THIS is a test up there with the games against Tipperary.
Dublin, managed by Dessie Farrell again this season, are good. Very good. Very bloody good. When Kerry were scraping to (a well earned) victory over Roscommon they were blowing Monaghan out of the water completely and utterly. Having missed out on the title to Tipp last term Dublin look like a team on a mission this year. They've got talent all over the pitch. They've got runners and men who can strike from deep like wingback Eric Lowndes, midfielder Shane Carthy and full-forward Cormac Costello.
While Roscommon were missing out on goals and points in the opening exchanges against Kerry, Dubiln were hitting the Ulster runners-up for five points on the bounce. This is a team that means business. Kerry simply cannot afford to allow them the type of start they very nearly gave Roscommon. Costello and Dave Campbell in the Dublin full-forward line won't be anywhere near as generous of their Roscommon counterparts.
In an interview with this newspaper this week Mikey Ned O'Sullivan ( below) posited the view that the reason Roscommon proved so profligate was due to the efforts of Kerry's defenders and the pressure they put on. That's a very fair point. Kerry's defence is pretty good. Gavin Crowley impressed on his Croke Park debut in the green and gold. His brother Brian was another to impress – as much for his efforts going forward, with the brilliantly executed goal, as his tidy defensive work.
It is fair to say that Kerry's main strengths lie up front. It isn't fair to say that there isn't talent at the back as the two Crowleys, Jack Barry and Greg Horan demonstrate. It's also the case that this entire Kerry team, including the defence, has been getting better and better the longer this championship has gone on. They weren't nearly the coherent force they now are when they first faced Tipperary in Austin Stack Park back in April.
By the time the Munster final rolled around they were a far more competitive force, a stronger force, physically even. They're not the tallest side, but they're deceptively strong. Clearly a lot of work has been done on their upper body strength by Mickey Ned and John O'Keeffe. They ran Tipp much closer the second time around. Progress was being made. Progress but no silverware. More worrying still was the lack of a decent win in this championship.
WIns against Munster minnows are all well and good and they served a purpose allowing Kerry develop and gain in confidence away from the maddening crowd. When they got to Croke Park they had to show that they deserved to be there. That their presence wasn't simply as a result of a quirk of the draw that allowed them through the back door twice whereas their great rivals from the South West, Cork, had but a single chance to prove their mettle against Tipp this term.
They most certainly dd i that. Curiously it was Kerry's first proper victory of the year. It came at the right time and on the right stage. There was an element of luck to that victory. Roscommon will certainly feel that they should have done better, scored more and probably have won the game. They didn't. That's partially down to their own foibles. Partially down to the pressure exerted on them by the Kerry defence and partially down to the good work done by the Kingdom on breaking ball at the most vital stage in the game – with the clock ticking down and the game afoot.
Whatever about the ins and the outs of that game the result is the same – Kerry are off the mark in 2012. They've played one and won one in Croke Park. When you're playing Dublin on their home turf such things are important. The big worry for Kerry is whether they'll be blown out of it in the physical stakes. They weren't by Roscommon, but they were by Tipp. It wasn't so much that they were outmuscled in the Musnter final. They just didn't have the height to cope. They withstood serious intensity from Roscommon really well, however, so all's not lost.
St Senans' David Foran will be a key player on the half-forward line. If he can snap up the amount of breaking ball that he did in the quarter-final on Sunday then guys like Jack Savage (the orchestrator of this team) and Niall Sheehy will have enough ball to thrive. Even if Dublin prove to be dominant, and the form lines certainly point in that direction, Kerry will have their spell of dominance – rarely does one team totally dominate another in minor football. What they do with their spell will prove telling.
They're underdogs for this game. Rightly so we would argue. That doesn't mean they can't win. It just means that they'll have to play better and work harder than they've ever done before. They did that against TIpperary in the Munster final and it wasn't enough. Dublin, we suspect, are better even than that again. Like we said: a big ask.