An eagerly-awaited contest that Dublin were slated to win finished 1-24 to 1-7 in the Kingdom’s favour. After stumbling through the qualifiers, Kerry were suddenly so focused, so fast and so brilliant that the Dubs simply couldn’t live with them.
From the moment that Colm “Gooch” Cooper swivelled inside his marker for a goal after just 40 seconds, there was only going to be one outcome at Croke Park. Fourteen points clear at the interval, Kerry could afford to ease up in the closing stages and still have 17 to spare over their great rivals.
Back in their spiritual home of the GAA’s headquarters, Kerry’s butterfly finally emerged from its dowdy, squirming chrysalis. Written off by so many on the basis of their desperately underwhelming displays against Longford, Sligo and Antrim, Jack O’Connor’s players were transformed as time after time they cut swathes through a shellshocked Dublin defense.
Cooper was on fire as he weighed in with 1-7, Declan O’Sullivan, Paul Galvin and Darran O’Sullivan attacked with remarkable precision, while the old war horses Darragh O Se and Mike McCarthy were rejuvenated as they at last got the scent of summer’s cut grass in their nostrils.
Kerry were a force of nature, their cobwebs spectacularly shaken off, and as they now prepare to take on the winners of the Meath-Mayo quarter-final on Aug. 30, it’s hard to see them not reaching a sixth All Ireland decider in a row.
Monday’s first-half in front of 82,000 spectators was a thing of relentless beauty as Kerry surged forward with breathtaking pace and power. So clever were their lines of running and so good their anticipation that Dublin were left in an embarrassing muddle. Manager Pat Gilroy tried desperately to stop the bleeding with a series of early substitutions, but it still looked as if his team were running in treacle.
It was a devastating 1-14 to 0-3 at the break, and not alone was the Kerry attack at its very best, Darragh O Se and Seamus Scanlon were cleaning up at midfield, and both Tom O’Sullivan and the superb McCarthy had the confidence to surge out of defense.
Based on last year’s exit at the same stage against Tyrone and now on this latest humiliation, it seems that Dublin’s barometer doesn’t go past the Leinster championship. Players such as Bernard Brogan, David Henry and Bryan Cullen, who had emerged smelling of roses from the provincial campaign, were just not mapped.
“I think nerves got to us. In a lot of positions. We were behind for everything, everywhere,” explained Gilroy. “There were so many changes we could’ve made because we were just getting killed everywhere. It was showing most at full-back because they were just flooding through on us. We expected them to come at us, as they did, but the kind of pressure game we were hoping to put on around the middle of the field just never happened.
“Guys who are really quick looked slow, so the only thing I can put it down to is nerves in the first half. These things happen in sport, we’re only human beings after all.”
Predictably, with two more hurdles to cross, there was no crowing from the Kerry camp. “The teams we played against in the qualifiers did us a big favour, they put us to the pins of our collar. We felt somewhere along the line there was a big game in us, thankfully it was today. Coming in as underdogs, that was great stuff. We hit them hard early on and Croke Park is a bad place to be when you’re trying to clear your head. Our motto was not to lie back, not to sit back. To keep at it.”
Tommy Walsh hadn’t done much wrong when he was replaced by Tadhg Kennelly on the half hour, but Kennelly made a major impression and is now very much in the frame for a starting place against either Meath or Mayo. So too will be Kieran Donaghy who is on the way back after injury, and with such competition among the panel it seems that Kerry have peaked at the right time.
Dublin will wonder what might have been if first-half shots by Alan Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly hadn’t come back off the woodwork, but their inquisition will have to go deeper than a couple of unlucky breaks.
Current players usually insist that the past has no bearing on what they’re trying to achieve, but without a championship victory over Kerry in 32 years, maybe history weighed heavier on Dublin than they knew.
Elsewhere, reigning champions Tyrone remained on course for a successful defense of their title when they edged out Kildare by 0-16 to 1-11 after an impressive second-half fightback at Croke Park last Sunday.
Trailing by four points at the break and struggling in nearly every area of the pitch, Tyrone once again demonstrated the art of digging deep as they stormed back into contention following the changeover. Kildare had been impressively competitive, and Kieran McGeeney’s team appeared to be bound for the semi-final, but they could do little about Tyrone’s six-point surge in the space of 12 breathless minutes that turned the game on its head.
Having gone toe-to-toe with many of their players in his time with Armagh, McGeeney knows Tyrone as well as anyone. “They’re the best football team of the last 30 years in my book – bar none,” said a bitterly disappointed Kildare manager. “They’ve won three All Ireland titles in the past three years, and they know how to put people under pressure. There are games within games in football and you seem them happening off the ball more than on the ball. But I honestly feel we left it behind. Our players maybe didn’t have the wee bit of bite or badness that you need to win at this level.”
With Dermot Earley once more in commanding form, Kildare were on top in the early stages and they scored the game’s only goal after minutes when James Kavanagh set up Ronan Sweeney for a fine finish. John Doyle was also hitting the target and Kildare were good value for their 1-7 to 0-6 half-time lead.
But suddenly Owen Mulligan, Stephen O’Neill and Martin Penrose got into their stride, and with Brian Dooher and Sean Cavanagh at last putting their stamp on the contest, Tyrone looked like they might run away with it as they went on that six-point spree.
To Kildare’s credit, they regrouped and could have snatched a draw, but their inexperience showed as they hit five wides in the closing stages. The champions roll on.
Tyrone’s opponents in the last four will be Cork who destroyed Donegal to the tune of 1-27 to 2-10 at Croke Park. Even if Cork were very much the fancied ticket, no one could have anticipated such a mismatch as Donegal crumbled under the weight of expectation following their victories over Derry and Galway.
Cork manager, Conor Counihan, might have been concerned at the concession of 2-10, but in truth, his team was so far in front and so much in control that the sort of latitude afforded Donegal’s Michael Murphy surely won’t be repeated in the semi-final.
Cork were superior in every area of the pitch and even if their Munster final win over Limerick exposed a few cracks, this performance was proof that they are genuine contenders for the title. Leading by 0-13 to 0-3 at the turnover, their stroll continued throughout the second half as Paul Kerrigan added a goal and Counihan emptied his bench.
“I’m disappointed the challenge wasn’t greater,” said the Cork coach. “I don’t think we learned a whole lot. The reality was we played well at times, kicked a few good scores, but we conceded scores as well. If we get our heads right, I believe we have a good chance of winning that semi-final.”
Meanwhile, Meath edged out Limerick by 1-13 to 2-9 in the last of the qualifiers in Portlaoise to book themselves a quarter-final clash against Mayo on Sunday. The game ended in controversy when Stephen Lucey was penalised for over-carrying as he readied himself to kick the point that would have brought about extra-time.
Meath could also be without Stephen Bray for the Mayo match as he was sent off for a second yellow card offense four minutes from the end.