Thursday 22 March 2018

Kingdom backs to the wall


Rory Kerr

As Kerry take on Dublin in this weekend's refixed National Football League Division 1 clash in Croke Park, it's a vastly changed team from the one that took on their auld enemies in that ground-breaking All-Ireland final from 2011.

From that particular era, two of Kerry's most decorated defenders, Marc and Tomas O'Se, are now well established newspaper columnists, although the latter - at 40 - will grace Headquarters for 'adopted' club Nemo Rangers in the All-Ireland Club Final on Saturday week.

The former, in his Ireland on Sunday column at the weekend, bemoaned the lack of experience in the current Kerry team which has looked less than steady in their back-to-back defeats to Monaghan and Galway. Not quite startled earwigs yet, but nonetheless enough to raise a few eyebrows down in the Kingdom.

The retirement of the aforementioned O Se brothers along with Aidan O'Mahony has seen the Kerry defence under all sorts of pressure. True, both Sean O Se and David Clifford, members of their three-in-a-row All-Ireland Minor-winning side of 2016, have provided an extra edge up front, but from the opening day when they shipped three second-half goals at home to Donegal, Kerry's defence have been conceding scores at an alarming rate.

In all they have leaked seven goals and 50 points, with only Donegal surpassing that, in their four games to date.

And Fitzmaurice goes into the refixed clash knowing that defeat to Dublin will spell the end of Kerry's hopes of retaining their league title, while also leaving them in a somewhat precarious position near the bottom of the table.

Nonetheless, this year's league is as much a voyage of discovery for Kerry as they seek to re-establish themselves as the top footballing force in the country.

Whether Dublin are quite ready to relinquish their crown is another matter. Their defeat to Kerry in last year's NFL decider was the only real blip under Jim Gavin and one suspects they are well capable of matching - if not surpassing - their 36-game unbeaten run set in last year's drawn encounter at a sold-out Austin Stacks Park in Tralee.

It's early days yet, though, and Gavin will no doubt be looking to fine-tune his attack for the remainder of the league and beyond.

Frighteningly for the pretenders to Dublin's crown, it's a bit like Lanigan's Ball where one player steps out and another steps in.

A hamstring injury picked up against Mayo by current All-Star Paul Mannion would most likely deprive Gavin of one of his most potent attackers, who lit up the Castlebar stage two weekends ago with a peach of a goal in Dublin's win. However, Mannion's enforced absence may allow Gavin the chance to give the enigmatic Diarmuid Connolly his first full runout of the season.

For all his apparent lack of match sharpness, Connolly remains Dublin's most gifted footballer and one could argue his cameo off the bench was the winning of last year's All-Ireland final against Mayo.

Fingal Independent