Updated: Saturday, 01 Feb 2014 21:16 | Comments
By Eoin Ryan
Dublin made a successful start to the defence of their Allianz National Football League Division 1 crown as the 14-man champions edged Kerry 2-8 to 1-10 at Croke Park.
Kerry led by a point at the break, with All Star James O’Donoghue in sparkling form, and looked well-placed to push on when Dublin debutant Sean George was shown a straight red card 10 minutes into the second-half.
That seemed to galvanise the Dubs however, and Kerry managed just a single point with the extra player as the 14 men upped the intensity to grind out victory, only taking the lead through substitute Jack McCaffrey with five minutes left to play.
These sides produced a classic when they met in the All-Ireland semi-final last year but only 12 of the 30 that started last September’s thriller began the game as Dublin handed league debuts to Sean George, Eric Lowdnes, Shane Carthy and Cormac Costello.
Former football-of-the-year Alan Brogan also made a welcome return with his first appearance since the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final as Stephen O’Brien and Paul Murphy made their first NFL starts for the Kingdom.
Kerry started the brighter and took an early lead through points from James O’Donoghue and Barry John Keane (free) before Dublin managed a goal against the run of play.
Costello, showing the talent that made him an underage star, drove at the Kerry defence, sucking in Paul Murphy and Shane Enright before laying the ball off for an easy palmed finish from Kevin McManamon.
The rampaging McManamon almost added a second a minute later after claiming a high ball from Brogan but Brendan Kealy saved well.
Kerry recovered well from that blow, putting pressure on Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs, and hitting three unanswered points before O’Donoghue scored a memorable goal.
Picking the ball up wide on the left, he swerved past Mick Fitzsimons and cracked an angled shot into the roof of Cluxton’s net.
Kerry were five up just 16 minutes in but Dublin struck back, landing points from McManamon, Eoghan O’Gara (free) and Shane Carthy to narrow the gap to two.
O’Gara then put the Dubs in front, gathering Ciaran Reddin’s pass to slip a low shot past the advancing Kealy and into the net.
Kerry looked shell-shocked and almost conceded another goal straight away as Kealy got a slight touch to divert McManamon’s piledriver on to the post.
Keane and O’Donoghue settled their side with points to regain the lead but O’Gara flashed another effort across the face of the goal following more good work from Costelloe. Kerry 1-7 to 2-3 up at the break.
The Kingdom stretched their lead after the interval, O’Donoghue adding another and O’Brien marking his debut with a fine score as Kerry moved three clear.
The ever-dangerous Costello drew and converted a free but Dublin looked in real trouble when George was dismissed, apparently for an off-the-ball incident.
That was the signal for Jim Gavin’s side to up the work-rate, however and, aided by the arrival of big guns like Michael Darragh Macauley, Paul Mannion and McCaffrey from the bench, they forced a succession of frees to draw level.
Kerry were flagging in the face of Dublin’s characteristic second-half onslaught and went behind for the first time in the 65th minute when Ciaran Kilkenny swung a wonderful crossfield pass into the path of substitute McCaffrey.
A goal looked on but he sensibly fisted a point, putting the Dubs into a lead which was rarely threatened in the closing stages.
Dublin: S Cluxton; J Cooper, S George, M Fitzsimons; E Lowdnes, C O’Sullivan, P McMahon; D O’Mahony, S Carthy (0-02, 1f); C Kilkenny, A Brogan, C Reddin; K McManamon (1-01), E O’Gara (1-01, 0-01f), C Costello (0-01f).
Substitutes: MD McAuley for O’Mahony (45), J McCaffrey (0-01) for Reddin (49), P Mannion (0-02f) for McManamon (53), D Byrne for O’Gara (56), K Nolan for Carthy (64), D Nelson for Cooper (68)
Kerry: B Kealy; P Murphy, M Griffin, S Enright; P Crowley, B McGuire, J Sherwood; A Maher, D Moran (0-01 ‘45’); J Lyne, M Geaney, D Walsh; BJ Keane (0-04, 0-03f), J O’Donoghue (1-03), S O’Brien (0-02).
Substitutes: A O’Mahony for Geaney (47), P Geaney for D Walsh (61), P Kilkenny for Murphy (67).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)