Sunday 22 September 2019

The Dubs look invincible - but there's always hope


Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly collides with Con O’Callaghan of Dublin during Saturday’s semi-final in the All-Ireland Senior Championship at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly collides with Con O’Callaghan of Dublin during Saturday’s semi-final in the All-Ireland Senior Championship at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile

Seamus O'Hanlon

And then there were two. After last weekend's semi-finals Dublin and Kerry are, unsurprisingly, the last two teams left standing in the 2019 All-Ireland Football Championship.

The eagerly awaited final will take place on the somewhat earlier date of September 1st, the first Sunday of the month rather than the more traditional third Sunday.

These two great rivals were earmarked for this clash from an early point in the season and it has all the ingredients for another epic encounter.

Kerry and Dublin are, by some distance, the two most successful counties in the history of the game. Between them they've claimed the All-Ireland title on 65 occasions, the Kingdom with 37 and the Dubs with 28, so this year they will equal the tally of 66 from all the other counties combined (17 other counties have won the All-Ireland title).

The gap between these two and the rest is growing rapidly, so don't be at all surprised if this margin widens even further over the next number of seasons.

As we witnessed on Saturday with their second-half demolition of Mayo, Dublin are in a class of their own and are well on their way to their 29th All-Ireland and a historic five-in-a-row.

As we've come to expect from them in recent times, Mayo were brave and valiant, especially during the opening half. Their controlled aggression, hard work and hunger upset and ruffled a strangely lacklustre Dublin outfit in the early exchanges, but they simply couldn't maintain that effort for an entire 70 plus minute game.

Once Dublin switched on the third quarter afterburners Mayo's game collapsed and Dublin ran out embarrassingly easy winners in the end. Their football ability and skill under pressure is undoubted, but I think it's their incredible conditioning that sets them apart from everyone else in the game at the moment.

I felt huge sympathy for the likes of Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle and the O'Shea's, but their very best was just not good enough against such vaunted opposition.

Kerry similarly were somewhat indifferent in the early stages of Sunday's clash with old foes Tyrone, but they outscored Mickey Harte's men by 1-13 to 0-9 in the second period to book their final berth.

Tyrone had put themselves in a great position to progress at the break, with Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly thriving in the open spaces they were creating below Hill 16.

But some astute second-half changes and more pressure on the ball-carrier swung the game in Kerry's favour and they controlled the game to the finish.

The atmosphere among the disappointingly low crowd was strangely subdued for a battle of such fierce recent rivals, almost as if the 33,848 fans were still troubled by the previous day's awesome display of power from the Dubs. The intensity and pace of both games were in stark contrast.

So, are Kerry good enough and experienced enough to pull down the empire that Jim Gavin has created?

On the evidence of Sunday, the answer is a resounding no. Dublin are unbeaten in championship football since 2014 and have, under Gavin's astute leadership, improved consistently year on year. They are arguably the most complete team to ever play the game and their pursuit of the mythical five-in-a-row is, dare I say it, almost a formality.

But in sport, and indeed life, there is always a chance.

Benjamin Franklin once wrote 'In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes'. That is what sustains us and over the coming weeks the Kerry lads will be reminded often of Offaly in 1982 and Seamus Darby. There is always hope, however slim.

The Argus