Doubts over the availability of Con O’Callaghan and James McCarthy leave Sky Blues facing uphill task
Since the start of the championship, there has been a sense of inevitability that Dublin and Kerry would lock horns at the last four stage and so it transpires as the old rivals meet at Croke Park on Sunday afternoon (3.30).
Neither side have overly impressed en route to the semi-finals, breezing through their respective provincial campaigns with barely a glove laid on them before comfortably winning their quarter-final encounters, albeit in a fairly subdued manner.
Certainly, Kerry were asked more questions in their last-eight clash with Mayo, with their opponents’ inability to translate generous amounts of possession into scores proving their undoing once again.
Similarly, Cork were needlessly wasteful in the first half against Dublin, with every wide that they registered seeping the confidence from their challenge, as the Dubs eased home in the second-half despite failing to fire up front.
The absence of Con O’Callaghan through injury was a mitigating factor in Dublin’s lack of punch in attack on that occasion and the wellbeing or otherwise of the Cuala star is likely to be a key deciding factor against the Kingdom next weekend.
“If you look at all of Dublin’s games this year, it’s fairly obvious that Dublin offer far more threat when Con is involved than when he has been missing,” stated former Dublin selector Brian Talty.
“Dublin struggled during the league when Con was out injured but they looked refreshed during the championship once he returned and he offers so much from full-forward not just in terms of his scoring but also as an option in terms of winning possession.
“He makes space for those around him and he allows Dublin to be more direct should they wish to be so and there’s no denying how important he is to the team.
“If he doesn’t make it for next Sunday, Dublin will have to look at the best alternative to replacing him on the edge of the square and Ciarán Kilkenny looks the obvious choice.
“However, you would lose his influence further out the field if that’s the case so there’s no straightforward solution should Con miss out.
“There’s also the concern about the availability of James McCarthy, who also missed the quarter-final win against Cork, and his potential absence next Sunday is just as important to Dublin.
“He brings so much experience and drive to the team and of course, if both players are missing, then that puts added pressure on the bench.
“Earlier in the summer, Dublin were able to introduce the likes of Jonny Cooper and Niall Scully as substitutes but they may well be starting next Sunday and that leaves the bench short of experience.
“Seeing David Byrne back in action last Saturday week was a positive for Dublin however but there are still a lot of question marks around the team at the minute, which isn’t ideal going into a game of this magnitude,” added Talty.
It’s fair to say that Kerry’s team has a more settled look to it at present but they too have their injury concerns to deal with, most notably in the shape of their attacking talisman David Clifford.
Granted, he came through the Mayo encounter in one piece but lacked his customary sharpness at times and Talty is yet to be convinced that the Kingdom have improved sufficiently to quell the nagging doubts over their ability to get over the line and win their first All-Ireland title in eight years.
“It’s fair to say that all four teams remaining will fancy their chances of winning it outright and I don’t think that there are any easy games left for any team.
“I’ve been looking at Kerry this year and I’m just not sure where they have improved as a unit although it’s fair to say that Tadhg Morley has looked impressive since being redeployed to centre half-back.
“Other than that, it’s hard to see where they are better served although it was encouraging from their perspective to see David Moran figure so prominently against Mayo.
“A lot of the focus has been on the threat of the two forward lines but I think the battle around the middle third is going to be key on Sunday.
“Given how important that sector is, I think the performance of Brian Fenton will be central to deciding who comes out on top and the team that forces turnovers and manages that transition from defence to attack better is likely to prevail.
“Assuming he’s fit, it’s likely that Jack Barry will be asked to nullify Fenton’s influence, given he has had some success in doing that previously but will he be sharp enough after returning from injury.
“It’s just such a difficult call to make in terms of who is going to win on Sunday as there are so many variables and uncertainties in terms of team selection.
“It‘s probably a bit more clearcut in the other semi-final on Saturday in terms of personnel anyway and I’m optimistic that Galway have a huge chance of getting into the final.
“If you look back at the quarter-final against Armagh, they were much the better team for the large part and really should have won pulling away.
“Of course, they’ll need to iron out the issues at the back in terms of the high ball but they aren’t the type of deliveries that you would normally be expected to defend against so I’m not too concerned about that aspect.
“I was very impressed with how they went about the game with lads like Kieran Molloy, Dylan McHugh, Cillian McDaid and Robert Finnerty really stepping up to the plate when they were needed.
“Of course, Derry won’t fear them after their excellent year so far and I just feel that both semi-finals could really go down to the wire in what should be a great weekend of championship football,” added Talty.
Kerry have scored 2-69 and conceded just 0-32 en route to Sunday’s semi-final with Dublin with their new-found solidity in defence reflected in an average concession rate of less than eleven points per game.
Seán O’Shea (above) is their top scorer with 0-19, with eight of those points coming from open play, while David Clifford (1-7) and Paul Geaney (0-10) share second spot, albeit with Clifford having played just two matches.
In total, fifteen players have contributed to their tally, with raiding corner-back tom O’Sullivan catching the eye with six points from play in Kerry’s wins over Limerick and Mayo.
Kerry scorers to date: Seán O’Shea 0-19 (0-9f, 0-2 ’45), David Clifford 1-7 (0-4f, 0-2m), Paul Geaney 0-10 (0-2m), Killian Spillane 1-4, Tom O’Sullivan 0-6, Paudie Clifford 0-4, Tony Brosnan 0-4, Stephen O’Brien 0-3, Mícheál Burns 0-3, Brian Ó Beaglaoich 0-2, Gavin White 0-2, David Moran 0-2, Diarmuid O’Connor 0-1, Adrian Spillane 0-1, Graham O’Sullivan 0-1.
Since winning the All-Ireland in 2011, Dublin have advanced to the last four every year, winning on seven occasions, drawing once and losing three of their semi-final encounters.
Mayo have beaten Dublin twice during this period (2012 and 2021), and also pushed them all the way when drawing in 2015 before Dublin won the replay by 3-15 to 1-14.
Dublin have faced Kerry twice over the past decade at this stage, finishing strongly in both 2013 (3-18 to 3-11) and 2016 (0-22 to 2-14) after memorable battles.
Kerry’s have contested seven semi-finals over the past decade with their two losses to Dublin added to by reverses to Tyrone last year and Mayo after a replay in 2017.
They have enjoyed two victories over Tyrone (2019 and 2015) while also defeating Mayo by 3-16 to 3-13 back in 2014.