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Kingdom on alert as new power rises

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IT didn't demand any headlines at the time but in hindsight, and in the context of the changing dynamics of the Dublin/Kerry rivalry, it represented something of a revelation.

"It was a huge result for the team," reflects the Kingdom's bête noire Kevin McManamon after making a lie of that theory that nothing is ever so good as the first time you do it.

"And I know I am very lucky that I have played Kerry five times in my Dublin career and have beaten them four times."

Given that those and the rest of McManamon's words appeared in an interview on the Dublin county board's official website Hill16.ie the week of last year's All-Ireland final and were delivered via Gavin's management team, they were, no doubt, carefully manicured to exclude major incident.

But still. Four out of five?

By contrast, in the eight meetings prior to Pat Gilroy's team taking a stand in Killarney in the league back in February 2010 – the first act of McManamon's sequence – Kerry won five and two were drawn.

A stat that includes four league games to boot, proving that even in years of prolonged hibernation, Kerry still routinely managed to rustle up just enough energy to keep one up on the Dubs.

Equally, it was at least mildly surprising when this week Eamonn Fitzmaurice decided to air a few thoughts about the Dubs in an interview with a paper, with whom he wrote a column prior to taking over as Kerry manager.

Branding Dublin's financial resources "phenomenal," Fitzmaurice recalls: "In Ennis, there was a member of the backroom team up from us – not a member of management team, mind you – with an iPad doing a statistical analysis of a Munster semi-final between Cork and Clare."

Next, he added his chirp to the crescendo decrying the use of Croke Park for Dublin's home league games, insisting an even greater advantage is being gleaned than most.

ACCUSED

"In that (All-Ireland) semi-final, you can see the likes of Connolly and Brogan don't even have to look at the posts," he asserts.

Lastly, Fitzmaurice also accused the Croke Park ball boys of being in on the gig too.

"If Dublin are behind, there is one fella rolls (the ball back to the 'keeper) from one side and another from the other. Let's say a Kerry back kicks it back to him to slow the game down, another ball comes straight in from the other side. Magic! If Dublin are ahead, you won't see any ball, you have to go looking for it."

Doubtless, all legitimate beefs for Fitzmaurice. But wholly un-Kerry-like, all the same.

Symptomatic, perhaps, of a changing attitude towards the Dubs in Kerry?

"Maybe there was that perception out there that 2011 was a flash in the pan or that it was one that Kerry left behind them," says ex-Kerry player Tommy Griffin.

"But I think, definitely, the way Dublin went about their business last year ... there has always been a respect in Kerry for Dublin and the style of football they play but yeah, last year would really have cemented that."

It should be pointed out that over the course of the same interview, Fitzmaurice praises the Dubs in heavier measures than he is critical or aggrieved at their perceived advantages.

"The respect is huge for Gavin," says Dara Ó Cinnéide, another of Griffin's and indeed, Fitzmaurice's vintage. "They can't really figure him out. In the same way that Mickey Harte has that mystique about him. This guy does not make any big statements after winning an All-Ireland. Doesn't pop his head up at all."

Deep pockets and disproportionate population have long been bugbears of town criers in most counties, but it has never been Kerry's style to take undue notice in the past.

"In all aspects, both on the field and off the field, the preparation and the methodical nature of everything, he's (Jim Gavin) running it like clockwork really," Griffin, a five-time All-Ireland winner, points out.

"They're definitely leading the pack. And Kerry are playing catch-up along with a lot of other teams. The preparation, the physicality, the lifestyle.

"Their strength in depth is something a lot of teams would like to have. They can deal with a lot of absentees. I don't know what the team will be the next day (tomorrow night in their league meeting) but I'm sure they will have a lot of backup in every area of the field to make up for that. Kerry and a lot of other counties would like to have that."

TRAJECTORY

Still, as rivalries go, this one relied mostly on nostalgia for relevance, so one-directional was its trajectory until 2011.

"What you got for about 30 years there was this stuff after 1977 about the Kerry/Dublin rivalry, the grá mo chroí stuff and 'isn't it a great rivalry'?" admits Ó Cinnéide.

"But you don't get too many Kerry people romancing about the rivalry with Tyrone/Kerry because we were three-nil down."

No doubt, the palpable animosity that festered through the last decade between Kerry and Tyrone or the sparky local friction engaged annually with Cork aren't yet a feature of this particular fixture.

Still, during last year's league match in Killarney, according to Fitzmaurice in the aforementioned interview, Declan O'Sullivan "came on, got a right false (dirty) blow, a right false blow, that put him out for six weeks."

You don't have to stray too far across the Kerry border to decipher the negative connotations of the colloquialism.

You'd also pay decent money to hear what passes as banter between O'Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy and members of the Dublin full-back line since they took up arms against one another but largely, there is a long-established regard between the counties which is unlikely to be unduly dented ... even if the plates are shifting just fractionally underneath football's two most successful counties.

"The last few years, Dublin have made huge strides," Ó Cinnéide says. "But having said that, will Kerry fear them on Saturday night or will they fear them if they play them later on in the Championship?

"They won't fear them. But there is real genuine respect there now.

"And the two Championship defeats have probably put an end to Kerry people talking out of both sides of their mouths. The 'ah aren't the Dubs great' stuff but really thinking 'sure we'll beat them anyway'."

Surely, an achievement in itself.

KERRY (SF v Dublin): B Kealy; P Murphy, M Griffin, S Enright; P Crowley, B McGuire, J Sherwood; A Maher, D Moran; J Lyne, M Geaney, D Walsh; BJ Keane, J O'Donoghue, S O'Brien.


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