Wednesday 18 September 2019

Colm Keys: 'Kerry feeling five-in-a-row pressure as much as Dubs'

Winning title in such circumstances would trump anything in Kingdom’s rich heritage

Hanging on: Dublin’s Ciaran Kilkenny appeals for a free during a challenge from Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy in the thrilling 2016 semi-final. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Hanging on: Dublin’s Ciaran Kilkenny appeals for a free during a challenge from Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy in the thrilling 2016 semi-final. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

In assessing the weight of importance Sunday's All-Ireland football final carries, not just for Dublin but for Kerry, it's hard not to revert back to the novel 2007 decider when the Kingdom met their great Munster rivals Cork.

Courtesy of the initiation of qualifiers in 2001, they had met previously in the All-Ireland semi-finals of 2005 and 2006, Kerry winning both with a degree of comfort.

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But this was different. An All-Ireland final always is. And the way Paul Galvin articulated it afterwards left no one in any doubt that Kerry looked at potential defeat as some form of existential threat to their own deep heritage in the sport.

"I felt myself that everything Kerry football stood for was on the line," said Galvin in the dressing-room, two-in-a-row complete. "Everything we'd achieved in the last four or five years, and everything we'd achieved in the last 100 years, was riding on that 70 minutes of football."

Losing to Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh is one thing, even losing to them in Killarney, which hasn't happened since 1995, is tolerable. But a first All-Ireland final between them was non-negotiable.

They care deeply about that heritage and tradition in Kerry. As the pre-eminent football county, with 37 All-Ireland titles, they should do.

Which is why the pressure this week, with a first 'five-in-a-row' on the line again, will be felt just as much by Kerry to deny it as it will be for Dublin to achieve it.

When it was last on the line in football, it was, of course, Offaly who brought it crashing to the ground on Kerry with that late Seamus Darby goal. But while Offaly had been coming for the previous two to three years, there was no great history between the counties, certainly none that equates to what has existed between Dublin and The Kingdom.

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Thus, Offaly relished spoiling the party and were free from the burden of anything in the past.

Kerry will also relish scuppering Dublin's attempt to break through that impenetrable ceiling of five successive All-Ireland titles. But they'll do so in the knowledge that if they don't succeed, something will be lost to the county forever, that magical climb to the summit that has been denied to their two greatest teams, 1929-'32 and 1978-'81.

If you were to flip it to hurling, imagine if Tipperary were to add three more All-Ireland hurling titles and if they were facing Kilkenny for a fifth in 2023? Kerry's capacity to respond to something new, to rise to any challenge the game throws up, has weaved its way through decade after decade.

The significance of the 1955 All-Ireland final will be recalled because Dublin were, as they are now, referred to as a 'machine,' having brought Meath's reign as All-Ireland champions to an end in the Leinster final by plundering five goals with tactics that shifted away from traditional man-to-man catch and kick. Kevin Heffernan roamed as a sweeper, alien to the game back then, but a final billed as a clash between urban and rural, radical and conventional, went Kerry's way.

Kerry grappled with Down and their advances in teamwork and preparation in the 1960s before eventually wrestling control at the end of the decade and into the next one.

They met and rose to the challenge of the power and athleticism of Heffernan's Dubs in the 1970s, producing eight All-Ireland titles in 12 years and while the chill winds from Ulster in the 2000s took a long time to calm, they eventually got there, trumping massed defence with their 2014 All-Ireland win.

But Dublin today provide a conundrum for Kerry, and the rest of the game, that is much, much more difficult to find a solution to.

Four times in this decade they have met in championship games, twice in All-Ireland finals, twice in All-Ireland semi-finals, and each time the men from the capital have had an edge.

They should never have lost in 2011, should never have been close in 2015 but did manage to cause consternation in the 2013 and 2016 All-Ireland semi-finals.

Two goals just before half-time to give them a five-point lead, in hindsight, came at the wrong time, prompting a second half of football from the champions only surpassed the last day against Mayo.

Madness

Another 10 minutes of madness will be required again, only this time Kerry's timing will need to be better. Trouble is, Jim Gavin's men look a different proposition now than they were then.

The general acceptance that Dublin will, routinely, be too good for Kerry and win a fifth in succession somehow disguises how big a game it is for both counties. Kerry are, arguably, best placed to finally bring the machine to a halt because of their emerging talent and their material and playing resources. And the consensus is that time is on their side.

But their identity and heritage still make this as big a game as they have ever played. If Galvin saw an All-Ireland final with Cork as having 100 years of history riding on it, what must it be like now? Not that they'd want to draw that kind of attention upon themselves this week.

Still, it's there. And bringing Dublin's championship run to a grinding halt now would be every bit as euphoric as losing to Offaly was traumatic 37 years ago. That brings its own pressures.

Irish Independent

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