1. Missed opportunity for Kerry

THERE WERE A host of positives for Eamonn Fitzmaurice to take out of Tralee last night, but it’s hard to shake the sense that Kerry let a seismic opportunity slip from their grasps.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Heading into injury-time the home side led by two points and had possession, but still Dublin managed to eek out a draw and equal an 84-year-old record set by the Kingdom themselves in 1933.

You don’t get many opportunities to lead the Dubs heading into stoppage-time and Kerry will be sickened they weren’t the side to finally cause a halt to Dublin’s seemingly unstoppable gallop.

Dr Crokes gave a masterclass in closing out a game in Friday’s All-Ireland club football final, but Kerry failed to follow suit. In the final minute of the afters, Paul Murphy played a risky free-kick across his own half-back line and 30 seconds later, Mannion saved a draw for the All-Ireland champions.

Kerry blew three decent goal chances during the game and had even one of them found the back of the net, it might have been a different story.

Sam Maguire’s winter destination is never going to be decided in a league game in March. The fight and tactical awareness this young Kerry team showed tonight leaves plenty of reason for optimism.

But a win would have been really something.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

2. Dublin’s mental resolve shines bright

Praise has been heaped on this Dublin side for their athleticism, attacking style, and strength-in-depth, but perhaps their greatest asset is their testicular fortitude. They simply refuse to be beaten.

It’s now 34 games and 24 months since Dublin have last tasted defeat in a competitive fixture. It’s an even more remarkable statistic when you consider that the great four-in-a-row Kilkenny team of the last decade only managed to stay unbeaten for 13 games.

After 48 minutes they trailed Kerry by four points, but managed to outscore their opponents by 0-8 to 0-4 down the stretch to secure a share of the spoils.

For the third time in this league campaign, Dublin have salvaged a draw when they probably deserved to lose. It’s their fourth draw in their last seven games. There’s no doubting this team’s remarkable character.

To go so long without losing in the modern game is truly phenomenal. Gavin must be credited for the balance he’s shown by giving the veterans plenty of time-off while integrating younger players into the set-up.

When the game is in the melting pot, Dublin expect to come out the right side. Doing so repeatedly will only serve to strengthen their mental resolve.

When you look back at seminal moments in the history of Gaelic football, Dublin’s last-ditch win over Kerry in the 2011 All-Ireland final must surely be up there.

The Dubs finally proved they could do it on the big days and Cluxton’s match-winning free sent the sport into an alternative universe where their once fragile mentality is now their biggest strength. This is starting to look like a dynasty.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

3. How Kerry disrupted Dublin

While he’ll be disappointed at the final result, Fitzmaurice’s post-match analysis will highlight a number of interesting points.

Dr Crokes used some very intelligent tactical fouling to stop Slaughtneil building moves from the back on St Patrick’s Day, and Kerry brought a very notable physicality to the game last night that would be more widely associated with Ulster teams. Kerry football has developed a win at all costs mentality – a trait that all great sides possess.

That aggression knocked Dublin out of their stride, as did their high press on Cluxton’s kick-outs. There are a couple of possible reasons that Kerry competed so well on the Dublin goalkeeper’s restarts.

Five of Kerry’s 13 scores came from frees which, as we highlighted yesterday, gave their forwards the chance to push up on their men early to shut down Cluxton’s ‘six second’ kick-outs. Also, the pitch at Austin Stack Park doesn’t have the same open expanses as Croke Park. But you must also factor in Jack Barry’s dominance over Brian Fenton.

When you see Cluxton flapping his hands as he stands over a kick-out it means the opposition is doing something right. That was a familiar sight in Tralee last night – a major tactical victory for Fitzmaurice who is starting to slowly unlock the most consistent kick-out we’ve ever seen.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

4. Strength of both benches

Here are the six substitutes Gavin introduced last night: Cian O’Sullivan (28 years-old), Paul Flynn (30), Kevin McManamon (30), Eoghan O’Gara (31), Paul Mannion (23), Bernard Brogan (32). What do you notice?

It was the older heads who saved the game from the jaws of defeat. The players Gavin brought in had an average age of 29, and have 23 senior All-Ireland medals between them.

Flynn had a massive impact when he came on and looks to be back in the physical shape of his peak years from 2011 to 2014.

Kerry’s subs weren’t bad either – Jonathan Lyne (27), Stephen O’Brien (26), Barry John Keane (26), Anthony Maher (30), Darran O’Sullivan (30), Michael Geaney (27). With an average age of 27.6, they’ve got nine All-Irelands in total.

Losing Shane Enright and Killian Young – Kerry’s two best man-markers – to injury didn’t help their cause. Similarly to Flynn, Darran O’Sullivan was electric when he arrived on the scene and that’ll be music to Fitzmaurice’s ears.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

5. Niggly but compelling affair

If you were told before the match that 14 of the 26 scores would come from placed balls, you’d be forgiven for assuming it would be a drab affair. It was anything but.

The low scoring rates from play was cancelled out by the game’s extreme physical nature. Flare-ups cropped up all over the field and referee Sean Hurson had barely dealt with one incident when another dust-up would start at the far end of the field. Ciaran Kilkenny and Tadhg Morley were part-footballers, part-MMA fighters out there.

Call a spade a spade. 2 Ulster teams and everyone would be spitting daggers! Kerry v Dublin…different story ! #cynicism #AllianzLeagues

— Dick Clerkin (@dickclerkin8) March 18, 2017

Source: Dick Clerkin/Twitter

Hurson dished out seven yellows in the first-half alone. The tempestuous encounter’s yellow count reached 12 by the time Kilkenny walked for a second booking.

It was compelling throughout, aided by a crowd of 11,858 that heaved with every twist and turn. Roll on the summer.

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