Thursday 27 October 2016

Eugene McGee: Pride alone won't be enough for Kingdom to topple the Dubs

Published 27/08/2016 | 02:30

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

A game that's been in the planning stage for the longest period in football history will unfold tomorrow when Dublin try to maintain their dominance over Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final.

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Right from the moment last year's final ended with Dublin winning, both sides knew that barring miracles they were going to meet again on August 28, 2016. That was because there was no way Dublin would not retain their Leinster title or Kerry their Munster crown this year such is the inequality permeating inter-county football at present.

The only variable in this situation was the draw for the semi-finals which for some strange reason still rotates in a three-year cycle on the provincial basis and this year it was scheduled to be Leinster versus Munster and so we arrive at Sunday's contest. What all this means is that Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Jim Gavin will have absolutely no excuse if their team does not win this game because they have had nearly 12 months to plan how to beat one another.

But rather than improve the chances of getting a classic game of football tomorrow this long gestation period is more likely to produce a war of attrition wherein each management team has spent an inordinate amount of time and effort in overcoming their opponents.

We can be sure that all possible options have been analysed in minute detail, every player has been forensically studied through the DVDs and the individual battles of previous years will have been tortuously worked out to see who won and who lost.

But it is Kerry who have had the biggest problems to sort out following their defeats in league and championship finals in the past 11 months. Kerry's performance in the All-Ireland last year was one of their worst in modern times, on and off the field, and every Kerry person at home and around the world knows that.

Therefore the most pressure this time is undoubtedly on Fitzmaurice (pictured) and his management team as well of course on every Kerry player on the panel. To have lost three successive championship games to Dublin is unheard of in the Kingdom so there are a lot of nervous people down there this week and no amount of 'yerras' can hide that. On the evidence of the past two years Dublin have a better selection of players than Kerry and have proven that when it counted.

So the question is can Fitzmaurice extract more from his bunch of players than what he has done recently? This is definitely possible as many a time in the past what looked to be fairly poor Kerry sides have upset more highly-rated Dublin sides as far back as the famous 1955 final when Kevin Heffernan's team was said to be invincible but lost.

For Kerry to beat Dublin they will have to greatly improve their defensive system whether that be by massed defence - unlikely - clever man-marking of some Dublin players, or striking at the heart of the Dublin machine which is based on fluidity of movement of players coupled with all-out attacking movements that catch opponents off guard.

Seldom has rumour of possible team selection been so rampant as in Kerry in recent weeks but speculating is pointless until the ball is thrown in at 3.30 tomorrow. But it's safe to say that some newcomers must be on the team if an ageing backline is to cope with Dublin.

Jim Gavin is entitled to be more relaxed in the lead-up yet the team as a unit has not played as well in 2016 as previously, possibly because they did not need to.

Surely Kerry will gain something from the absence of three of the best Dublin defenders in the game over the past while? Kevin McManamon will hardly be allowed run riot whenever he plays this time unless Kerry are asleep. But with a new superstar like Paul Mannion on tap, it seems Gavin has more firepower on the bench than Kerry.

I do not expect a classic game; too much planning and tactical operations will be in play from both sides as each of them try to eliminate chance in order to control the play. The occasion will definitely be colossal but possibly not the performance.

The greatest weapon Kerry have going into this game is their own pride and tradition, a not insignificant commodity for that county.

In the last decade Kerry let Tyrone dominate them too often and that has left a deep legacy. Now they face a similar fate against Dublin, something that will cut Kerry football to the bone if it happens tomorrow.

Will Kerry pride be enough this time? Unlikely but pride in sport is such an unquantifiable part of the game that it could work tomorrow, although I doubt it.

Irish Independent

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