Colm O'Rourke: 'Even Mayo got chances during the Dublin blitz. Kerry will take them if they get the same ball'
Today could be one of those days. It may not rank in world affairs like the bombing of Pearl Harbour or Neil Armstrong walking on the moon but in this small tip of the world a group of men have the chance to make history. That thought can weigh heavily on some, yet in Dublin's case it appears as if the prospect excites rather than daunts them.
Of course, in many respects there is no reason why five-in-a-row should make them more nervous than every player's first All-Ireland appearance. However, young players often handle nerves and pressure better than more experienced men. Maybe as you go along the full import of what you are trying to achieve becomes clearer.
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So when the Dublin players get off the bus in Croke Park today there will be ice in their veins. If not, the action will not be on long before we see whether their feet are made of clay and there is lead in their boots. Nervous energy destroys physical energy. Very often the fittest players can say that there was nothing in their legs, some other force had taken over. There is no way of knowing until the action begins. We will see the pictures on television of players getting off the team buses with earphones that look like the back wheel of a John Deere tractor but we can only guess what turmoil is going on within.
The relief is the game starting. People often say 'anything can happen in a final'. Yes, that is correct. This is what takes place. The best players put all the background noise of preparation and promotion of the last few weeks out of their mind and get on with playing - that is what makes them great players. Others can't cope when the pressure comes on. So, while football is a team game, every individual has a personal battle to win. This may be in marking your man without much involvement in the game, or it could be in high fielding, or getting the killer scores. Every player has to do their job.
This is the way I see it playing out, although the best time to read these thoughts might be after five o'clock!
Kerry know they have a problem with their defence so they will play a sweeper, or keep a lot of bodies back, or have a spare defender - or whatever other terminology you want to call it. Sometimes it is hard to work out which team has decided on a covering player and it often amuses me when people talk about an extra defender. If one team pulls out a forward it automatically means each side has a sweeper.
If Paul Murphy has that role for Kerry he needs to commit to it more than he did in the semi-final when he was running around like a dog chasing parked cars. He is one of Kerry's best players and a big-day footballer who would be better suited to an attacking wing back role. Sometimes, though, needs must. Kerry will need to have specific markers - Tadhg Morley on Ciarán Kilkenny, Tom O'Sullivan on Paul Mannion - but that leaves either Gavin Crowley or Jason Foley to mark Con O'Callaghan. I don't think that bird will fly. O'Callaghan is now like an Olympic wrestler with quick feet and goals on his mind. Neither of those men will stop him.
On the opposite side Dublin will have planned just as meticulously, maybe even more so. General Gavin does not leave many things to chance, even if the nature of the game means there are always many uncontrollable factors. The best players become decision makers on the hoof and great teams have a fair idea of what everyone else is thinking and what way they will react in certain situations. As a result they can work out three or four passes ahead and often Dublin goals are a direct result of several players knowing where to be and what to do in set circumstances. Dublin will probably put Jonny Cooper on David Clifford to mark him, and annoy him as well. Mick Fitzsimons may take Paul Geaney with John Small on Stephen O'Brien while Jack McCaffrey would be suited to Gavin White. It would be Usain Bolt against Ben Johnson. If Tommy Walsh appears, Philly McMahon will be his minder. It may leave James McCarthy on Sean O'Shea, the best outfield player of the last decade on a young man of rich promise. It is asking a lot of O'Shea to be a man among men. His day will come, Kerry hope it is today.
Kerry will get chances. The Dubs will have a fluid sweeper system but every team gets plenty of room up front. Even when Mayo were getting the Dublin blitz early in the second half they had chances in that 10-minute period. They just did not take them. The Kerry forwards will if they get the same ball.
Then there is what is an intriguing battle at midfield. The Kerry position seems to be that they need someone to mark Brian Fenton so David Moran can play his own game. Fenton is a bit like Alexander the Great or maybe even Attila the Hun, this giant immoveable and indestructible presence who conquers all before him. It looks like he will play forever for Dublin and never get beaten.
The other side of this would be for Kerry to say to David Moran, "take Fenton and beat him". In the air, on the ground, covering back and getting scores too. It would be some boost for Kerry if that happened. They could break out the 1982 Champagne that was never drunk. In truth, Fenton is unlikely to be contained for a whole game. Moran is a great player and Kerry rely too much on him. Fenton, though, is as good as any midfielder who ever put on boots in an All-Ireland final.
When Kerry are finished with these headaches they should also consider someone to ride shotgun on Brian Howard, who is close to being footballer of the year, unless some Kerry man finds inspiration today and seizes the crown. Howard has become a moving target for many of Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs and when he gets the ball he has the knack of sucking in defenders and, with one quick change of direction, breaks through the outer cordon. Kerry do not have anyone as good as him in the fluid midfield area.
Kerry need to pinch some of the Dublin kick-outs. It has to be all duck or no dinner for the Kerry press. Even one man not doing his job will allow Cluxton to start an attack. Kerry have had success in this regard before and need to plunder a few today, and then score goals. I do not see Kerry winning without at least two goals. The Kerry motto should be the opposite of the old timers' view that said to take your points and the goals will come. It should be 'go for goals and take the odd point'.
Dublin will seek to give Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan the wobbles. He has had his blunders under high balls but even his kick-outs have had fans putting on oxygen masks. Against Tyrone he stayed calm in the last quarter and got most of them away short but he looked dodgy. Today there will be a lot of defenders who won't want him giving them a short kick-out as the Dublin forwards are like vultures, and they sense weakness. If Ryan has to pick a couple out of the net it's curtains for the Kingdom.
The moving parts for Dublin are all fine-tuned. Goalkeeper, good defenders, mobility around the middle third, a brilliant free-taker in Dean Rock and a continuous threat of goals. They also keep their wide total very low as the man in a better position always gets the ball and the final shot looks easy. The only one who has permission to score from outside the D is Paul Mannion. Much of the time the defender thinks he has done his job and then bang, the umpire is putting up the white flag. Of course Clifford is capable of that for Kerry, and so is Geaney.
Kerry need to hang in until the last quarter and hope that Dublin's icy calm begins to melt. It would be very interesting to see Kerry five points up in the last quarter just to judge how good Dublin are as they have not had a hard game for two years. Mick O'Dwyer once said that great champions should be able to put on a big show and more or less blitz a team in the final. It is the glaring difference between the old Kerry team and Dublin now. Kerry put football out of a lot of counties' heads in finals while this Dublin team have staggered home on a couple of occasions. Perhaps it will be today that they rip Kerry apart.
Some Kerry commentators seem to think this young team have nothing to lose. The opposite is the case. They have everything to lose. There is only one All-Ireland every year and they should seize this opportunity. It may never come again. There is no guarantee that this multi-decorated young squad will ever win Sam. The business must start for them today. I played with plenty of young, talented players at both club and county level who contented themselves with the notion that their turn would come. It didn't. There is no next year for ambitious players.
Romantics would like Kerry to strike early and often and force Dublin to find something when under greatest pressure. To do that Kerry must attack, attack, attack. From all angles. Anything less will play into Dublin's hands as they will expect a very cautious Kerry challenge. That approach will not beat Dublin. The more likely outcome is that Dublin will play at a high tempo from start to finish and, because of their superior physical conditioning, will pull away in the final quarter. They also have better subs than Kerry. So when you read this at tea time I expect Jim Gavin will be saying that the lads stuck to the process and eventually wore down a brilliant Kerry team. He may even permit himself a smile, maybe a grin.
Dublin to win by giving their best performance of the year.
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