Wednesday 22 February 2017

Kingdom have hunger but Dubs' pace can carry them to four-in-a-row triumph

Published 23/04/2016 | 02:30

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice

Mick O'Dwyer, a man with considerable experience of winning Leagues, All-Irelands and every other competition too, is adamant that the outcome of tomorrow's Dublin-Kerry showdown will have no influence whatsoever on either's Championship prospects.

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"It's nice to win the League but don't worry about it if you don't. September is what matters, always has been, always will be," he said.

He is correct in the broader sense but here's a curious fact - only four of the last 50 beaten League finalists (Dublin in 1977 and 2011; Kerry in 1980 and Galway in 2001) won the All-Ireland later in the season.

That leaves 46 of 50 League runners-up who failed to turn a League final setback into All-Ireland success, a remarkably high proportion.

In contrast, 15 of the last 50 League winners completed the double in September. That's a relatively low ratio too but still almost four times as much as League final losers.

So in the absence of any obvious explanation as to why that is the case, the moral of the story for League finalists is simple: best win it to enhance your prospects of All-Ireland glory later on.

Besides, it's worth winning in its own right anyway.

That certainly has to be the mindset for Kerry as they seek to emerge from under Dublin's large thumb, which has pressed down on them with considerable force over the latest stretch of the rivalry.

Dublin have beaten Kerry in eight of the last 10 League and Championship clashes, including two All-Ireland finals and one semi-final.

Barren

That's unusually barren territory for Kerry, from which they should be very anxious to escape. It's also the main reason why their need is greater than Dublin's tomorrow.

If, as seems highly probable, the pair clash again in the All-Ireland semi-final next August, Kerry would be in a much better position if they were arriving as League champions, rather than with a two-wins-from-11 record against Dublin.

As Dublin know only all too well from their relationship with Kerry pre-2011, losing sequences can be very difficult to end.

Under Jim Gavin, Dublin have adopted Brian Cody's approach with Kilkenny: if a game is worth playing, it's worth winning.

Only six defeats from 53 League and Championship games since the start of 2013 underlines Dublin's remarkable consistency levels.

Unlike some previous All-Ireland winners, they are always well primed for the start of the new season, establishing an early momentum which has been a cornerstone of their successes.

Dublin had their holiday celebrations completed before last Christmas so that when the new season began, they would be as tuned as possible for the start of the League.

Kerry, who holidayed after Christmas, were coming to Croke Park for the first round so Dublin wanted to be ready for them. Putting down early markers and all that.

They beat limp opposition by six points in late January, leaving Eamonn Fitzmaurice pointing to Dublin's advanced conditioning as a mitigating factor in Kerry's poor performance.

"Dublin are a bit further down the road with their preparations," explained Fitzmaurice afterwards.

They were also more advanced in their attitude, which Fitzmaurice alluded to this week, saying: "You would think it was us that had won the All-Ireland and Dublin that had lost it because of the levels of hunger they showed that night."

Kerry have caught up on both fronts since then and will be judged purely on their merits - rather than their fitness or mentality - tomorrow.

The tactical approach adopted by Fitzmaurice will be interesting.

Kerry restricted Dublin to 0-12 in last year's All-Ireland final, the lowest winning total for 12 years.

Kerry were a success defensively but it came at an unsustainable price as they scored only nine points, the lowest by a Kingdom team in the final since 1965, which was played over 60 minutes.

It was in marked contrast to the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final when the Kingdom scored 3-11 against Dublin, only to concede 3-18.

From a Dublin perspective, it suggests they can cope with any opposition approach.

Still, it might have been all very different last September if Killian Young hadn't slipped when presented with an excellent goal chance late on.

A goal would have brought the sides level but Young's topple led to Dublin taking possession and launching a swift counter-attack, which yielded a point from Alan Brogan.

Both Kerry and Dublin usually prioritise an attack-based system and while the scoreline in last year's final might appear to contradict that, the bad weather conditions played a significant role in shaping the game.

Tomorrow is likely to be very different on all fronts, not least the weather.

Kerry will have noted how Donegal's attempts to clog their defensive half backfired disastrously last Sunday week.

Dublin hit them for 1-20, with five defenders scoring after finding themselves close to the Donegal goal as they tracked misplaced forwards.

Strike force

It has happened quite often with others too during this League, which explains why Dublin backs have scored a total of 2-10.

With a strike force that has averaged over 20 points in their last six games, Fitzmaurice's men are likely to test their case with maximum enterprise, keeping most of their strike force as close as possible to the Dublin goal in order to test Philly McMahon and Co as out-and-out defenders rather than free spirits who like to get forward.

It will lead to a much higher-scoring game than last September but Dublin's pace could make for the same outcome, in which case Dublin will become the first county since Kerry in 1971-74 to win the League title in four successive seasons.

Irish Independent

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