We’re all starting to lick our chomps in anticipation of Sunday’s showdown between Kerry and Dublin. Here’s JPM with a preview of this latest clash between two giant forces in Gaelic football.
Dublin this year have been the form team in both League and championship. Their League success was their first since 1993 and it has been pivotal in helping build the platform for them to go on and follow up in the championship. It has exposed their crop of younger guys to success and their enthusiasm, style and exhibition football is easy to appreciate. Also now that they have tasted success, they must want more. And here they find themselves, on the brink of playing in the biggest match of their careers. But in their way stands the most successful county in the history of Gaelic games. So in fairness you have to say that however much Dublin want it, they will have to earn it the hard way.
What will this game hinge upon? Youth versus experience? Croke Park and the Hill – will it have any effect? Past championship meetings and revenge? The desire possibly to retire on a high? There are many questions in this most intriguing of battles.
Both teams have had so much spoken about them. But the majority of the more recent media focus has been on Dublin. First and foremost it is because Dublin is obviously the biggest market so rarely a day will go by without some report in the national tabloids regards their team. But it’s also a reflection on their style of play, and the success of the team and younger guys. Jim Gavin has decided thus far on a positive all-out attack role for his team in every match. This doesn’t mean that they cannot defend. But teams spend so much time in defence against Dublin that they rarely have an opportunity to test the opposing full-back line. Plus Ger Brennan is there to shore up the middle. Anything coming through here gets stopped, one way or another. I don’t have the stats here, but maybe someone can provide info on how many yellows Ger has received this year?
Photo: The Score (INPHO/Ryan Byrne)
While Ger is there minding the house it allows for the lads either side of him – particularly Jack McCaffrey – to race forward. Race is probably too kind a word for it. No-one this year who follows GAA can help but look on in awe at the sheer speed that McCaffrey brings to a pitch. If he gets behind your defence he’s gone and there’s no catching him. Add that to his ability to run at guys and even while soloing he has the ability to bypass (on the outside) any defenders in his way. It shows the blinding pace he possesses. To be honest I can’t understand how his hamstrings can take it.
Another huge success this year has been the form of Ciarán Kilkenny. Since returning from the Aussie Rules the Castleknock man has made himself a stalwart on the half-forward line. His astute passing, reading of the game and ability to score valuable points belie his youth. It looks like he was born to play GAA.
Paul Manion and Jonny Cooper too have graduated from the successful U-21 team. Both have had a fantastic year. You can only admire how these guys have fought their way onto the senior team. For them to be able to keep guys like Alan Brogan, Bryan Cullen, Kevin McManamon out of this team says much for their ability and development as players. In truth that is another of Dublin’s major strengths. The ability to spring players (who already have Celtic Crosses) from the bench should assist them greatly if things are not going to plan.
But Kerry have also have great players and so often in the past Kerry teams have be written off incorrectly. Players like the Gooch, Tomás Ó Sé, Galvin, Declan and Darren O’Sullivan, Brosnan, Marc Ó Sé, O’Mahony could all have retired gracefully prior to this with their reputations intact. It’s a young man’s game now but the smell of one more All-Ireland and probably going out on a high has lured them back. Now they have come this far it would be foolish to write them off.
This year they are 23/10 to progress past Dublin. Huge odds in a two-horse race considering the pedigree of this team and the feedback from Kerry is that this is an insult (and probably correct) to these great players. Remember these guys are still probably bitter after that 2011 defeat. Also Kevin McStay rightly pointed out that they are still the best footballers in the country. All they have to do now is rally for two more matches and glory is theirs once more.
There is a rumour though that all is not well in the Kerry camp, with older fellas not buying into the new Cian O’Neill regime. It’s difficult to know if this is true or not as we all know most rumours from Kerry should be taken with a pinch of salt. What is more obvious though is Kerry’s inability to play for 70 minutes so far in the championship. In Killarney they were fortunate that Cork ran out of time, as they had them sizzling on the rack in the second half. Also in the second half against Cavan, Kerry were unable to push on and dominate the match. This is not the form of Kerry of old who would not pull back until the team they were playing was utterly demolished. Suffice to say that performances they have produced so far will not be enough to get them past the obstacle next Sunday.
Dublin have other things in their favour. Jack O’Connor mentions Stephen Cluxton and certainly he is a major factor. Dublin play a game based on pace and all out attack. It begins with their no. 1 and if Kerry are to survive on Sunday stopping him will be a big part of it.
Key to winning the game will be the domination of the middle third. To that end Kerry have employed two big men in the middle. We know about Anthony Maher and he is a fine player, but little has been written regards Johnny Buckley this year. However the young Dr. Crokes man is a big fella too. Plus he is also blessed with the ability to mix it and cover space to help shut down those places where Cluxton might like to aim for.
Also it wouldn’t be a major surprise now if Kerry only played a two-man full-forward line. The absence of Kieran Donaghy in the line-up only helps confirms this. Cork for all their failings exposed the threat of the high ball into the Dublin full-back line. However Kerry are not gambling on this to be the key to beating them.
As a result it seems far more likely that they will employ a more defensive set up with Darran O’Sullivan coming out to probably marshal the runs of Jack McCaffrey. In fairness the renowned Kerry speedster is probably the only player in the country able to match him for pace. And in the inside line this will leave more space for James O’Donoghue and either Gooch or Declan O’Sullivan to exploit. I think you can expect Kerry to interchange here with regularity to confuse Dublin and their match-ups.
Overall Kerry will be hoping to slow this game down as much as possible by forcing Dublin attack deep from the back. This will suit the Kingdom just fine as one of their major strengths throughout the years has been their ability to shut down any slow opposition attack.
Either way whoever comes out on Sunday will assume favouritism for the All-Ireland. Dublin versus Kerry will bring out the best in everyone and the whole country will always look forward to these matches. This one has the hallmarks of a 50/50 (see WJ’s own prediction line). The bookies are gambling on Dublin opening up Kerry and finally clicking as they have threatened to do all year. And while this is quite possible based on their performances to date, personally I think a shock is on the cards. Kerry have far too much cuteness in them to be taken lightly. If they can gather themselves for one match then they are on the cusp once more in September. Youth might bring enthusiasm but experience I believe always counts for a little more at this stage of the championship.