Dubs must use Tyrone model
Published 17/09/2011 | 05:00
IF All-Ireland finals are all about delivering a performance, then backing Dublin is going to take a big leap of faith. And it's interesting that few people are prepared to take the plunge and oppose Kerry's overwhelming favouritism, not even in the city.
I was fortunate to play in three All-Ireland finals for Dublin and I can't recall expectations in the capital being so muted in the run-up to the big day. I suppose it's no real surprise, given that the last time we reached this stage Kerry were still suffering an All-Ireland famine, I was still wearing the No 6 shirt and house prices were still rising rapidly.
For sure Pat Gilroy and his squad have shown great discipline and indeed respect for the task in hand, while the supporters have been equally respectful for the scale of the job facing the players.
But there's more to it than that. No one can really, deep down, see Kerry being beaten. I said it last week and my opinion hasn't changed. Even those making the case for Dublin have to check themselves every so often by just doing a match-up of the players.
And I've noticed confidence is oozing from the Kingdom where even recently retired players have dropped their guard, suggesting this will be a cakewalk for Kerry.
Outside the county it's a similar story, where people feel a team as inexperienced as Dublin going into a final won't reach the level of performance necessary to stop Kerry.
One of the cases being made for Dublin is that Kerry remain untested this year. A valid point, but Kerry's ability to deliver on All-Ireland final day is beyond question and recent form quite often counts for nothing.
Not that their recent form is anything but impressive. Kerry have blown everyone away this summer and their only lapse was a period in the second half of the Munster final. The questions were asked of a number of players before the Mayo game and they delivered the answers emphatically.
So is there any pressure on Kerry at all? With so much quality in the team and a strong track record in the championship against their tomorrow's opponents, you get the sense that Kerry people are expecting another Mayo -- where, at some point in the game, they deliver a fatal blow to the opposition before playing out the remainder on their own terms.
And that may happen. But it's an unusual situation for Kerry to be struggling to conceal their confidence. We would normally have expected them to convince the bookies to reverse their odds at this point, but they can't seem to contain their instinct on this occasion.
Expecting Kerry to be complacent would be stretching it, yet I'm not convinced they are 100pc sure what way Dublin are going to approach this game. Will Dublin play ultra-defensively? Kerry love attacking teams at their strongest point, but if there are 13 men behind the ball, where exactly is that point? Kerry don't need to be invited on to a team, but what if it doesn't yield the breakthrough?
If Dublin are looking for some guidance as to where Kerry's weaknesses are, then they should look at their two finals against Tyrone.
While the tactics, match-ups, circumstances are all different, one aspect of those two finals was stark -- not all the Kerry players came to the party on the day. Tyrone, and Armagh before them, debunked the myth that Kerry are invincible in the final.
These victories weren't down to last-minute wonder goals like Seamus Darby's in 1982 -- they were epic battles where the will of the opposition proved too much for Kerry.
Tyrone were ferocious against Kerry in both finals -- relentless in the tackle and in attack. They didn't allow Kerry to dictate even when they were trailing and always believed in their ability to overtake their illustrious opponents.
Those performances will not have gone unnoticed by this Dublin set-up and to be in with a shout, Dublin will need to replicate them.
Kerry captained by Colm Cooper, with two O Ses in their ranks, will not want to be the first team in green and gold to lose to Dublin in championship football since the famous '77 semi-final. The gap in experience between the sides might be enormous but I don't buy it that Kerry are under no pressure; they were the better team when they played Dublin in Croke Park during the league but they still lost, and it didn't go down well.
One of Kerry's strengths is the fact their opponents show them too much respect and are often half beaten before the ball is thrown in. Mickey Harte's team didn't and, all of a sudden, we had a new tradition born, where Kerry couldn't buy a win against Tyrone.
Dublin must take this game to the edge in terms of intensity. Kerry often allow their opponents to play open football but Dublin won't get sucked in and will try to control matters from the back.
Dublin know they have to counter-attack effectively, they must exploit any defensive gaps.
Gooch will score, the two O'Sullivans will create chances, Kerry will aim to break Dublin's resolve by keeping the scoreboard ticking, as they did with Cork in the '09 final.
If Dublin are to have any chance of avoiding a similar scenario they will need to ensure the work-rate doesn't drop. Michael Darragh Macauley reflects Dublin's work ethic and is critical to their plan because he puts the opposition on the back foot.
Alan Brogan has sometimes struggled against this opposition but on the back of a good season, he will not want to leave anything in the tank and needs to ensure that Killian Young's afternoon is a torrid one.
Declan O'Sullivan will run straight at the Dublin defence, no matter how massed it is. Alan needs to shoulder the same responsibility at the other end. Kerry must be pressurised.
Paul Flynn's fitness will have a big bearing on the game as will Paul Galvin's introduction, which was significant against Mayo. Jack O'Connor was wise to keep Galvin in reserve as one of Kerry's few weaknesses is their bench. Dublin's substitute list looks a bit stronger, but Galvin is still an ace in Kerry's pack.
O'Connor outlined in his biography some years ago that winning and losing matches of this significance is often a matter of inches.
At the moment there are many in Kerry who see yards between the sides.
Overcoming their semi-final hurdle may just have liberated Dublin enough to allow them to perform in such a pressurised occasion. I don't dispute Kerry's favouritism but my head is listening to my heart, which is pumping hard at the moment.
After winning the 1976 All-Ireland against Kerry, my childhood hero Brian Mullins spoke about the opposition being "right" after they had hammered the champions. The comment from a young player reflected the magnitude of Dublin's success -- their first All-Ireland win over Kerry in 50 years.
It's now 35 years and counting and the opposition is right again.
It's a leap of faith for me.
PS: Best of luck to the Dublin minor footballers, so far our only underage hopefuls to escape Galway's incredible clean sweep. However, Tipperary, whose feats include overturning an 11-point deficit against Kerry, have impressed me and this battle will go to the wire. Fans lucky enough to have got their hands on tickets should not miss this clash.