Tuesday 16 January 2018

All-Ireland SFC Final preview

Damian Lawlor

DUBLIN v KERRY: Croke Park, 3.30: Dublin, having come through a mentally draining test against Donegal, are finally ready to lift the Sam Maguire after 16 years of trying.

Their team ethic now comes before anything else, Diarmuid Connolly has lent significant support to the Brogan brothers, their free-taking woes have been eased and they have stopped shipping serious leaks in defence. They are extremely focused and unlikely to cave in early in today's decider.

Since losing to Kerry in 2009, Dublin have been working towards this day. Form has been steady -- they were close to Cork last year, have gone one stage further this time around and winning another Leinster title didn't take too much out of them. In the semi-final they were able to spring reserves, the likes of Kevin McManamon, to get them out of a hole. They boast tremendous pace and work ethic, which could dent a Kerry defence not blessed with pace and one that has leaked scores thus far. Dublin also play to their strengths with short kick-outs and quick deliveries from the back.

But . . . it's their first All-Ireland final for 16 years while it's Kerry's ninth in 12. Jack O'Connor's outfit have the know-how to perform on the biggest stage, with players like Tom O'Sullivan (who will pick up Connolly) and Aidan O'Mahony capable of saving their best displays for afternoons like this. They have Paul Galvin ready to enter and stir the crowd and tempo in a flash.

Kerry can plug those holes in their defence with astute match-ups, like Marc ó Sé on Bernard Brogan or Killian Young on Alan Brogan. O'Connor is like Brian Cody, exceptional at getting the match-ups right. It has been said that Kerry's midfield is weak, but Dublin's is not as strong as it once was either.

Yes, Kerry will need to hit top form -- like they did in the first half against Cork -- but their captain, Colm Cooper, is coming good at the right time. Kieran Donaghy will surely answer his critics today; Darran O'Sullivan is a contender for Footballer of the Year, while Kerry would not swap Declan O'Sullivan for anyone.

Kerry are more ruthless in attack than the Dubs and even though their defence and midfield may not be 100 per cent, they can get away with it. But if Bernard Brogan is tied down, can Dublin manage? Equally, if Bryan Cullen and Paul Flynn go too deep in defence they'll only invite the Munster champions onto them.

Those expecting a free-flowing and high-scoring encounter might be sorely disappointed. This could be a dogged one, slugged out until the bitter end. There's still a chance that Dublin's power and pace will expose Kerry, but the Kingdom should have more than enough to compensate up front. Kerry also want to win this one for their captain.

Verdict: Kerry

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