Saturday 25 February 2017

Dubs to justify favourites tag they've held all year

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Dublin's Stephen Cluxton
Dublin's Stephen Cluxton

They started the year as the top two All-Ireland favourites, with Dublin marginally ahead of Kerry, and nothing has changed to suggest that ranking won't be vindicated tomorrow.

Kerry shot two big beasts - Cork and Tyrone - on their way to the final, whereas Dublin only encountered one. However, since Mayo are a more formidable force than Cork or Tyrone, the form line suggests that they are slightly ahead of Kerry.

And while Dublin supporters were dismayed by the manner in which Mayo were allowed to wriggle off the hook and earn a second chance in the All-Ireland semi-final, the replay may well have provided the sharpener the squad needed for the even bigger examination against Kerry.

Panicked

Dublin were tested to the maximum when Mayo kicked for home by opening a four-point lead early in the second half of the replay but, unlike last year's semi-final where they panicked after Donegal stretched them, the Dubs calmly worked their way through the latest problem.

Outscoring Mayo by 3-4 to 0-2 in the last 20 minutes, a process greatly enhanced by the introduction of Michael Darragh Macauley, Kevin McManamon and Alan Brogan, was hugely impressive.

Calm, measured and clinically executed it ripped Mayo apart as Bernard Brogan, Philly McMahon and McManamon pounced for goals.

There's no reason to believe that Kerry have a much better defence that Mayo, in which case Dublin will be quite confident of returning a sizeable score.

However, Kerry come in well ahead of Mayo in attack. That's illustrated by the fact that Kieran Donaghy, Bryan Shee-han, Dar-ran O'Sull-ivan, Tommy Walsh and Barry John Keane can't get into the starting 15, a luxury that no county, with the exception of Dublin, could afford. In theory, then, it should be a very high-scoring game, as was the case in the 2013 semi-final, when Dublin won by 3-18 to 3-11, a winning margin that didn't reflect the overall trend as the sides were level after 67 minutes.

However, in 2011, Dublin beat Kerry in a low-scoring final (1-12 to 1-11). Those scoring variations show how games can take on a life of their own, totally unrelated to what has gone before. That could well happen again.

Two aspects of tomorrow's tie are being seen as hugely significant in shaping its overall texture, although I reckon both are overplayed.

There's a general assumption that David Moran, who takes over the captaincy following Kieran Donaghy's demotion, and Anthony Maher will dominate midfield for Kerry, leaving Dublin at a serious disadvantage.

There's an equally entrenched view that the kick-outs of Stephen Cluxton (left) will drive Kerry to distraction and maybe even beyond.

I suspect that Kerry's midfield dominance won't be anything like as pronounced as some would have you believe. Tyrone's Colm Cavanagh and Mattie Donnelly won the battle in the semi-final clash with Kerry so there's no reason to believe that Dublin won't do reasonably well around midfield too.

As for Cluxton's kick-outs, they are not as deadly as their reputation suggests. Besides, if the modern game is so influenced by re-starts, then perhaps tactical expertise isn't nearly as advanced as the game's technocrats assert.

In his comments this week, Jim Gavin alluded to Kerry's impressive championship record against Dublin, presumably implying that it was something of a burden on the Blues.

The more salient fact is that Dublin have beaten Kerry in their last two championship games and in five of their most recent six League games.

Irrelevant

So what happened in the distant past is utterly irrelevant. Besides, it's beyond improbable that in the highly unlikely event of him believing that, he would mention it.

Gavin and Eamonn Fitzmaurice have presided over only one championship loss each in three seasons, an impressive record which leaves each with plenty of confidence in their capacity to work through problems as they arise.

That will be a crucial element tomorrow as both squads possess enough threats to take the other very close to breaking point. The battle to achieve that will be pretty fierce, which makes it imperative for referee David Coldrick and his officials to have a very good day.

Dublin's discipline has been questionable, especially in small, petty areas, something Kerry will attempt to exploit.

However, it's unlikely to work as Dublin will know that unless they get that part of their game in tune with the creative side, it will be costly. Surely, that's a chance they won't take.

Dublin: S Cluxton; J Cooper, R O'Carroll, P McMahon; J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, D Bastick; P Flynn, D Connolly, C Kilkenny; P Andrews, D Rock, B Brogan. Kerry: B Kealy; F Fitzgerald, A O'Mahony, S Enright; J Lyne, P Crowley, K Young; A Maher, D Moran; S O'Brien, J Buckley, D Walsh; C Cooper, P Geaney, J O'Donoghue.

Verdict: Dublin

Irish Independent

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