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sky is limit for blues

IT'S late afternoon in the North County. In a couple of hours, Mick Kennedy will be heading to the home of St Margaret's.

They have a league game. These days they campaign in division 4 of the AFL.

For years and years, they were in Division 1. "We had some good sides in that era," he remembers.

He played and managed with Paddy O'Reilly. Like Mick, Paddy was a distinguished Dublin defender.

"Paddy put a lot of work into St Margaret's. He's a great servant of the club."

The venue attracts big championship clashes. "It is a credit to the grounds-people down there. They take such pride in their work.

"It's a fine set-up now. And there's excellent work going on with the juveniles."

When Margaret's are at home, Mick looks on from ringside. When Dublin run out in Croke Park on Sunday against Donegal, he'll take his seat in the Hogan Stand.

He played for the county from 1979 to 1992. The memories overflow.

His debut was a memorable one. The Leinster final. Mick was on the bench.

Kevin Heffernan gave him the call. And the instruction. "Mark Matt Connor."

"Matt was a great player. He had such style about him.

"The Leinster final was a huge day back then. I used to love them.

"There was no back door. You had to win Leinster to get into the All-Ireland series.

"I think I played in about 11 Leinster finals. We had great battles against the likes of Meath and Offaly.

"There were some smashing players around then. Fellas like Brendan Lowry and Johnny Mooney of Offaly and Bernard Flynn of Meath."

And then there was a certain Colm O'Rourke! "Even today when I see him on the tele, my bones get sore," laughs Mick.

The pair had some marvellous duels. "He was such a huge man. It was only when you were togged out beside him that you realised how big he was.

"He was a wonderful footballer. We had some tremendous battles. He'd have good days. I'd have good days. We played it hard and fair. We always shook hands at the end of it.

"It was a different game then. The ball was coming in more directly to your corner. Nowadays, teams tend to work it in more.

"There were less tactics then. It was more man-to man."

Mick is enjoying the privilege of watching the Jim Gavin generation. "I like the way Dublin can vary their style - long ball, short ball.

ENERGY

"They have such energy and enthusiasm. They don't play with any fear. I have been very impressed with them.

"Their mobility is unbelievable. And they apply themselves so well. Everything is so professional under Jim Gavin.

"He seems to have found another couple of players this season. Match days are now all about the squad. The bench is as important as the fellas that start.

"Look at the subs they are able to bring on. A team will really have to be at the top of their game to beat them."

And yet the knock-out days inject that extra edge. "The element of the safety net is gone."

Dublin swept past the Ulster champions, Monaghan, in the quarter-final, the margin of the result adding to their profile.

Many are saying there's not a team to touch them. Such loose talk is not welcomed by Mick.

"They have had a super season so far, but at the same time it is all about how you perform on the day. Dublin haven't been really tested yet so far this season. You are always thinking that there is somebody around the corner who is going to put it up to you."

Donegal are expected to do just that in Sunday's semi-final. It's the match to make the mouth water.

"Most people were talking about Dublin meeting Donegal well before the respective quarter-finals, and now here it is.

"I can't see Donegal going toe-to toe with Dublin. They'll probably play to a defensive system.

"In contrast, Dublin play such open football. It's great to watch. So it will be very interesting to see how it all pans out."

Waltzing through Leinster can cause its own problems. Pillar Caffrey's side dominated the province, yet they were then caught in the knock-out series.

The qualifiers give teams a second chance. It makes them more match-tight. That's a perk provincial winners don't have.

"Yes, that is probably one little flaw in the system. You could go straight to a quarter-final and get beaten. And you're gone. But that's the way it is and you just have to live with it.

"Then the other side of it is that teams that get a run in the qualifiers have little time for recovery."

Mick hails the excellence of Stephen Cluxton. Mick's father, Tommy, kept goal for St Margaret's. And Mick played in goal for the Dubs a few times himself.

"It was between the eras of Paddy Cullen and John O'Leary. Dublin had a challenge match down in Cork and, for whatever reason, we had no recognised 'keeper that day.

"I remember the coach journey down took about five hours! Heffo had no goalie. Johnny Quinn and myself looked at each other. He said he wasn't going in, so I got the job! The following week we played Cork again in a challenge in Parnell Park and Heffo stuck me in goals again. I played a few leagues games in goal, and also the first two Leinster Championship matches in 1980.

"But then John O'Leary came in for the Leinster final and I went back out to corner-back."

Mick had two worthy colleagues in the full-back line when he was starting out - "Mick Holden, God be good to him, and Dave Foran."

Following his dramatic introduction in marking Matt Connor, Dublin beat Roscommon in the All-Ireland semi-final that season. "But Kerry beat us well in the final.

"We had a couple of lean years after that, but we won the All-Ireland in '83. I picked up an injury early that year and I just couldn't shake it off. Then when I was back fit, the team was playing so well that I couldn't get back in. That's just the way things go."

Dublin were also to lose to Kerry in the All-Ireland finals of '84 and '85. But some compensation came with a National League title success in 1987.

"You don't beat Kerry in too many finals, so that was nice. Gerry McCaul was the manager then , and some talented young players came through like Paul Curran, Eamonn Heery, Keith Barr and Vinnie Murphy."

Mick especially rated Jack O'Shea and John Egan, and his admiration for the Kingdom stretched all the way back to national school.

"We had a teacher, Mick Gleeson, that played for Kerry, so we all looked up to him."

Dublin followers still look up to Mick Kennedy. They admired his honesty and courage. He was one of the finest defenders of his generation.


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