DESPITE all the talk of the ‘dream final’ and the great Dublin v Kerry rivalry, a quick scan of the facts make for grim reading from a Dublin perspective.
Eight championship defeats in the nine previous meetings (drew in 2001) of which four were All-Ireland finals, it’s 34 years since the Dubs last beat Kerry in Championship football. And in the 16 years since they were last crowned All-Ireland champions, their opponents on Sunday have claimed six titles, over a quarter of Dublin’s total haul of |All-Irelands.
Thankfully, though, football is played in the here and now and when you park the historical noose and assess the current set-up and the progress that has been made under Pat Gilroy and his management team’s tutelage, the time might just be right to |re-write the history books and begin a new chapter to a long-|running tale.
For a start, it’s clear that this Dublin team have developed a consistency to their game that makes it very difficult for teams not only to break them down, but also to hit them with a barrage that in the past would have left the team like a dazed boxer, staggering and unable to regain their composure.
Three weeks ago against Donegal, despite been tied up in knots by Jim McGuinness’ blanket defence, the Dubs stuck to their gameplan. And while the rigid nature of the team structure appeared to have left the players devoid of ideas for a large period of the game, the ever-strengthening belief in the system ensured that as Donegal began to wilt Gilroy’s men were still in position to close out the game.
Interestingly, despite Gilroy’s wholesale changes to the way his team line up, there are still four surviving forwards from the counties’ last championship meeting in 2009, all of whom will be vital to Dublin’s cause on Sunday.
Diarmuid Connolly’s reprieve from his semi-final red card provides a huge opportunity for him
to finish the season on a high, while Bernard Brogan’s game has developed significantly over the last two years, marking him out as one of the key men Kerry will need to shackle throughout the 70 minutes.
Paul Flynn has been excellent this season, and while I hope his hamstring injury doesn’t end his summer journey, the reality is that he will probably be a doubt right up until throw-in. Arguably playing the football of his career though, Alan Brogan could have the biggest say of all.
Revelling in the freedom and space the attacking formation provides, the St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh supremo could well be the player to punch holes in a Kerry defence that has had its frailties exposed on several occasions en route to Sunday’s showdown.
But, while some of the names are the same, there are fundamental differences in this current Dublin attack.
The unselfish nature of their play is probably the major change where the right option is nearly always executed, while their ability to create goal chances could be the critical factor in determining where Sam Maguire lays his head for the next 12 months.
When these sides met in the league earlier this year Dublin’s three goals were ultimately what edged them over the line. I believe they will probably need to hit the net at least once on Sunday if they hope to repeat their league success. And while the forwards certainly have the ability, the worry heading into the weekend is that the goals that were raining in during the league have dried up.
What reinforces this view is the fact that Kerry are averaging 20 points per game and could foreseeably be crowned All-Ireland champions without ever raising a green flag in the final.
To counteract this, Dublin will have to remain disciplined in the tackle and not concede frees, but more importantly will need to pressurise every shot Kerry have at the sticks, as time and space conceded to their attack will see them swing points over with ease.
It’s worth noting that two years ago when Kerry goaled early Dublin never recovered, so when you consider their throw-in ploy of bringing Kieran Donaghy to centrefield with Declan O’Sullivan replacing him at the edge of the square, the Dubs will need to be particular vigilant against a similar scenario coming from early Kerry pressure.
It is quite clear that both attacks carry potent threats, but potentially the deciding of the game could come down to the defensive match-ups around field. If Gilroy and Co get it tactically right on this front and manage to restrict this Kerry attack to 12 or 13 scores, then the dream final might just conclude with the dream result!