Tuesday 17 September 2019

Colm O'Rourke: 'Dublin are not unbeatable and they know it, that makes them even harder to handle'

Hitting Dublin with a late sucker punch might be Kerry's best chance of causing a shock

Whoever gets the task of marking Dublin's Con O’Callaghan next Sunday will handed the short straw. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Whoever gets the task of marking Dublin's Con O’Callaghan next Sunday will handed the short straw. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The week before an All-Ireland final has probably not changed very much in 30 years. I played in four finals and a replay and, basically, the routine remained the same.

The work was always completed a week in advance and the rest of the time was about punching in the hours, keeping away from the clowns issuing all sorts of advice and certainly not being concerned with tickets, something which can grate if not sorted early.

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The Dubs will be lost in the big city, but this week will be harder for Kerry players.

I always gave one of my brothers the tickets and that was the end of it. My wife, parents and sisters got preference and the rest could be in a lottery for all I cared.

One Christmas I put on a jacket I had not worn for a while and found two terrace tickets for the All-Ireland final.

They had probably been promised to some poor soul who was then too polite to ask me for them close to the game.

Ciaran Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Ciaran Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile

That's a proper supporter! If someone bothers a player near to Sunday they should be told, impolitely, where to go.

Most teams now go away for the weekend before the final for a combination of training and relaxation.

This is where the final touches are put to video analysis and all counties have one or a number of people who work in combination with management and players to focus on particular issues.

Dublin are brand leaders in this regard and players are expected to take a lead in doing an analysis on the strengths and weaknesses of individuals on the opposition before presenting it to the group. It's all about leadership and taking ownership.

Then there are the team selections and the match-ups, the marking arrangements.

At this stage, most people pass no remarks on the selections that are announced during the week because they always change on the day.

It is all silly stuff and I don't think anybody is fooled by it anymore. It will be a minor miracle if both teams line out next Sunday the way they are named.

So players are often being wished well for starting in the team when they know they are not playing but are sworn to secrecy. That is hard.

Kerry will draw lots for marking duties. The short straw could be for Con O'Callaghan or Paul Mannion, who will play inside.

I don't see an obvious Kerry defender who will hold them for a game. Jason Foley struggled, albeit manfully, on Cathal McShane in the semi-final and O'Callaghan is better. He hunts for goals.

Will Kerry boss Peter Keane start Tommy Walsh in Sunday’s decider? Photo: Sportsfile
Will Kerry boss Peter Keane start Tommy Walsh in Sunday’s decider? Photo: Sportsfile

Then there are the other suspects. Paul Murphy would be suited to playing on Ciarán Kilkenny and could get forward to help the attack, but he may be left holding the key to the back door. These are the big decisions.

There seems to be too many good forwards on the Dublin team to go round.

Kerry should also start Tommy Walsh to take the load off some of the young forwards. Size is a benefit and Dublin often struggle to cope with it.

Dublin's defenders are built for speed, so Kerry need to throw a curve ball at them. A few high balls around the goal could cause difficulties, especially if Stephen Cluxton accidentally ended up in the net! He may be the greatest influence on football ever, but a protection order hasn't been placed on him. Not yet anyway.

Dublin will be just as meticulous in their planning, probably even down to who takes the Kerry subs when they come on.

If Walsh or Jack Sherwood do not start, then somebody will get instruction on who is marking them when they do enter the fray.

Nothing in this regard is left to chance, even if it might seem as if Dublin play their football off the cuff.

They do in bursts, but the individual brilliance is all part of the group dynamic. There is no ego trip for anyone.

That is why they keep winning, as everyone toes the party line. If they don't, then they are out.

It helps to have a bench bursting with players of ability and ambition but Dublin have one other big advantage over the last five or six years - they are smart in every way.

There are different types of cleverness and Dublin have all of them. The cute Kerrymen are trotting behind. At least for now.

Most of the ways of stopping Dublin are not contained in the official guide. I once joked to Kilkenny, well half joked, that he would not solo over and back across the field if the players I soldiered with were still around.

Those tactics might get a man arrested now for assault and battery in this era of political correctness. Nevertheless, time moves on and no team has matched the Dubs for sheer athleticism.

That is why they are so dangerous in the last quarter. Most teams are spent at that stage when Dublin turn on the turbo.

Kerry will not lack fitness, but there is a reservoir of endurance which is built up over time. The young Kerry players do not have that yet.

They will have it down the line. Stephen O'Brien has it now but Seán O'Shea and David Clifford need a quiet time in games to get their breath back.

Kerry need more planning this week than Dublin whose tactics have been hardened and finessed over the years. Kerry need another midfielder to help David Moran, a willing horse who carries too much of the load. He will have enough to contend with in another half Kerryman, Brian Fenton. Who will stop Brian Howard or Michael Darragh Macauley? That's another dilemma for Peter Keane.

Ultimately, great players decide finals, not managers. And when commentators criticise managers because of tactical formations, it is generally a reflection on the players' inability to adapt, or maybe they are simply not good enough.

The manager is simply powerless if the players are not up to it.

So when all the talking and planning and scheming and sleeping and eating is done, it still comes down to the best players. One side is proven, the other is full of rich potential.

Dublin are not unbeatable and they know it because there is no such thing.

That makes them even harder to handle as they understand that every team can lose if they are not mentally and physically prepared.

Think of Leicester winning the Premier League from a starting price of 500/1, Munster beating the All Blacks in 1978, Greece winning the European Championship at 150/1 in 2004, the Chicago Cubs winning the world series after 108 years when they finally broke the Curse of the Billy Goat (Mayo have a long way to go by those standards), or Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson when he was 42/1 before the fight in 1990, not to mention a young Cassius Clay beating Sonny Liston in 1964 when people thought he might get hurt, the same worry they had about him when he fought George Foreman ten years later.

So champions do lose when their egos take over, they are unprepared mentally or physically or they are overconfident. It's hard to see Dublin fitting any of those categories.

I have written before about a plague of locusts being needed to beat the Dubs. Perhaps that would not be enough, they might need the other nine plagues that Yahweh, King of Israel inflicted on Pharoah to force him to release the Israelites from slavery. The others were blood, frogs, lice, darkness, wild beasts, pestilence, boils, hail and wind and one other which shall be nameless. That would be a bit much for Croke Park to handle.

There is another way - Kerry to hang in for most of the game and with time almost up, they are two points behind. Then a long high ball from David Moran is punched to the net by Tommy Walsh, two names associated with a famous final 37 years ago when Kerry were on the edge of history. Could they do a Seamus Darby in reverse? History sometimes repeats itself but that is grasping at straws.

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