Con O’Callaghan hat-trick lights up the night as Dublin trounce low-energy Kerry

Dessie Farrell’s side put in their best performance of the campaign to run out easy winners

AFL Division One: Dublin 3-18 Kerry 1-14

“It’s not fatal,” said Jack O’Connor on Saturday night, looking for the bright side. And right enough, when it comes time to do the tot on 2024, a league defeat in February won’t overweigh the adjudications. Even a league defeat as heavy as this, against one of the teams Kerry will presumably have to account for when business time comes upon them.

Not fatal is hardly the place to set the bar though. There were 10 points between the teams at the long whistle but in truth, Dublin and Kerry were worlds apart here. Con O’Callaghan’s hat-trick lit up the night, Paddy Small, Ciarán Kilkenny and Eoin Murchan were all fizzing and all at it. Kerry, by contrast, stank the place out. O’Connor, in fairness, was of no mind to pretend otherwise.

“We were just well off it in the first half,” the Kerry manager said. “They were getting their kick-out off easy, they were going through us in the middle third and they were putting ball into good forwards. On a calm night like this on a good sod it’s very hard to mark that.

“There’s no point feeling sorry for yourself. Everyone that was there could see that it was a poor performance in the first half. It’s just a matter of getting back and looking at the areas that malfunctioned, try and improve for next week.”


They have no scope to disimprove anyway, not after the kind of hammering that sends people scurrying for the record books. The 3-18 Dublin put up was the highest score Kerry have ever conceded in a league game. They haven’t coughed up a total like that since the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final, a game in which they at least made a full contribution to a classic. This was not that.

There won’t be many games in this campaign where two elite teams arrive with such galactically different understandings of the terms and conditions. It was as if Kerry turned up for a McGrath Cup game and got slapped around the face with an All-Ireland final display from the Dubs.

When Dessie Farrell’s side play like this, they make everyone wonder why they don’t do it more. Dublin were urgent and ravenous out of possession, slick and clinical in it. Their first half here was particularly eye-catching – they kicked 2-10 from their first 12 shots and didn’t register a wide until just short of the half-hour mark.

By then, they had Kerry chasing after them with their tongues hanging out. O’Callaghan was rampant from early on, skating in behind Jason Foley to bury Dublin’s first goal after six minutes and drilling home their second from the penalty spot on the quarter-hour. Paddy Small was back to his hot-stepping, menacing best – it was he who drew the penalty from Dylan Casey and he added another two points of his own from play before half-time.

The break couldn’t come quick enough for O’Connor’s team. If you were a kid in Foley’s neighbourhood, you’d dress up as Con O’Callaghan for Halloween after this. David Clifford was out-of-sorts again, kept under wraps for the most part by Murchan and shooting wildly on the odd occasion he did wriggle free. Paudie Clifford disappeared into a John Small-shaped cloud for the night.

Kerry went in a full nine points down, 2-11 to 0-8, looking like a computer that needed to be plugged out at the mains and rebooted. Whatever they came out with in the second half was surely not going to do much except maybe save a little face.

They made a shape at a comeback, all the same. Sean O’Shea scored the first two points of the half – although the general carelessness of the night was summed up by the dolly of a free he struck against the post on 38 minutes. But when Joe O’Connor finished off the best Kery move of the night by stitching a goal four minutes later, the margin was suddenly down to four.

O’Connor’s goal made it 2-11 to 1-10 with well over half an hour to go so if you squinted a bit and cocked your head at a certain angle, it probably looked like we had a game now. Ciarán Kilkenny replied for Dublin but O’Connor and O’Shea had their eye in and by the 52nd minute, the gap was down to three. Get the next score and who knows?

Instead, Dublin took it as their cue to yawn and stretch and turn out the lights for the night. Paddy Small capped a fine evening’s work with his third from play and Tom Lahiff came off the bench to claim a mark. The capstone came from O’Callaghan, who finished as he started, slipping home his hat-trick goal on 63 minutes.

“We’re definitely trending upwards but as you know yourself, this thing is never linear,” Farrell said afterwards. “There’s always the risk that you have an off-day somewhere and you scratch your head again a little bit more. And that’s just the nature of sport of course. We like the level of consistency we’re starting to show but we’re coming from a low base.

“Next weekend obviously brings a very different challenge up in Derry. We got a taste of that last year and they’re probably the in-form team at the minute.”

Maybe, but they have company after this.

DUBLIN: David O’Hanlon; Seán McMahon, Theo Clancy, Eoin Murchan; Cian Murphy, John Small, Lee Gannon (0-1); Brian Fenton (0-1), Peader Ó Cofaigh Byrne; Ross McGarry (0-1), Seán Bugler (0-3), Ciarán Kilkenny (0-3, 0-1 mark); Paddy Small (0-3), Con O’Callaghan (3-4, 1-0 pen, 0-3 frees), Niall Scully (0-1).

Subs: Tom Lahiff (0-1, mark) for Ó Coifigh Byrne (46 mins); Brian Howard for McMahon (53); Lorcan O’Dell for McGarry (57); Greg McEneaney for Murchan (58); Daire Newcombe for J Small (temp, 69-75); Killian McGinnis for Clancy (71).

KERRY: Shane Ryan; Graham O’Sullivan, Jason Foley (0-1), Dylan Casey; Damien Bourke, Tadhg Morley, Gavin White (0-1); Diarmuid O’Connor, Joe O’Connor (1-1); Paudie Clifford, Dylan Geaney (0-1), Cillian Burke (0-1); David Clifford (0-3, 0-1 free), Seán O’Shea (0-6, 0-2 frees), Dara Moynihan.

Subs: Paul Murphy for Bourke (h-t); Tony Brosnan for Geaney (50 mins); Keith Evans for Burke (57); Barry Dan O’Sullivan for J O’Connor (59); Seán O’Brien for Moynihan (64).

Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)

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Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times