Two giants rise above the fray 3 weeks ago

Two giants rise above the fray

That was fun.

We'll see your David Clifford and we'll raise you Brian Fenton. But it was only the beginning.

We all knew that Dublin and Kerry were going to be the rivalry but we expected the real fireworks to come later. Peter Keane was blue in the face telling us that he had a young, inexperienced side and that real progress would take time.

Then came Tralee. Kerry beat the Dubs 1-18 to 2-14 in Tralee and got in the faces of the All-Ireland champs while they were at it. A marker had been laid down but, still, many of us felt 2019 was at least a year too soon for a real tilt at the kings.

We comforted ourselves in our cosy reasoning when Mayo beat Kerry in the league final and when Cork gave them an almighty rattle in Munster. This was a coming force but Dublin would not be denied their five-in-a-row.

Even when Kerry beat Tyrone in the last four, their achievement in reaching the final was eclipsed by Dublin's second-half demolition of Mayo. That candle of resistance was snuffed out and another blue-garbed hoisting of Sam Maguire awaited.

Kerry do not get to All-Ireland finals, though, without expecting to bring the goods back home. Jack McCaffrey and Dean Rock were just about the only Dubs standing in the way of The Kingdom shocking us all. Brian Fenton had a quiet game, by his insanely high standards, and many of his teammates looked sluggish in the second half, especially when Tommy Walsh started to make hay and Killian Spillane fired past Stephen Cluxton.

In the end, it took a late Rock point to salvage a draw and give the champions another chance. The replay was 0-10 apiece until Eoin Murchan's wonder score opened up the second half and tipped the board in Dublin's favour. There would be no repeat of Kerry's second half brio and the Dubs made history. For the record, Fenton was back to his best.

While Dublin celebrated, Kerry went away to stew. 2020, they determined, would be when they set the world to rights. Days before he turned 21, David Clifford was named captain and the fixture list kindly threw up Dublin vs. Kerry in the first round of the Allianz League Division 1 fixtures.

A crowd of over 43,000 filed into Croke Park on Saturday for what we all hoped would be another fascinating chapter of a burgeoning, revived rivalry. Hundreds of thousands tuned in from home. None were disappointed.

Dublin, now under Dessie Farrell, and Kerry served us up a gripping contest. The home side raced into a 0-5 to 0-1 lead and Fenton was loping around like he owned the place. The midfielder was pressing forward and finding space. He curled over two early points as the mantle was flung down.

Denied by a fine Davy Byrne block in the early stages, Clifford stayed lively and picked it right up. His goal, after 18 minutes, was man against boys stuff. He sprinted out to receive a pass, spun and gunned for goal, leaving Byrne flailing in his wake and riding a Murchan barge and he fired past Evan Comerford.

That was the equalising score but Fenton delivered Dublin's response. Once again arriving on the scene at just the right time, he sized up the uprights from 35 metres out and curled over another sumptuous score. Your move Clifford.

Down the other end, Clifford was now in Byrne's head. When the Kerry captain took possession of the ball, some 30 metres out from the Dublin goal, Byrne went to block the shot off his right. Clifford bounced the ball across Byrne's frame and kicked a point off his left.

Fenton was not done yet, though. As the frantic first half wound down, he raced forward again and with no hesitation arched over another beautiful point. From his four attempts, four points.

We could only hope that the second half would deliver the same fare. Instead, there was a long period of Kerry dominance with only Rock frees keeping his side in touching distance. With Eric Lowndes sent off for a black + yellow card combination, Keane's side went three ahead with 10 minutes to go.

Fenton was still out there, probing away, but it was Ciarán Kilkenny that looked to have provided the late burst to win it for his side. He kicked two points, won a free that Rock converted and set up Niall Scully for another.

Time had elapsed for everyone in the ground bar referee Sean Hurson. With time now at 77:50 [and a minimum of six minutes added time allotted], Hurson whistled for a Kerry free on the '45. James McCarthy compounded the matter by hoofing the ball away and Hurson moved the free forward 10 yards.

You would not have bet against Clifford lamping over that free from 45 metres but he never looked like missing from 35. And so it proved, with the last kick of a gripping contest, the 21-year-old sent the equaliser soaring over the Dublin bar.

The game was over but there was still time for some class from Rock - shaking Clifford's hand - and a meleé that sucked in most players and left the Kerry captain with a torn jersey. Right in the middle, but towering above the others, were Brian Fenton and David Clifford.

"Credit to Kerry and credit to David Clifford after getting the captaincy during the week," Fenton told eir Sport. "He stepped up to the plate and got the levelling score. Can't wait to meet them in the Championship."

The only shame is that these two teams, and these two men, may not meet again until the summer. Whenever that time comes, we'll be watching.