Thursday 21 November 2019

Colm O'Rourke: Dublin's hungry young warriors can scent the blood of an illustrious Kingdom desperately clinging to power

Gilroy's army must deliver game of their lives to force a changing of the guard, writes Colm O'Rourke

In normal circumstances, previewing a game featuring some of the greatest players of all time against a team that has no such claims would make for a very easy task. It has been so for the last decade, tip Kerry to win the final and most of the time you are right. Not much need for a rigorous analysis.

And those who claim it is all on the day are entirely wrong. The great sides get better on the big occasions while lesser ones implode. This has been Dublin's fate recently.

The great rivalry is, of course, also a myth. It suits Kerry very well to say nice things about Dublin. Then they come to Croke Park, give them a hiding, throw Sam Maguire in the back of the train and get back to the Kingdom and the serious business of the club championship, because that decides which Kerryman lifts Sam the following year.

This time round the jewel in Kerry's crown is the captain and there are many who would like to see Colm Cooper join the very privileged ranks of All-Ireland-winning captains. So the Kerry motto is to speak softly and carry a big stick.

But maybe there is a real chance of Dublin raining on this parade. There is the distinct possibility that this will be a watershed game. A team with many nearing the end of their illustrious careers and another with a lot of hungry warriors. For great players like Tom O'Sullivan and Tomás ó Sé the sun is setting, and maybe for a few others too. It may not be in actual age, but the drive and commitment to stay at the top of the greasy pole lessens with time. What helps to slow that down is the sheer enjoyment these Kerry players get out of playing. Add in their athleticism and natural talent and maybe they can keep going on.

Dublin, though, bring more than enough to the table. Hardly naive any more after being sliced and diced by Kerry too often in the past, they have a certain resilience. This was best demonstrated in the semi-final against Donegal. They won a game they could easily have lost and the

value of that dreadful match is worth a great deal in self-confidence. It took a long time to get to grips with Donegal, and some Dublin players were a bit headless in that game, that lesson should have been well absorbed. Good players don't make the same mistakes twice.

The individual duels will be fascinating. Presumably, Marc ó Sé will take Bernard Brogan. The last match-up, in the league, went very much in ó Sé's favour. Yet in the All-Ireland semi-final, Brogan was good at a lot of unseen stuff and worked and passed for his team's benefit. Without a sweeper, which Kerry don't normally use, the Dublin inside line will cause trouble, especially if the ball is kicked in high. Diarmuid Connolly will be taken by O'Sullivan, Dublin will really hope that 'taken' is not the operative word. Farther out, Killian Young will latch on to Alan Brogan, who still persists in shooting at the wrong times, but, apart from the Donegal game, he has had a very good year. Kevin McManamon could again play a vital role for Dublin. His style upsets backs as he runs in straight lines.

At the other end, Dublin will need an octopus to deal with the Gooch and maybe Cian O'Sullivan will have to take the worst job in football. While Kieran Donaghy has struggled, he is still a real danger -- and then there are the O'Sullivans coming through at pace. And that is before Paul Galvin arrives back from Milan. It is the envy of the country to have a sub like that, but the finish is just as important, or maybe more important, than the start of the game. Hopefully when he does come on he is not treated like some mobile punch bag, all citizens have the same rights before the law.

Dublin will look to have at least eight backs against this Kerry forward line and they will need them all. The old rules of engagement for many backs are now redundant. There was a time when you marked your man and tried to beat him. Nowadays, many backs have to be reprogrammed to deal with a situation where they are not marking anyone in particular but have to take some player from a group who come marauding forward and then disappear back into defence just as quick.

There is not much point in talking about midfield in the context of Bastick and Macauley against Maher and Sheehan. They wear the midfield numbers alright, but there will be at least eight midfielders on each side. Dublin, though, must be careful not to give away frees from within 60 metres, Sheehan from far out and Gooch close in don't miss many. Maybe Cluxton balances the scales a little. He held his nerve in the semi-final when many around him were losing theirs. His kick-outs are also vital. It was hardly a very clever idea for Donegal to surrender possession for all kick-outs in the semi-final and today Kerry will force him to kick long and create a raffle situation in the middle of the field.

Dublin must prevent goals, which is a tall order in itself as Kerry's pace often creates lots of goal-scoring chances. Of course, there is a goal threat at the other end too, and this Kerry defence is creaking a bit. Against Mayo they went man for man, it means every back must fend for himself and this traditional style forces a defender to be brave as there is no one else around to bail him out. It will be a dicey one to pull off today as either Brogan could stick one in the net, and the Kerry defensive strategy is exactly the opposite of what the Dubs will try to do. They will want reinforcements arriving every time Gooch and Co get their hands on the ball. That will come from Cahill, Flynn and Cullen, they are the pack horses who will be asked to carry a lot of the load for the team.

Sometimes teams in a final can change a lot from previous games and put on a show of uninhibited football as the adrenalin of the occasion takes over. I don't see any chance of that happening today. Dublin will try to keep the game structured. When they lose possession they will retreat back into the trenches and like Cowboy Joe, hope to pick Kerry off at the pass. They will leave three up as out-and-out attackers while Kerry will play in a more orthodox fashion. They will build slowly with plenty of handpasses and hope that Donaghy will make some hay on Rory O'Carroll in the event of high balls going in, but Kerry might be better off with Declan O'Sullivan at full-forward.

If this game is going to mark a passing of the guard then it will have to be the greatest performance ever from a number of Dublin players. Kerry players are proven at this level and if I am asked to be a selector on the team of the century in 89 years' time, I will be rooting for a lot of these Kerrymen to be on it.

Many Dublin supporters are very fearful of this game and think the only way they can win is by prayer or rain or both. Yet as Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar, "there is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune." Dublin's fortune can be a cup of silver and medals of gold. Normally I go for Kerry, this time I think Dublin are up to this monumental task. Dublin to win a low-scoring game.

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