I was lucky enough to have a front row seat (albeit in the Upper Cusack!) as the 2011 All Ireland Football Final between Kerry and Dublin played out its memorable conclusion.
I must admit leaving Croke Park that day I was happy for the “underdog”. Who would have guessed that 8 years on the Dublin domination would be where it is. Apart from Ewan McKenna maybe! But that’s for another day.
Whatever advantages Dublin have, financial or otherwise, they are on the cusp of GAA immortality. The elusive 5-in-a-row. And who should stand in their way only Kerry, the last Gaelic Football team who had the t-shirts printed and ready to be sold. Until Seamus Darby popped up with maybe the most famous goal in All Ireland Football Final history.
Could Kerry crash the party this weekend? Is there someone in their ranks who will step up and have their name etched in GAA folklore? Or is the Dublin machine just too well oiled for that to happen?
There are 3 areas where for me the game will be won or lost.
The first and most crucial area is the kickouts. It has been well documented how important this now is in Gaelic Games, and Dublin in particular have become elite in their approach, both for their own and their opponents. Conán Doherty has a brilliant piece on SportsJOE.ie on the many different faces to the Dublin press and the options that may be available to Kerry to try and overcome that. Obviously Dublin have shown they are very fluid and adaptable to different looks so it’s easier said than done.
On the flip side, Kerry have to utilise their own press on Stephen Cluxtons restarts. They have to take a few risks but have shown they’re capable of causing Dublin problems here. The 2016 semi final was a prime example where Kerry turned the dial up on Cluxton and it paid off. The juice is worth the squeeze!
The second area that will decide the game is goals. Shocking I know! But where Dublin and recent All Ireland finals are concerned it’s fairly decisive. In the 7 finals they have played this decade they have never been on the losing side of the goal battle.
Even more telling is that in their last championship loss, way back in 2014 vs Donegal, they were outscored 3 goals to zero.
If Kerry are to have any chance of winning on Sunday, the stats would say they have to come out on top here. And with the likes of David Clifford, Stephen O’Brien and Paul Geaney they have the arsenal to hang up a few 3 pointers.
The issue will be keeping them out at the other end. Dublin have 2 POTY nominees in King Con and Mannion in the full forward line, and while Tom O’Sullivan has been having an All Star season to date, Dublin can score goals from all areas of the field.
The final area that will decide the game is the 3rd quarter ie “championship quarter”. Dublin have clearly targeted this period in the big games. I’m not sure there has been anyone better than Jim Gavin and his team at gathering information from the first half of games and making half time adjustments.
They make the most of every second of those 15 minutes and come out with all guns blazing. In that 2016 semi final they were rocked just before half-time and went in 5 points down. But by the end of that 3rd quarter the sides were level. The most recent example in the All Ireland semi final was the most devastating example of all.
Kerry need to steel themselves for this and it starts with the throw in for the second half. Win that ball and take the sting out of the game. Or better yet get the first score and pin Dublin back. Hammer the hammer.
I was asked recently if I felt Dublin could flop on the day. If the weight of making history would be too much for them to take. And I just can’t see it happening. The way they have dealt with every situation to date has been peerless. And the football they play – while a great watch – is not complicated. It’s simple football, allowing for a large margin of error.
But everything is done flawlessly and at pace. Perfection. They don’t care who gets the plaudits as long as the team gets the result and have so many match winners.
Kerry would like nothing more than to be the road block in Dublins ‘drive for five’ but I just can’t see the juggernaut being stopped. Either way somebody is going to write their name in the history books come Sunday evening.