Friday 30 September 2016

No holding back for the summer - this rivalry is non-negotiable

Published 23/04/2016 | 02:30

Kerry's Kieran Donaghy. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Kerry's Kieran Donaghy. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile

"Name one thing in this world that is not negotiable?"

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Walter White, Breaking Bad, Season 3

How worldly of Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz to bring up sporting matters on this side of the Atlantic when he stared down the camera lens in Pennsylvania earlier this week and tried to convince Americans that "this is the year of the outsider".

Fans of Connacht Rugby, Leicester City, Tottenham, Roscommon and people who are relieved to see anyone but Kilkenny in a hurling final, perhaps nodded in agreement. But in Dublin and Kerry? Whatever, dude.

The Old Firm find themselves in the unusual position of playing in a final at Croke Park tomorrow where the winners and losers won't be defined by the result for the rest of the year and where the outcome will be a minor footnote in the players' careers.

It's called a final, it sounds like a final but how can it feel like a final when it's only the League final?

League finals come with the sort of baggage which really undervalues sport and why we watch it with concessions: it's only April, it's only the League and it will all be forgotten about in the morning.

This apathy, nonchalance and snobbery about the League is fast becoming out of date.

Even though it will never have the status of the Championship, attempts to down-grade the value of the League, when it boasts a better, fairer and more exciting format than the Championship, are getting sillier by the year.

Watered-down

I don't want to go to Croke Park tomorrow and see a watered-down version of the Dublin-Kerry rivalry just because it's 'only' the League.

But a Dublin v Kerry final is bigger than just a League final, which is why context has nothing yet everything to do with tomorrow's game.

For a change, it will be all about the game itself as opposed to the occasion which rarely happens when it comes to Dublin v Kerry in a final.

There will be far less of that nostalgia and romantic regurgitation of their past which has often left the game itself looking like an after-thought in the build-up.

And there will be none of that suffocating Championship pressure which can just as easily ridicule a team as get the best out of it. Subtract that kind of pressure/fear of failure tomorrow, and this match could be riveting viewing.

It's not often there are headings like greed and revenge around a final played in April either but normal League final rules don't apply here. This week Denis Bastick said "greed" was the reason he decided to play on with the Dubs because they have the chance "to do something special".

Right now, Dublin look like a team which has forgotten how to lose as they've won 21 consecutive League and Championship games. The desire to win more makes greed the most valuable asset in sport.

But what about it's greatest rival, revenge? Bryan Sheehan didn't use the actual word itself when he was at Croker earlier this week but it hung around everything he said.

However, Kerry's revenge mission after September's All-Ireland final defeat also has a 'it's not you, it's me' slant to it because they have plenty to prove to themselves.

"I don't think last year's performance was up to scratch," the Kerry captain said.

"I think maybe losing one (All-Ireland final) gives you that bit of hunger to come back harder again the following year. We just didn't seem to give it everything we had."

A Kerry team which doesn't have its attitude right is far worse than a Kerry team who plays well and loses and that was the most sickening aftertaste from the All-Ireland final.

The Dubs had the attitude of going out and making it happen, while Kerry looked like a team which had fooled itself into believing that it would just happen for them.

That attitude has changed. It's been years since Kerry have looked this good at this stage of the season.

Players who were dropped to the bench for the All-Ireland final, like Marc Ó Sé, Kieran Donaghy, Paul Murphy and Darran O'Sullivan, have been owning League games over the past month, while Colm Cooper is playing like time is running out.

It feels like The Third Coming for Donaghy such has been his influence in midfield this season, not to mention some of his monster point-scoring from out the field.

Switching Donaghy back to starting in midfield and moving Murphy to the half-forward line are two smart moves from the Kerry management who seem to have this team humming nicely again.

The sight of Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Diarmuid Murphy having a disagreement on the sideline during last year's All-Ireland final did little for the image of a team that should have been confident in what they were doing.

Kerry's spring will be decided by a Dublin team who have refashioned this famous rivalry on their terms. I don't want games of bluff tomorrow and certainly don't expect to see any holding back for a possible meeting in the All-Ireland semi-final if the championship goes along predicted lines.

The summer can wait. The way Dublin and Kerry are able to bring out the best and the worst in each other is what makes them fascinating encounters.

Whatever the context, their rivalry is non-negotiable.

Irish Independent

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