Current crop set to be Dublin's greatest - Barney Rock
Published 12/04/2016 | 02:30
Barney Rock likes to think it was Dublin who drove the first dagger into Kerry's longest streak of dominance that hit rocks after the 1987 league final defeat.
A first league final in 29 years between Gaelic football's chief protagonists isn't exactly a case of role reversal. Kerry are, after all, the 2014 All-Ireland champions, but there's a creeping feeling that if they don't lay the ghost of big -atch defeats in Croke Park in recent years on Sunday week the problem will only continue to escalate.
Rock remembers the conversation about Kerry in the build-up to their '87 meeting that is starkly similar to that which focuses on Dublin now.
"Kerry had won three All-Irelands," he recalled. "All the talk at that stage was that they were going to win four and that they were going to go on and win more.
"We would like to think that by us beating them in the league final, it probably knocked the stuffing out of them. And it probably gave Cork a little bit of belief. And Cork went on then to win the next three or four Munster titles.
"So there is a lot riding on this game," he accepted. "And I suppose there's a lot riding on it for others too. Everyone will be up for Kerry to beat Dublin because it will give a sign that Dublin can be beaten," he conceded.
"They (Kerry) are setting themselves up in many ways even though they might be saying, 'Ah, it really doesn't mean much' because for Kerry to come and beat Dublin in a national final in Croke Park is something, I think, they're looking to do.
"From Dublin's point of view they will be looking to keep winning," he added. "They're going to try and do something that no other team has done in more than 40 years (Kerry from 1971-'74) and that's win four league titles in a row."
It seems a little premature to be giving a team stripped of two All-Stars in defence for the year the 'invincible' tag but the statistics illustrate how hard it has been to take them down.
The league final will present an opportunity to extend the winning run to 22, the same sequence the All Blacks finished on when they went unbeaten for almost two years until their October 2014 defeat to South Africa.
Rock thinks that when this Dublin team finally rests they will be considered the greatest the city has ever produced. "I think they might be remembered as the greatest Dublin team, let's be honest. In the '70s, we had a great team," he recalled.
"They won three All-Irelands. If this current Dublin team actually go on and win another, you would expect that they would be considered the greatest..
"It's hard to compare eras. There were great Dublin teams in the '50s and '60s who put just as much effort in.
"The team of the '70s were in six Leinster finals in a row. This present team hasn't done that. It's close to it and the likelihood is that they will do it but they haven't done it yet.
"The team of '70s has won three All-Irelands. This team has won three. And this team is going on to try and win four league titles so there are comparisons with the '70s team."
Rock has been impressed with the manner in which Dublin have dealt with the absence of Rory O'Carroll and Jack McCaffrey.
"At the moment they've handled whatever has been thrown at them. Everybody is trying to pick holes in it. On Sunday there were a few high balls kicked in to Michael Murphy and Dublin dealt with it and I've no doubt against Kerry, Kerry will start putting high balls in.
"They'll be different forwards and Kerry have the cutest forwards of the whole lot. They'll create goal opportunities so it should be an interesting set-up.
"You'd have to give credit to the lads who have gone in there and played. Rory O'Carroll had to start somewhere years ago, back in 2009/2010 and Davy Byrne at the minute he has to start now. He's only 21 or 22. The last two games he's actually played very well."
Some of the defensive shapes that Kerry adopted weren't lost on Rock who acknowledged that they have always moved with the times.
"Kerry are developing with the game, they've seen it going on and they've seen all the teams getting back behind the ball. At one stage, there was 15 fellas inside their 65-yard line.
"It'll be interesting to see whether they'll do that against Dublin at certain stages because some of the lads would be oldish and Dublin have a few lads who would be in their 30s as well.
"Sometimes when you're in your 30s it's very, very hard to keep that going but there'll be some great battles, like Philly and the Gooch, if that's the way it lines up."