Kerry need to beat Dublin soon to keep rivalry alive

National Football League Division 1 Round 3: Kerry v Dublin, Saturday, February 9, Austin Stack Park, Tralee, Throw-in at 7pm, Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois), (live on RTE & eir Sports 1)

Paul Geaney of Kerry with Philip McMahon of Dublin. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Paul Geaney of Kerry with Philip McMahon of Dublin. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Paul Brennan

Next Saturday when Kerry host Dublin it will be the first time in a decade that the Kingdom will take more League points into the fixture than their opponents. Whether that means anything come throw-in time on Saturday evening is debatable, but it is another illustration of just how much this rivalry has flipped on its head and where exactly the dominance has resided for much of those last ten years.

In 2009 when the counties met in Round 6 of that year's League Kerry had collected a maximum 10 points while Dublin had just three. The teams fought out a tough 1-15 apiece in Parnell Park that year, and it was the only point Kerry dropped in that campaign as they topped Division One with 13 points - seven ahead of Dublin who narrowly avoided relegation - before going on to win the League Final against Derry a couple of weeks later.

Just over four months later Kerry mauled Dublin to the tune of 17 points in an All-Ireland quarter-final that gave rise to Dublin manager Pat Gilroy's famous 'startled earwigs' comment about his team. Seven weeks after that Kerry were All-Ireland champions.

The Kerry versus Dublin rivalry, for what it was, seemed a romantic notion based around a couple of Dublin wins in the mid to late 1970s, but otherwise it was a rivalry in name only given Kerry's utter dominance over the Dubs from 1978 onwards. Although it should be remembered that there wasn't one Championship meeting between the counties through the entire 1990s, and it was only through those memorable All-Ireland quarter-finals in Thurles in 2001 that the rivalry was rekindled.

It's also worth remembering (or forgetting as far as Kerry is concerned) that since that 2009 demolition of Dublin, the Championship record between the two counties stands at 4-0 in Dublin's favour. A pair of All-Ireland finals (2011 and 2015) and a pair of All-Ireland semi-finals (2013 and 2016) have been conceded to the Dubs that has turned the rivalry into somewhat of a procession in their direction.

The National League results between the counties in the last 10 years don't make for good reading either from Kerry's point of view. The Kingdom have won just two of those fixtures (2012 and 2015) with Dublin coming out on top six times. Twice the points have been shared, that 1-15 apiece draw a decade ago, and the memorable 0-13 to 0-13 stalemate in Austin Stack Park two years ago when Paul Mannion fired a 74th minute equaliser on the night Dublin equalled Kerry's 80-year old 34-game unbeaten run across League and Championship.

The counties did meet in back to back Division One finals in 2016 and 2017, with Dublin winning the former and Kerry exacting revenge a year later, to make their League meetings since 2009 read: Dublin 7, Kerry 3, with 2 draws.

There was a time when Kerry barely gave the National League a second thought but still managed to pick up titles here and there as they amassed their All-Ireland titles. In Mick O'Dwyer's time the League was for slimming arses and trimming tummies before the real business of the Championship kicked in. Indeed, it was only in the Noughties and in Jack O'Connor's time as manager that the correlation between winning a League title and following it up with the All-Ireland - as Kerry did in 2004, 2006 and 2009 - took on a new significance.

Of course, Kerry didn't need a League title in 2014 before winning Sam Maguire later that year, and the League title in 2017 wasn't a precursor to All-Ireland success the following September, but as far as any Kerry Dublin rivalry is concerned Kerry really need a win, and soon. In the last 10 years across League and Championship Kerry have beaten Dublin just three times 16 fixtures.

That's not something that will or should trouble Peter Keane next Saturday but sooner rather than later Kerry need to start beating Dublin in games.

That opportunity presents its this weekend and while a win would be most welcome the devil will be in the detail of how Kerry perform. Eleven months ago ahead of this corresponding fixture in Croke Park we cautioned that Dublin would not only want to beat Kerry but inflict such a beating that it would set one of their main threats back on their arses, to use the Páidí vernacular. The Dubs put 12 points on Kerry that evening and one could argue that Kerry never quite recovered from that for the rest of the year.

With that in mind Peter Keane and his management team must set Kerry up so as to not ship a heavy defeat like that, not in Tralee. Keane wants his team to be hard to beat and this will be an early but true test of that.

So far Kerry have kept two clean sheets with regard to goals but whatever team Dublin put out will be a far different proposition than what Tyrone and Cavan offered in respect of teeth in their attack.

Tyrone were absolutely toothless in Killarney, and while Cavan probed the Kerry defence to good effect at times they had no forward of the class of Brian Howard, Cormac Costello, Niall Scully, Paul Mannion, Dean Rock, Con O'Callaghan, Paul Flynn or Paddy Andrews who have all played some part in Dublin's first two games. They are the players who will inform Keane about Jack Sherwood's bona fides at full back, Paul Murphy's at centre back and Shane Ryan as a credible option in goals.

It's possible that David Moran will start at midfield where Dublin will have two of Brian Fenton, James McCarthy and Michael Darragh MacAuley.

Perhaps the most interesting duel, should it come to pass, will be that of Jonny Cooper at centre back marking Sean O'Shea. Cooper is fast emerging as one of the very best defenders in the country, while Kerry will need the very best out of O'Shea if they're to really trouble the Dubs on the scoreboard.

Are Dublin favourites to win? Yes.

Can Kerry win? Yes.

Strap yourself in for a hell of a game.