Beast from east still fancied to win

Allianz NFL Division 1 Round 5: Dublin v Kerry, Sunday March 11, Croke Park Dublin at 4pm. Referee: Ciaran Brannigan (Down). Live on eirSport

Peter Crowley and Paul Flynn in action in last year’s Allianz Football League Division 1 Final at Croke Park
Peter Crowley and Paul Flynn in action in last year’s Allianz Football League Division 1 Final at Croke Park

Paul Brennan

Mikey Sheehy can't ever remember a senior inter-county match being postponed because of adverse weather conditions when he was playing for Kerry, but he does recall one or two that should have been. One game in particular - in some county Derry outpost for a National League game - came to mind this week when he pondered Kerry's latest postponed NFL game, the county's second in two weeks.

"It was the right decision last week, given the freakish weather," Sheehy said of the blanket cancellation of all National Football and Hurling League games last weekend.

"It was inconvenient but it was the same for everyone. At least this time we didn't have to travel at all, unlike the Monaghan game when we were almost there. Going back to my playing days I can't recall any game being called off. Although maybe a few should have been.

"I played a few games on snow and ice that should have been called off. We played a league game up in Ballinascreen and the conditions were terrible. We were like Bambi on ice, the mentality back then was that you just got on with it. It was probably dangerous thinking back. Nowadays the health and safety of every player and the supporters travelling to these games has to be taken into account so the correct decision was taken last weekend.

"Probably, I'd say Croke Park was playable last Saturday evening, but it's the conditions around the stadium and for supporters getting to Dublin that had to be factored it. Anyway, the game is back on for this Sunday and we're really looking forward to it."

Not a whole lot has changed in the extra week last week's postponement has brought except that it has bought a couple of players a little more time to recover from injury. Paul Geaney suffered a concussion late in the defeat to Galway last Sunday week and didn't train on the subsequent Wednesday. Sheehy says the Dingle man is going through the 'return to play' protocols for all concussed players and was to be further assessed last night (Tuesday) at training. The expectation is that Geaney will be fine to face the Dubs.

Ronan Shanahan suffered a hamstring injury in the Galway game and wouldn't have been fit to play Dublin last Saturday night, but Sheehy is "hopeful" that his Austin Stacks' club mate will be recovered to resume his defensive duties in Croke Park on Sunday.

Kevin McCarthy is expected to be the only new addition to the match day panel for Sunday, after the Kilcummin man was in the plans to travel to Dublin for last week's Round 5 game against the All-Ireland champions.

Beyond that the list of absentees remains the same, with Gavin White, Tadhg Morley, Killian Young and Gavin Crowley among those who are at different stages of rehabilitation from injury.

While the performance as much as the result against Galway was very disappointing for the Kerry management and players, Sheehy expects a positive response against Dublin. The All-Ireland champions are unbeaten after four rounds and sit atop the division on eight points, ahead of Galway on scoring difference, and looking destined to reach their sixth consecutive National League final regardless of next Sunday's result.

"Dublin are flying and I'd say they're playing within themselves a little bit," is Sheehy assessment of Jim Gavin's team. "Their appetite is amazing and that's something we have to match on Sunday. It's going to be a huge test for us, but it's a great game for us. It's more exposure for the young lads in Croke Park, and that's what we want.

"We would be disappointed with the performance against Galway. In fairness to Galway they were very well organised and played very well, but we'd have felt afterwards that we just didn't perform as a team. That's something we need to address for the next day. Obviously we'll be going out to win the game against Dublin, but at the very least we must produce a positive performance. That's the minimum requirement at this level,"Sheehy said, who added that relegation talk won't feature in the camp whatever the result on Sunday.

"Not at all, we'll leave that for ye fellas in the media. We've two more games after Sunday and we'll focus on them. I think we played well in the first two games, a bit patchy at times against Donegal the first day out, but we played really well above against Mayo. We played well in the second half against Monaghan but the Galway performance was poor. The League is a competition really where you want to be trying out some young fellas and working on a few things for the year ahead. The young lads are learning something new every day they're out, learning about the pace of the game at the top level, and Dublin will be a great game for those new lads, especially playing in Croke Park. We're all really looking forward to it now again after last weekend's postponement."

It hardly needs to be stated that despite Dublin's utter dominance over every other county - Kerry included - in the Championship in the last three years, Kerry's last two competitive meetings against Dublin have netted the Kingdom a win and a draw. The win in last April's League final in Croke Park at least proves that Dublin aren't invincible, while the drawn game in Tralee a few weeks earlier showed that Kerry could mix it physically with the Dubs.

With so much change in personnel in the meantime on both sides, but especially with Kerry, Sunday's encounter really is a whole new ball game. Whatever the Kerry management think they're learned in the last six weeks about the temperament for the big time of David Clifford, Seán O'Shea, Jason Foley, Micheál Burns and a few others, they are certain to learn a whole more by tea-time on Sunday.

In some way Sunday could be Clifford, O'Shea et al's senior football baptism of fire, but as long as they don't get irreparably burned - and why should they? - then this could be the most instructive 70 minutes of football for Kerry this side of August.

And the result? Seven days ago we came down on the side of a Dublin win and nothing has happened in the meantime to suggest the blue beast in the east won't make it five wins from five thus far in the League.