Ciarán Whelan breaks down the key areas of where Sunday's All-Ireland SFC final will be won and lost
There is something extra special about Dublin versus Kerry championship clashes.
Over the decades they have had everything in terms of history, tradition, colour and controversy - this Sunday's could have all of that and more.
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It’s an intriguing battle we have ahead of us this weekend.
The game is bursting with potential and here, I’ve broken down the key facets of the game: where it could be won and lost.
Did someone say draw?
Con O’Callaghan has the strongest goal instinct in the modern game. If he gets a hint that there is a goal in the making he drops the shoulder and takes his man on.
Some people reckon he suffered a dip in form last year but he still came up with some big, big plays in key games (Galway and Tyrone) and he’ll have given the Kerry management food for thought as they settle on their match-ups.
I think they might go with Tom O’Sullivan as the designated man-marker. It’s a job that requires a player with a low centre of gravity, someone who can both compete for the first ball and, if O’Callaghan gets his hands on it, have the agility to curb his quick change of direction.
Dublin will look to him to maybe strike an early psychological blow on Sunday.
Dublin have scored 17 goals (in seven games) this summer, compared to Kerry’s seven goals (six games), with ten different goal-scorers on target - O’Callaghan (4), Brian Fenton (3), Michael Darragh Macauley (3), Cormac Costello, Dean Rock, Ciarán Kilkenny, Niall Scully, Philly McMahon, Jack McCaffrey and Eoghan O’Gara with one each.
That’s a very impressive spread of scorers and Kerry could have their hands full trying to quell that collective threat.
Dublin’s scoring surge at the start of the second half in their All-Ireland semi-final victory over Mayo had everyone talking.
They scored 2-6 without reply in a golden 12-minute spell. However, it’s not the first time they have shown that ability to go for the jugular and turn a game around.
In last year’s All-Ireland decider they, once again took their time to settle, but then their full-court press totally boxed Tyrone in.
Jim Gavin’s men trailed 0-1 to 0-5 by the 16th minute but by the 27th minute they had a firm grip on the game and led 2-5 to 0-7, with goals from Paul Mannion (penalty) and Niall Scully, following great work by O’Callaghan.
When Dublin get a goal they look to sow doubt into their opponents’ minds and go for the jugular by pressing the opposition kick-outs.
Last year Dublin targeted Niall Morgan’s kick-outs in the second quarter of the game.
Kilkenny forced a turnover which ignited the move for the Mannion penalty, then Kilkenny won a break off a Morgan kick-out for Rock to point.
The pressure was maintained for Brian Fenton to emerge with the next restart and Rock tagged on another score as Dublin totally lifted the tempo.
I expect them to go after Shane Ryan’s kick-outs this Sunday. Ryan has enjoyed good solid displays on his recent visits to Croke Park but when Donegal applied pressure he did seem to get rattled. Dublin will see if there is a vulnerability.
ALL-IRELAND FINAL EXPERIENCE
Sometimes younger, less experienced teams can play with the pressure off and really express themselves, I get all that.
Kerry will be hoping to repeat that shock result of the 1975 All-Ireland final when they turned over Dublin, then reigning champions.
However, this Dublin team have shown a great ability not to hit the panic button in All-Ireland finals, even when they are struggling to establish a foothold in the game.
They can deal with adversity and that, for me, outweighs all the other factors.
If you examine the Kerry starting 15 who lined out against Tyrone in their All-Ireland semi-final, the following are new to All-Ireland final Sunday as senior footballers: Shane Ryan, Tadhg Morley, Jason Foley, Gavin Crowley, Tom O’Sullivan, Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Seán O’Shea, Adrian Spillane, David Clifford and Killian Spillane. It could be a factor.
Obviously, several of the Kerry team have experienced victory in All-Ireland MFC deciders but can they hold their nerve for 70-plus minutes on Sunday?
Both sides have excellent forward lines so Kerry will need to establish the upper hand at midfield - they’ll need to stop Fenton in his tracks.
Goalkeeper Ryan will have to be more creative with his long kick-outs. As Dublin showed against Mayo, they can erect a wall across the middle of McCarthy, Howard, Fenton and Macauley.
However, Kerry showed the exact same ability against Mayo in their Super 8s clash in Fitzgerald Stadium, so they won’t fear the challenge they face in that department.
But, as far as I can see it, Dublin still possess greater power, physicality and the two-footed ability of their forwards can put Kerry on the back foot and perhaps force them into a tactical rethink as the game progresses.
MAKING A FAST START
One aspect of Dublin’s play this summer that must be a cause for concern is the frequency of their slow starts.
Ok, you can only play as well as you are let but there has been, from a blue perspective, an inertia about some of their early play. It was evident against Meath, Cork and Mayo in particular.
The day will come when you click that switch and the turbos just don’t fire. In Dublin’s last five All-Ireland deciders they scored a paltry 1-6 from play in the opening quarter. They will look to rectify this.
The movement, vision and distribution of Kerry’s attack against Mayo was top class and in David Clifford, Seán O’Shea, Paul Geaney and Stephen O’Brien they have players on top of their game.
Add the impact of Tommy Walsh, either from the start or off the bench, and Dublin will be stretched to their capacity. The men from the Kingdom will need to be brave and not sit off Dublin.
A fast start by Kerry could fill them with the energy and self-belief to launch a major tilt at wresting back the Sam Maguire from Dublin’s hold.
NEED TO SCORE GOALS
Kerry have rattled the onion sack seven times this summer - with six different scorers, Paul Geaney (2), Seán O’Shea, Stephen O’Brien, Tom O’Sullivan, James O’Donoghue and Brian Ó Beaglaoich (one each). I think they’ll need two goals to defeat the Dubs.
They have an electric forward division and in David Moran and excellent ball-winner and distributor further out the field.
The understanding between their two youngest hot properties - O’Shea and Clifford - is telepathic, something they perfected having played minor together for two years.
The Kingdom will need to ask questions of Dublin’s defensive game. Most opponents of Dublin seem to be too conservative and rigid with fear that if they commit too much to attack they will be picked off on the counter-attack.
Kerry don’t lack in the self-belief or skill department and Dublin can expect a greater challenge in defence than anything they have faced so far this summer – or last summer.
I don’t think they’ll go with Tommy Walsh from the start as I anticipate a curve ball being thrown at Dublin at some stage in the second half.
In the 2016 semi-final Kerry rocked Dublin before half-time, applying heat to Stephen Cluxton’s kick-out mixed with some aerial warfare. But the Dubs recovered, reset during the interval and pressed on for victory.
For that reason I expect Kerry to hold something back in terms of a tactical twist in the second period.
CURBING KEY INFLUENCERS
I’ve discussed already the reasons why I think Kerry will give Tom O’Sullivan the task of quelling Con O’Callaghan’s influence. It is one of many potential brilliant head-to-heads.
The key influencers Kerry will be looking to thwart are Fenton, O’Callaghan, Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey (inset below).
I don’t think Peter Keane will want David Moran on Fenton but I think it could be a gamble worth taking.
Speculation is growing that the job on Fenton will be given to Jack Barry – that is a risk. It’s a huge dilemma for the green and gold.
The difference between league tussles in spring and the summer heat of battle at a packed Croke Park is massive and because of Barry’s recent lack of game time, I couldn’t see it working for Kerry.
Tadhg Morley could pick up Paul Mannion after he did well in the second half on Tyrone’s Cathal McShane.
Dublin, likewise, have big decision to make. Will they move James McCarthy into centre field to try move Moran around and break ball off Kerry kick-outs? Will John Small pick up Seán O’Shea, one of Kerry’s key movers in their machine?
Whoever is tasked with marking duties on David Clifford is going to have their hands full. I think Jim Gavin will elect to go with Jonny Cooper, who will try to beat his man to the ball and get involved in some link-play to draw Clifford out the field, away from the danger area.
However, while getting the key match-ups right is critical, it’s important not to become so bogged down in it that you inhibit your own team from playing to their full capacity.
TO SWEEP OR NOT?
Paul Murphy is an excellent footballer, but on the evidence of the Tyrone game I don’t think he is familiar enough with sweeping duties – at least not yet.
I also don’t think Kerry can afford to sacrifice a player of his ability, one who can put his team on the front foot.
Kerry will need to be brave and I’m confident they will be, but if they play a sweeper, as opposed to going man-to-man, it could play into Dublin’s hands and afford the likes of Fenton, Macauley, McCarthy and McCaffrey the opportunity to build up a head of steam and run at the heart of the Kingdom’s defence.
I don’t think the prospect of creating history will unnerve this Dublin team.
During the week I spotted a quote from Philly McMahon in the aftermath of last year’s All-Ireland final glory: "We’ll never get tired of going out playing in Croke Park. We’ll never get tired putting on the Dublin jersey and we’ll definitely never get tired of winning All-Irelands."
By Sunday evening I expect Dublin to have added another title to their roll of honour after an epic tussle.