Allianz Football League talking points
By John Harrington
Here are five of the main talking points from an Allianz Football League weekend lit up by Kerry's one-point victory over Dublin in a thrilling encounter at Austin Stack Park.
Kerry’s cubs show their claws
Yes, it was only an early round League match and, yes, Dublin will be a very different proposition by the time the Championship swings around, but Kerry’s victory in Austin Stack Park on Saturday night was still a significant one for a number of reasons.
Most obviously, it’s a serious morale booster for a young team that’s finding its way under new management.
Had they conspired to lose or even draw a match they had dominated for long stretches it would have sown an unwelcome seed of doubt.
But the manner in which they checked Dublin’s surging momentum by producing a winning point of real quality in injury-time will leave them feeling very good about themselves.
There were all sorts of positives to take from this match for Kerry, but it was especially noteworthy that they took Dublin on at their own game and beat them.
They had the self-confidence to go man for man, and had an edge on Dublin in terms of pure athleticism which is something you very rarely see.
Dublin are perhaps at a different place in terms of their conditioning right now, but it’s been clear for some while that if you want to compete with them you have to be able to match their sheer athletic dynamism and these young Kerry players have the legs and gas to do that.
You also have to fully believe you’re good enough to match Dublin blow for blow, and the fact that 17 of these young Kerry players have won All-Ireland medals at minor level means they don’t lack for healthy arrogance.
“You learned you can throw them in there,” said Kerry manager Peter Keane when asked to reflect on his team’s victory over Dubln.
“Only by throwing them in can you find out about lads and some of them have done well and shown great energy, heart and spirit.
“The priority for us is to learn. But you are still talking about a team going for five-in-a-row in the championship which has also won five of the last six Leagues. Everyone wants to test yourself against whoever is the top dog. And our lads want to test themselves.
“Of the 37 or 38 players (in the Kerry training panel), around half were involved in the four-in-a-row Kerry minor wins, so they are all young, and they’ve all got a bit to find out. But fellas have been given an opportunity to put up their hand and some of them have certainly taken that.”
Dara Moynihan probably leads the pack in that regard so far this year and was excellent again on Saturday, scoring two points from play and consistently stretching the Dublin defence with his ability to carry the ball at pace.
The rangy Gavin O’Brien also caught the eye against Dublin with his raw athleticism and ball-winning ability.
“A good scopey player, with good hands, good legs,” said Keane of O’Brien. “He wasn’t overawed and interestingly, he didn’t come through any development squad.”
An obvious positive for Kerry is that they look like they’re making some good progress in terms of addressing their defensive frailties of recent times.
Full-back and centre-back have been problem positions for Kerry for some time but Jack Sherwood and Paul Murphy locked down the centre with great authority on Saturday.
Really, the Kingdom couldn’t be in a more positive place after three rounds of the League and there’s every reason to expect them to continue improving as the season progresses.
2018 Young Footballer of the Year, David Clifford, should be back in harness soon, and the return of the Dr. Crokes contingent will make the competition for places in the panel even stiffer than it already is.
Yes, it’s only February, but a good start is half the battle and it looks like Kerry are ready to make war on Dublin’s Drive for Five this year.
Dublin won't panic
When Ireland were beaten by England in the first match of the Six Nations, there was a body of opinion that suggested the defeat would do them no harm in a year when the World Cup is their priority.
You could probably say the same for Dublin after their League defeat to Kerry on Saturday in a year when a historic fifth All-Ireland in a row is their priority.
The loss to their greatest rivals will still have stung, especially the manner in which it was celebrated by both Kerry players and public afterwards, but it’ll do Dublin no harm to have those emotions in the hurt-locker if they cross swords with Kerry again this year.
Kerry deserved their victory on Saturday night, but the manner of Dublin’s late comeback that fell just short even though they were playing with 14-men at that stage proves their character and appetite for battle remains undiminished.
"Of course, disappointed not to get the two points, but I thought the application from our guys was outstanding," said Dublin manager Jim Gavin after the match.
"They tried really hard, fitness levels are a long way off Kerry’s, but we hope to close that gap and that game will bring us on for our next game against Mayo.
"We’re four weeks back now. We have series of games now coming up against Mayo and Roscommon that will bring us on an awful lot. We have club action next week and then we prepare for the Mayo match.
"We’re very happy with where we’re at and we have a number of players to come back."
Two defeats from three matches so far in the League proves this Dublin team are human, but you wouldn’t be hugely surprised either were they to win every other match they play in 2019.
Galway happy to put pragmatism above poetry for now
If you were still on a high after watching Kerry and Dublin’s duel on Saturday, then Sunday’s clash between Galway and Monaghan would have provided an antidote.
It was a dour, defensive grind of a contest, but Galway are perfectly entitled to say the end justified their means on the day.
Beating Monaghan in Monaghan is always a fair achievement, and Galway had to cut their cloth to suit considering they were without so many key players through injury and club commitments like Sean Andy O’Ceallaigh, Cathal Sweeney, Paul Conroy, Eamonn Brannigan, Ian Burke and Damien Comer.
Galway manager, Kevin Walsh, certainly wasn’t about to apologise for the way his team went about their business.
“Sometimes you can have two teams with the same tactics and it doesn’t make nice viewing,” said Walsh.
“But at the same time I don’t think somebody is going to come out and start doing silly stuff to try and entertain at the expense of their team.
“With the amount of work that goes into this now, people are pushing the rules to the limits to the areas where you can take it too – I’m not talking about physicality here, I’m talking about the rules.
“That’s life. If the opinion is that you just want to entertain then that’s fine too but you have to try and get results.”
With two wins from three matches Galway are on track to get the results they need to stay up in Division 1 so a pragmatic approach is working so far.
But if they don’t embrace a more attacking game-plan when they’re able to field a full-strength team then they’re unlikely to evolve into a team capable of winning an All-Ireland title.
Fine margins in Division 2
Division 2 of the Allianz Football League is already shaping up to be a real dog-fight.
Just three points separate table-toppers Meath from bottom of the table Cork, and at this moment you couldn’t predict with any confidence what two teams are likely to win promotion to Division 1.
“In this division if you win a game you can be on top and lose and you are fighting at the other end,” said Meath manager Andy McEntee after the Royals defeated Armagh on Sunday.
“That’s the beauty of this competition, every game is important, if you don’t turn up on any given day you are going to get beaten.”
Tipperary’s victory over Donegal best exemplified how fine the margins are in this Division.
Coming into the game Donegal were topping the table with two wins from two while Tipperary were already labelled as relegation favourites having taken just a point from their two games against Meath and Fermanagh.
The match was going how most people expected it to when Donegal led by 0-10 to 1-4 at half-time, but the Premier County stunned the promotion favourites by outscoring them 2-5 to 0-3 in the second-half.
“This division is all over the place,” said Tipperary manager Liam Kearns after the match.
“Everything is still up for grabs, promotion and relegation. To me, we need three more points to do what we want to do, which is to stay in Division 2.”
Leitrim keep on trucking
Leitrim’s positive start to 2019 continued apace with a really gritty 0-14 to 1-10 victory over Antrim.
It came courtesy of a last-gasp Domhnaill Flynn free, and didn’t look likely when the Ridge County trailed by six points after 25 minutes.
New manager Terry Hyland has clearly instilled some steel in this Leitrim team though because they kept battling and had reduced the deficit to just three by half-time which gave the platform they needed to reel Antrim in over the course of the second-half.
It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means but winning ugly is a good habit to have for a team, especially when they look like they have plenty of room for improvement.
There’s a long way to go yet, but Leitrim may be capable of ‘doing a Carlow on it’ in 2019.