Wednesday 23 October 2019

Battle of the four-timers: Kerry attack under Micko gives them the edge over Gavin's Dubs in clash of titans

Mick O'Dwyer and Jim Gavin
Mick O'Dwyer and Jim Gavin
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

There can never be a definitive answer, but that won't stop the question being asked as Dublin set out in pursuit of a place in history: How would their four-in-a-row squad fare against their Kerry equivalents from 1978-81?

Who would win a head-to-head game, or, even more interestingly, a best-of-three series?

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The search for an answer is complicated by an extensive list of varying circumstances, led by the massive changes in the game, particularly in the areas of training, tactics and supporting science.

There's also the tightening up of rules, which offer far more protection in the modern era. Players were only sent off for the most serious offences back then, whereas relatively minor indiscretions are punished by dismissal now.

Kerry's four-in-a-row forwards frequently encountered ‘dark art' treatment, which would not be tolerated today.

Of course, Kingdom defenders were no angels either and if you doubt that, reflect on how Jimmy Barry-Murphy was treated in Munster finals before opting for hurling only.

Comparing teams requires re-imagining two eras. In this case, the key questions are: How would Kerry 1978-81 adapt to modern methods and how would Dublin 2015-18 react to the game as it was played 40 years ago?

In all probability, both would have prospered because they share the most important trait of all: natural talent.

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So who is No, 1? It's the ultimate in subjective judgements, but I would back Kerry to have the edge, largely because of their awesome power from midfield up.




Dublin: S Cluxton

Kerry: C Nelligan

Requirements for goalkeepers were different in Charlie Nelligan's time, when there wasn't anything like the same emphasis on kick-outs as there is in the modern game. Driving the ball as far as possible was important back then, followed by man-to-man battles for possession, whether in the air or off breaking ball.

Stephen Cluxton's scientific approach to kick-outs has played a big role in shaping that aspect of the game at every level, while handing him long-range free-taking duties for a few years was also copied by many counties, some successful, others less so.

As a shot-stopper, Nelligan was probably marginally better than Cluxton, but the latter's overall influence on the game, plus the leadership qualities he has brought to Dublin in a career that's in his 19th year, gives him the edge.

Stephen Cluxton of Dublin during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 6 match between Dublin and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Dublin 9 Kerry 8


Dublin: J Cooper (pictured right), R O'Carroll, P McMahon, M Fitzsimons, D Byrne, C O'Sullivan, E Murchan.

Kerry: J Deenihan, J O'Keeffe, M Spillane, P Lynch.

Mick O'Dwyer has always maintained that Jimmy Deenihan's absence from the 1982 All-Ireland final (he broke his leg in training three months earlier) played a big part in Kerry's five-in-a-row dream being shattered by Offaly.

Deenihan and John O'Keeffe were at No 2 and 3 respectively for the four-in-a row-successes, with Mick Spillane and Paudie Lynch alternating between left corner-back and left half-back.

It was unproductive territory for opposition snipers, especially in All-Ireland finals. Kerry conceded an average of 0-9 in the 1978-81 finals, compared with Dublin's 15.5 points in five finals (including one draw) in 2015-2018.

O'Keeffe is rated one of the best full-backs of all time, having earlier played at midfield and centre-back.

Rory O'Carroll had made quite a name for himself as Dublin full-back, prior to opting out after the 2015 Championship.

Jonny Cooper and Philly McMahon have been the consistent anchors close to the Dublin goal in recent years in a system that's not as zonally rigid as was the case during Kerry's reign in the 1970s-80s. Irrespective of the era, O'Keeffe and Co would have been powerful performers.

Kerry 9 Dublin 8


Dublin: J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J McCaffrey, J Small, J Cooper

Kerry: P Ó Sé, T Kennelly, P Lynch, G O'Keeffe, M Spillane

As with virtually all other aspects of the game, the role of half-backs has evolved significantly, Nowadays they power forward at every opportunity, whereas 10 years ago, sorties across the halfway line were only undertaken if wide tracts of space opened up. Even then, the adventurers remained cautious.

Páidí ó Sé, who later moved to No 2 for Kerry's treble in 1984-86, and Tim Kennelly were ever-present half-backs in Kerry's four-in-a-row run, with Paudie Lynch and Mick Spillane sharing left-wing duties at No 7 and No 4. Ger O'Keeffe played at left half-back in the 1980 All-Ireland final, which Spillane missed.

Kerry captain Páidí Ó Sé is held aloft alongside Mick O’Dwyer after victory over Dublin in the 1985 final Picture: Sportsfile

Dublin's half-backs are more mobile, especially Jack McCaffrey and James McCarthy, while Cian O'Sullivan has long been the great ‘fixer', popping up all over the defence to deal with issues as they arise.

John Small brings a flinty edge, something which came as second nature to Kennelly and Ó Sé in particular.

Dublin half-backs won six All-Star awards in the four-in-a-row run, compared with four for Kerry.

Dublin 9 Kerry 8


Dublin: B Fenton, D Bastick, MD Macauley, J McCarthy, P Flynn

Kerry: J O'Shea, S Walsh.

It was some feat for Kerry to win four successive All-Irelands with the same midfield pairing, but then Jack O'Shea and Seánie Walsh were quite a combination.

O'Shea went on to win three more All-Irelands at midfield in 1984-85-86, while Walsh successfully relocated to full-back. O'Shea won four Footballer of the Year awards in 1980-81-84-85 and was All Stars for six successive seasons (1980-85).

Brian Fenton, who has yet to experience defeat after 28 Championship games, was last season's Footballer of the Year and also has three All-Star awards. Still only 26, there's a lot more to come, but as of now he's still behind O'Shea.

Macauley was Footballer of the Year in 2013, while Bastick and McCarthy have also been formidable presences alongside Fenton.

Kerry 9 Dublin 8


Dublin: P Flynn, D Connolly, C Kilkenny, K McManamon, C Callaghan, D Rock, N Scully, B Howard.

Kerry: G Power, O Moran, P Spillane, T Doyle

As with other lines, Dublin have used more half-forwards than Kerry, for whom Ogie Moran played in all the four-in-a-row finals (and in six others as well), with Ger Power, Pat Spillane (left) and Tommy Doyle starting three each. Spillane also came on as a sub in 1981, having been injured earlier on.

Spillane and Power scored a total 16-60 (all from play) between them in the four-in-a-row run, and while Moran was less prolific, he made a sizeable impact as a link-man at centre-forward. The trio won eight All-Star awards between them in 1978-81, with Spillane honoured in all four years.

Kilkenny, Connolly and Flynn lead the case for Dublin and are now being joined by O'Callaghan and Howard, whose impact is growing all the time.

The best trio from both? Power, Kilkenny, Spillane.

Kerry 9 Dublin 8


Dublin: B Brogan, D Rock, P Andrews, K McManamon, P Mannion, E O'Gara, C Kilkenny.

Kerry: M Sheehy, E Liston, J Egan, T Doyle

Mikey Sheehy and John Egan played in all four finals; Eoin Liston missed the 1980 decider against Roscommon, replaced by utility man Tommy Doyle, who was comfortable anywhere from No.5 to No. 15.

The Sheehy-Liston-Egan combo was almost certainly the best full-forward line of all time. Sheehy's delightful skills, backed up by consistent reliability from frees; Liston's fetching skills, power and finishing and Egan's direct running left opposition gasping for air.

Dublin supporters will argue that it's more difficult for inside forwards nowadays as they have to cope with massed defences, but Sheehy, Liston and Egan, who won seven All-Stars between them in 1978-81, were so good that they would have prospered against any system. Bernard Brogan (in his prime) is the only Dub who would have seriously challenged for a place in Kerry's inside line.

Bernard Brogan made his return for the Dubs in August. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Kerry 10 Dublin 8


Dublin win comfortably, having been able to keep call on such game-changing talent as Kevin McManamon, Michael Darragh Macauley, Michael Fitzsimons, Alan and Bernard Brogan, Cormac Costello, Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn, Eoghan O'Gara and John Small.

Remarkably, Kerry used only five subs in four finals, but then they didn't need to replace the front-liners and only three subs (compared to six now) were permitted back then.

Dublin 9 Kerry 7





Winning eight All-Irelands with Kerry, followed by ending long waits for Leinster glory in Kildare and Laois, before presiding over Wicklow's best ever Championship run, leaves O'Dwyer at No.1 in the all-time managerial lists. However, Gavin's case is ongoing and in terms of the Dublin v Kerry four-in-a-row challenge he is comparable with Micko.


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