Green and gold will deck the entire stadium but which corner of the country will claim Sam? It will be North v South on Sunday as Donegal and Kerry match up in the biggest sporting occasion on the Irish calendar, the 2014 All-Ireland football final.
We may feel grumpy ourselves at not being there and perhaps disillusioned about the whole thing but this is still the All-Ireland final. And people should still sit down, watch the match and at least try to enjoy it. It promises to be a fascinating game with intriguing tactical battles in store.
For instance how will James O’Donoghue fare against this Donegal mass defence? Can Donegal handle David Moran at midfield? Will Donegal be able to score on the counter as freely as they have been all year? Who is the more physical?
According to all the experts Donegal are but, after what went on in Limerick, well rest assured Kerry are no shrinking violets when it comes to the dark arts or physical requirements of any modern team. So on paper it looks a pretty even contest. And generally under those circumstances it is the key men who stand out and decide the nature of how the game in won and lost.
In fairness Donegal have surprised everyone this year. At the beginning of the championship I personally wrote them off as it appeared as if the McGuinness mansion was about to come crumbling down once more with all the noise out from the camp regarding key players deserting the cause. Yet it is a testament to the team that they have rallied again to march on and achieve what they have in Ulster.
Think about it for a minute. Three Ulster titles in four years. When you consider the calibre of the opposition up there that alone is a serious achievement. The last Ulster team to achieve this was Tyrone and before that it was Armagh. But neither won the All-Ireland while doing so.
To move on then in the quarter-finals and into the semis was not really a surprise. However no-one gave them a snowballs chance against the Dubs who were after all unbeatable in HQ. It was supposed to be another stroll in the park so to speak for the boys in blue.
But like so much in life, things have a habit of not turning out exactly to the desired requirements of the powers that be. And just when everyone was preparing to fantasise about the dream Dublin v Kerry final Donegal come along and upset the apple cart completely with a comprehensive tactical display on how to win against the odds.
The key players for Donegal are many. Certain names of course stand out but certainly top of the list is captain Michael Murphy. Initially Murphy came to note when he was named Young Footballer of the Year in 2009 after a sensational season during which he scored an average of six points per game over six games. He has also won a Sigerson with DCU, and was part of the Glenswilly team that won its first ever Donegal Senior Football Championship title in 2011. He went on then to captain his county to their second All-Ireland in 2012 playing a key role in the final scoring 1-4 in the match.
Alongside him are household GAA names in Karl Lacey, (Footballer of the Year 2012), Frank McGlynn (whom Joe Brolly claimed was one of only two players with a chance of making the mighty Dublin team), Colm McFadden, the McGee brothers in the full-back line, Paddy McBrearty (who is only an impact sub now) and the latest McHugh man to take the big stage with astonishing ease.
Ultimately the team is a testament to Jim McGuinness. When you consider his detractors, what he has personally achieved with perennial under achievers is phenomenal. Widely regarded as the best strategist in the modern game McGuinness generally leaves no stone unturned in order to win. Align this with a never say die attitude that has manifested itself into the present team’s bones and you have a fearsome combination of determination and talent. What he has in store for Kerry on Sunday no one really knows as whatever approach you expect Donegal to take, well generally it won’t be exactly one way or another. And this is probably their greatest asset – the way they keep the opposition guessing and how they then force them to adapt to the conditions they wish to impose on a particular game.
Whether Kerry can be forced or not is a different question. One of the biggest advantages they have going for them is being the underdogs for a change. That and revenge. Kerry don’t like to be beaten at all and to be beaten by the same team in the championship twice in succession is not on the cards for the Kingdom. And if they win the All-Ireland in the process, well all the sweeter.
Personally I think Kerry will see this game as a big challenge and will approach it with caution. They won’t rush defence into attack recklessly leaving gaping holes as Dublin did. They will instead employ their (ahem) quarter-back approach with Declan O’Sullivan coming in to pass the balls through the mass of Donegal jerseys. Quarter-back you ask? I’m sorry but no matter how Pat Spillane dresses it up the fact is that Kerry are using the mass defence as well when it is required.
So most likely this promises to be possibly a low scoring, hard hitting tactical battle. Referee Eddie Kinsella has already come out and said he hopes he remains unnoticed. However, he will undoubtedly have some tough calls to make as there will be some serious hits dished out in this match.
The biggest problem for Kerry though is that they are so heavily dependent on James O’Donoghue. To date in the four main matches they have played (Cork, Galway and ourselves twice) he has accounted for 40% of the total Kerry scores. If Donegal can nullify this threat alone then they are half way to winning. So Kerry do need to have someone else who can stand up if it is not happening for James.
But they have some alternatives in Crowley, O’Brien and Geaney. Also of course is the other main man up front Mr Donaghy. ‘Star’ as he is affectionately known in Kerry has fought his way back into this Kerry line-up and as we know is a formidable target man in there. His biggest assets are his size and his ability to handoff to runners close to goal. Plus he can score if given enough room. But denying space is of course is one area Donegal excel at. So an awful lot depends on the delivery into Donaghy.
To this Kerry will be hoping that David Moran carries his excellent form with him into Sunday’s game. If they can dominate in the middle third they will at least have some platform for precise delivery into Donaghy’s big paws.
No doubt Eamonn Fitzmaurice will also have some tricks up his sleeve as well on how to dismantle this renowned defence. A shrewd operator, one can already see the stamp made by him on this team and for the future. He is a pragmatist first and foremost, but he also comes across as a man who doesn’t like losing, at all. This man has no sentiment when it comes to winning. He unceremoniously dropped renowned defender Marc Ó Sé for the semi-final replay. Suffice to say that anything that can be gained from any angle he will use. In the semi-final Marc’s older brother Tomás noted that Kerry attacked us where we were reportedly strongest, i.e. the middle third. This is a direct throwback to the Jack O’Connor days at senior level.
Now Jack is priming the minors. It is worth noting as well the new regimes in place for Kerry at U21 level. Dara Ó Sé alongside Seamus Moynihan and Donie Buckley promise a team of serious toughness and power tackling that can and will be usurped down the line at Senior level. Ally this with the strength and conditioning of Cian O’Neill at Senior level and Kerry are undoubtedly taking a long term view on how they want to play the game. But that is for another day.
Instead, whoever comes out on Sunday assumes the mantle of champions. James O’Donoghue noted that you were regarded as nothing in Kerry unless you held a Celtic cross. On the other side if Donegal can win two All-Irelands in three years they will be recognised as one of the great teams of the decade.
For me I think Donegal shade it as they have a superior defence alongside a better balance throughout the team. But I wouldn’t be surprised at Kerry winning either. And even though they seem too reliant on young James they are after all the Kingdom and winning All-Irelands is something that is ingrained into their DNA.