20 questions for Dublin v Kerry
Where will the All-Ireland football final be won and lost?
EIGHT days to go to one of the most eagerly awaited All-Ireland football finals for years and excitement levels are rising rapidly in both Dublin and Kerry.
Here we launch our countdown to the big day with answers to 20 questions which are occupying the thoughts of supporters in both counties -- and, indeed, throughout the wider football fraternity.
1 Kerry are 8/11 favourites, with Dublin 6/4. Do the odds reflect reality?
It depends on the definition of reality. Kerry start most All-Ireland campaigns as first or second favourites and, in fairness, they usually live up to their rating (they have missed only three finals since 1999).
Money decides odds and Kerry are always a popular choice among punters, both in individual bets and in double-ups with Kilkenny or Tipperary hurlers.
Kerry's big-time experience gives them another edge over Dublin, but if the odds were compiled purely on the performances of both finalists throughout the entire year, it would be even-money, take your pick.
2 Dublin and Kerry haven't met in the All-Ireland final since 1985. Why so long?
It's mostly Dublin's fault. Kerry were out of the All-Ireland loop for 11 years after winning the last of their All-Irelands in the Mick O'Dwyer era in 1986, but have been a regular presence on the big day since 1997. This will be Dublin's first appearance in the final since winning the title in 1995 and they can't blame Kerry for their lengthy absence, having met the Kingdom on only four occasions since then.
3 What were the highlights of both teams' advance to the final, the day when their fans first started thinking an All-Ireland win was a distinct possibility?
In Kerry's case, their big performance was in the Munster final against Cork. Their display in the first half, which they won by 1-10 to 0-5, was as close to perfection as any side came this year.
Cork fought back and looked to have timed their run perfectly when trailing by just a point on the hour mark, but Kerry kicked on and won by three points, proving that their resolve was firmly intact.
Dublin's point-kicking blitz against Tyrone (22 in all, 19 from open play) was their best for years. It had an added significance in that it was the second successive year they beat Tyrone, who had an impressive record against them throughout most of the last decade.
It was a performance which suggested Dublin were crossing the class line which separates eager contenders from the real deal.
4 And the worrying times for both sides?
Dublin came close to having their All-Ireland ambitions smothered by Donegal. Indeed, if Colm McFadden had availed of an open goal chance just after half-time, it would most likely be a Donegal-Kerry final. Also, it took the concession of an own goal by Wexford to provide the big opening for Dublin in the Leinster final.
As for Kerry, they leaked three goals against Limerick in the Munster semi-final and coughed up several chances to the same opposition in the All-Ireland quarter-final, none of which were taken. A repeat against Bernard Brogan and Co would not go unpunished.
5 Where are Kerry's strengths?
Very much in attack, specifically with Colm Cooper, Darran and Declan O'Sullivan. That trio scored 1-13 between them (1-9 from open play) against Dublin in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final. 'Gooch' and Declan O'Sullivan scored 1-6 between them against Dublin in the 2007 semi-final, so clearly this pair enjoy tormenting the Blues.
6 And Dublin's strengths?
The Brogan brothers are the stand-out pair, but the real power lies in the overall balance of the side. Also, they have an extra asset in the scoring rate from long-distance placed balls of Stephen Cluxton (left), although Kerry are well served in this area too thanks to Bryan Sheehan's booming drives.
7 Kerry's weaknesses?
There's still a fair degree of uncertainty about the defence and midfield. Neither looks as good as the last time they won the All-Ireland two years ago.
8 Dublin's weaknesses?
They were unconvincing for a very long time against Donegal's massed defence approach. Granted, it was difficult to play against, but one suspects that the Kerry attack would have found a way around it much quicker. Dublin need to be more adaptable than that when faced with a new puzzle.
9 Any changes likely on either side for the final?
With Diarmuid Connolly reinstated, Dublin will probably start the same 15 as against Donegal, assuming of course that they are all fit. Kevin McManamon, who made such an impact when brought on at half-time in the semi-final, and Eoghan O'Gara, whose unpredictability is obviously admired by Pat Gilroy, are the two who are pushing hardest to break into the starting team.
The big dilemma facing Jack O'Connor is whether to start Paul Galvin. He did very well when coming on as a sub against Mayo.
10 Who loses out if Galvin starts?
Probably Donnacha Walsh, although there's also the option of leaving out left full-forward Kieran O'Leary, despite a good performance against Mayo in the semi-final. However, by starting Galvin and Walsh and playing 'Gooch' and Kieran Donaghy as a two-man full-forward line, Kerry would have additional numbers further out the field, which they may need.
11 Should Galvin start, irrespective of the shape of the team?
Yes. He's a terrier who snaps onto an awful lot of breaking ball. That will be crucial against Dublin, as will the need for the Kerry half-forwards to funnel back to counteract break-outs from James McCarthy, Ger Brennan and Kevin Nolan.
12 Is this final a case of battle-hardened achievers who aren't quite the force of old against rapidly emerging contenders, ready for the final push to the summit?
Kerry are certainly battle-hardened achievers, but whether they are the force of old remains to be seen. They're in the final after an unbeaten run, so they have to be judged on that basis. Dublin, also unbeaten in this championship, have developed as credible contenders this year but, again, only time will tell if they have the capacity to complete the journey.
13 Which side has the stronger subs' bench?
Assuming they start the same side as against Donegal, Dublin can call on Kevin McManamon, Eoghan O'Gara, 'Mossy' Quinn, Eamonn Fennell, Ross McConnell, Philip McMahon, Paul Casey, David Henry and Paul Conlon.
If Kerry use the same starting 15 as against Mayo, their main supports will be Paul Galvin, Shane Enright, Daniel Bohan, Seamus Scanlon, Barry John Keane and James O'Donoghue. Advantage Dublin.
14 Kerry humiliated Dublin two years ago, winning the quarter-final by 17 points on a day when Dublin were pre-match favourites. Will it have any relevance this time?
Not directly. Only eight of the 2009 Dublin team started against Donegal in this year's semi-final. Of those, Denis Bastick was at full-back two years ago and is now at midfield, while Bryan Cullen and Barry Cahill have both switched from the half-backs to half-forwards. The main concern for Dublin is that they might suffer a psychological wobble as they have poor record against the green and gold.
15 Do recent league meetings tell us anything about Dublin's mental wellbeing vis a vis Kerry?
It's actually very positive for Dublin. They beat Kerry in Division 1 clashes at Croke Park this year, in Killarney last year and drew with them at Parnell Park in 2009.
16 Which county came through the tougher side of the draw?
In theory Kerry, because they dethroned the 2010 title holders, but Cork's subsequent collapse against Mayo suggested the Rebels were a long way off last year's pace.
Also, Kerry easily beat Mayo a few weeks after James Horan's crew looked potential All-Ireland winners when they dismissed Cork.
It's a plus for Dublin's confidence that they beat two Ulster sides who presented vastly different type of challenges.
17 How are Dublin handling the hype which accompanies them in the championship and which should be at fever pitch now that they are in the final?
Quite well, it would appear. But then the hype levels were lower than usual all summer and haven't reached the red zone since they reached the final either. That's odd but it's also a help to the squad.
18 Are Kerry happier that it's Dublin rather than an Ulster team which reached the final?
Definitely. Kerry lost All-Ireland finals to Tyrone in 2005 and '08 and to Armagh in 2002, whereas they haven't lost a final to Leinster or Connacht opposition since Offaly beat them in 1982.
19 Which side is more likely to score goals?
Kerry have scored six goals in five games, getting at least one in each game. Dublin got four goals (including an own goal against Wexford), but drew a blank against both Tyrone and Donegal. It's quite a downturn since the league, where Dublin scored 18 goals in eight games.
Kerry have conceded six goals in five games, whereas Dublin have seen only two green flags raised against them. Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy is very reliable but Dublin have the edge with Stephen Cluxton, probably the best in the country.
The figures are confusing regarding likely goal returns, but a hunch says Kerry are better equipped for this particular task.
20 Is the fade-out factor, which undermined Dublin for several seasons -- and, indeed, up to this year's league final -- likely to recur?
It wasn't an issue against Donegal in what was a bizarre game. Dublin motored on to the finish against Tyrone and Wexford, but surrendered a six-point interval lead against Kildare, who drew level before being edged out by a late, controversial pointed free by Bernard Brogan.
Dublin fade-outs have happened so often over the years that is has to be a concern but first, of course, they have to establish a substantial lead.