Wednesday 21 February 2018

Alan Brogan: Keeping emotions at bay key for Dublin to see off Kerry side hungry to end mini-hoodoo

Pressure on Kingdom to end losing streak gives Dublin extra edge for fierce physical battle

Kerry's Aidan O'Mahony (left) is shown a red card by referee Eddie Kinsella for a foul on Jonny Cooper during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final Croke Park
Kerry's Aidan O'Mahony (left) is shown a red card by referee Eddie Kinsella for a foul on Jonny Cooper during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final Croke Park
Kerry have the element of surprise as Jim Gavin won't be quite sure what Eamonn Fitzmaurice will have up his sleeve. Photo: Dáire Brennan

Alan Brogan

I became great friends with Marc ó Sé during the time we studied together in NUI Maynooth and in the years that have followed. We often speak on the phone and have lengthy chats about football and other things.

But there has always been a line that we do not cross. We both respect that there is football stuff we can't really discuss with each other. It never stopped us having a good slag about it, although I didn't envisage Marc would collect four Celtic Crosses before I managed to get my hands on my first.

As with everybody I've ever met from Kerry, he was very humble about this fact. As we shook hands after our crushing loss to Kerry in 2009, Marc's words to me were: "Keep going, you are too good not to win an All-Ireland."

It may seem like a small thing, and it did little at the time to ease the pain, but it was a sign of the respect that exists between both counties.

It's ironic that a vivid memory from my youth is of visits to Listowel when my dad would take us to the lane out the back of my grandparents' house on William Street to practise high catches off the wall, long kick passes down the narrow laneway, or shooting for goals against the wooden gates. Often the neighbours, including the great John B Keane, would come out for a bit of banter, telling us Dubs to clear off and stop the racket.

Little did they know that in our young minds we were preparing for great battles to come against the Kingdom. We loved it down there and there is no doubt that this exposure to the Kerry way of football wove its way through our playing careers.

A lot of this respect and those friendships have fostered this great rivalry that exists now, more than ever, and today will bear testament to this.

Kerry go into this encounter having lost three championship games to Dublin on the bounce, unheard of down that way, and the current players will be smarting from this stat. Losing four in a row to Dublin is not a record that these Kerry players will want to be remembered for.

The likes of Gooch, Aidan O'Mahony, Marc ó Sé and Kieran Donaghy have already cemented their places as Kerry greats, but these are proud men and I know this is hurting them. I can sense from some of the soundbites coming from Kerry last week that they are sick to their teeth of hearing about it; this goes from current players like Bryan Sheehan to ex-players like the Bomber Liston. For that reason, I don't expect a nice, clean, open game of football. Rightly or wrongly, those three defeats are serving as extra motivation for Kerry and I expect the opening 20 minutes to be as tough and as physical as any encounter we have seen between these two powerhouses.

There is no question that Dublin are going to get the mental and physical test they need to show that they can be considered one of the all-time great teams.

Kerry have the element of surprise going into this one, as Jim Gavin will not be quite sure what Eamonn Fitzmaurice will have up his sleeve and his players will face challenges and be forced to make decisions on the field that they haven't had to deal with up to now.

If Kerry push up on Cian O'Sullivan, what will Dublin do? Will they go man-to-man or will they drop a different man back to sweep in front of the Kerry full-forward line? It will be fascinating to see how it plays out. I've no doubt Kerry will bring a physicality and a pace to the game that will also be a step up from what Dublin have faced to date. Brian ó Beaglaoich and Tadhg Morley add a youthful pace to the Kerry half-back line that I hope is utilised.

The only way to keep Diarmuid Connolly quiet is to keep him going backwards. Peter Crowley will probably tag Connolly today, but if he lets him dictate where he plays and the pace he plays at it could be a long afternoon for the Kerryman. Lee Keegan is probably the one man who has nullified Connolly's attacking prowess to any extent, not necessarily by defending him but by keeping him on the back foot by attacking the Dublin half again and again. Connolly is honest and won't shirk his defensive duties.

Read More: Tommy Conlon: Dublin seem content in the knowledge that they will ride out the Kingdom’s storm

The two full-forward lines could have huge parts to play. Both have the potential to ignite and win this game for their counties. Bernard's form line over the years suggests that after a quiet day such as he had against Donegal, he usually bounces back with a display in the following game. I expect no different today.

Paddy Andrews looks to be coming back to last year's form after an injury and he will feature heavily. In Paul Geaney and James O'Donoghue, Kerry have match winners. Throw Kieran Donaghy into the mix and Kerry certainly have enough of a forward threat to cause headaches.

Despite being named in the starting 15 I think it would be a wise move to keep Colm Cooper in reserve. He struggled last year to keep tabs on Philly McMahon going forward and with 20 minutes to go, what a lift it would be for the Kerry crowd to see the Gooch entering the fray.

Looking at the Kerry team on paper, there is quality all over the place. I wouldn't make Dublin overwhelming favourites here by any means, the hunger in Kerry to end this mini-hoodoo Dublin have over them is enormous.

This hoodoo has been the topic of choice in all the conversations I had last week about the match. Jim Gavin will like this as it heaps pressure back on to the Kerry boys - the longer they go without a win against Dublin, the greater the pressure will become.

Considering the stranglehold they had over us in my early career, I never thought I'd see the day when players and supporters in the Kingdom would be feeling the hurt of being on the receiving end. This is what makes Kerry so dangerous today. Known as the aristocrats of Gaelic football, they won't care how this game looks to spectators as long as they can shake the Dubs come 5.30pm.

Read More: Kerry can draw hope from 1978 ahead of mammoth battle with Dublin at Croke Park

I know Marc well and I played international rules with Donaghy and O'Mahony. When those boys take the field today you will see the passion that has made them great. Depending on how the game goes, it may be the last time we see them in the green and gold and if they die, they will die with their boots on.

If it is to be the last hurrah for them, as a Dub I would thank them for what they have brought to Gaelic football over the last 15 years.

I'll be sorry to see them go if that's how it unfolds, but I can't see this Dublin team being as sentimental as me. They have a job to do and with all due respect, they won't want a fairy-tale ending for these great Kerrymen.

There's so much at stake here for so many different reasons. Dublin need to keep the emotion at bay and be mentally ready for the battle. If they do that, they should have enough to see them through.

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