first 20 minutes with O’Sullivan, despite his numerous years of experience, being consistently second best to the Fossa teenager.
Some of Kerry’s other upcoming talents such as Sean O’Shea and Michael Burns also began the match sharply, but the Boys in Blue were about to give these Kerry kids a harsh lesson.
Dublin got a stranglehold on the game when Niall Scully, much like he did against Mayo at the end of February, palmed the ball in an open net to give Dublin their first goal of the game which helped secure a 1-8 to 0-8 halftime lead. From there on, Dublin steamrollered Eamon Fitzmaurice’s side and looked as if they could score from every single attack.
For those of us who were hoping for a competitive All Ireland championship this summer, Sunday was not a good sign. In successive league matches Dublin have now swatted aside who most would assume are their two most legitimate challengers for Sam Maguire in Kerry and Mayo.
Of course there are caveats aplenty which we will come to in a second, but what was fascinating about these past two games for Dublin has been the different ways they have controlled the game once in front. In both matches they had half time leads – five points against Mayo and three against Kerry – but in the Mayo game Dublin chose to keep possession, instead of trying to drive home their advantage and hammer Stephen Rochford’s side.
The Dubs succeeded in killing the match, sucking all the atmosphere out of a large MacHale Park crowd, but in the end only came away with a four point win. A margin which hardly tolds the extent of the visitors’ dominance.
Against Kerry, perhaps to avenge last year’s league final defeat, perhaps because the game was in Croke Park, or perhaps simply because they were playing the old archenemy, Dublin opted to rub salt in the wounds. Point after point adding insult to injury. A firm reminder to these upstarts who traveled up from the south who the champions are.
What makes this all the more terrifying for the chasing pack is that, as a tweet by the Irish Examiner’s John Fogarty alluded to, Dublin aren’t even at full strength.
Dublin used 22 players today. Here’s 15 they didn’t use: Comerford; McGowan, Fitzsimons, O’Brien; Daly, McCarthy, McCaffrey; Flynn, Connolly; McHugh, O’Callaghan, Mannion; McManamon, O’Gara, Brogan. Obviously, a few injured but indicates their depth #GAA
— John Fogarty (@JohnFogartyIrl) March 11, 2018
Of the 15 players mentioned in Fogarty’s tweet, seven started last year’s All Ireland final. Furthermore, those players listed have 17 All Stars between them. Yet Dublin still did that to Kerry.
It would be remiss not to mention that the Boys in Blue are not the only ones without their best XV at this time of the year. The Mayo side that lined out against Dublin a few weeks ago were themselves without nine starters from last year’s All Ireland final, including nine All Stars.
Add on to this that Mayo are consistently inconsistent in the league and that four point loss starts to look much better from a green and red perspective. For the Kingdom, issues in their full back line remain unsolved and that is a huge problem. The fact they have conceded nine goals in five games this year is evidence of their struggles.
Having said that, Kerry do have a long injury list of their own which includes Anthony Maher, Donnchadh Walsh, Darran O’Sullivan, James O’Donoghue, Johnny Buckley, Killian Young and Stephen O’Brien, so one would expect them to also improve in the summer months.
Mayo and Kerry at full strength will surely prove tougher tests for Dublin, the problem though is that a fully fit Dublin have a depth that the other two simply cannot compete with. It’s has become a cliché at this point, but it is Dublin’s bench that sets them apart.
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