Sunday 19 November 2017

Dublin v Kerry: The dark side of a great rivalry

Feisty league clash suggests that players were raising physical stakes in anticipation of a September rematch

Dublin’s Bernard Brogan and Emmet O Conghaile tussle off the ball with Kerry’s Peter Crowley and Brendan Kealy, in front of referee Eddie Kinsella, during this year’s league match
Dublin’s Bernard Brogan and Emmet O Conghaile tussle off the ball with Kerry’s Peter Crowley and Brendan Kealy, in front of referee Eddie Kinsella, during this year’s league match
Kerry captain Kieran Donaghy
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If the Dublin-Kerry Allianz League clash is any indication of what's to come in Sunday's All-Ireland final, referee David Coldrick and his officials will need to be at the peak of their game.

Eddie Kinsella, last year's All-Ireland final referee, had to call on all his experience to keep order in a fiery contest in Killarney last March, which Kerry won by two points.

It was only their second win in eight league and championship clashes with Dublin since the start of 2010, a victory chiselled out the hard way on a miserable afternoon.

Kinsella flashed 12 cards (one red, four black and seven yellow) and might well have shown some others too.

The steamiest bust-up came right at the end when several players from both sides became involved in a melee, which prompted Kinsella to dismiss Dublin corner-back Michael Fitzsimons on a straight red card.

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Normally, a routine league game would not be regarded as particularly significant in the dynamic between counties but, given the swing in the balance of power towards Dublin since the start of 2010, it appeared that markers were being laid down.

Kerry's poor record in that period left them determined to make a clear statement of intent early in a season when the pair were already installed as clear favourites to meet in the All-Ireland final.

And while Jim Gavin made no direct criticism of Kerry afterwards, he said that his team had played "good, honest football" and that he was pleased with how they had conducted themselves.

"Any hits they got, the came straight back up and played the game and didn't try to influence the referee. All I expect from my players is that if hard challenges go in, they get up and play the game and that they don't get involved with an official, which they didn't, and that they don't try to influence anybody," he said.

His comments were open to the interpretation that Kerry's approach wasn't quite as wholesome. Kerry played with a hard edge, rattling into Dublin all over the pitch.

There had been a growing sense in recent years that Dublin edged the physical side of the battles with Kerry, which may have been a factor in last March's feisty exchanges.

It's not the first time that the great rivalry between the counties took an interesting turn in the physical stakes.

In the 1975 All-Ireland final, Kerry were furious after team captain Mickey Ned O'Sullivan was hacked down by Dublin full-back Seán Doherty as he galloped towards goal. O'Sullivan was knocked out and taken to hospital, where he was detained for several hours.

He had learned the tough lesson that running at the Dublin defence was not good for a forward's health.

However, since Kerry went on to the win the game, it was passed over as "one of those things" that happen in big games.

Back in May 1978, a fundraising game between Dublin and Kerry in New York turned into a really nasty encounter.

Broken noses and split lips spouted blood amid the rain and mud of a flooded Gaelic Park as referee Seamus Aldridge struggled to keep control of what was supposed to be an exhibition game between the best teams in Ireland.

Three players were sent off and several others were lucky to finish the game.

It was later claimed that Kerry had deliberately raised the temperature after being riled by suggestions that Dublin had outmuscled them in the 1976 All-Ireland final and the 1977 semi-final.

Mick O'Dwyer, the then Kerry manager, later claimed there was no deliberate policy "to get stuck into Dublin and show they wouldn't be intimidated."

However, he acknowledged that Kerry had a point to prove after two championship defeats by a team that emerged from obscurity to win three All-Ireland titles in four seasons.

"I was never one to show my hand in a meaningless challenge game, much less one played in New York a month before the championship. At the same time, we weren't going to pushed around either.

"Dublin would have felt that bit superior to us around then. We couldn't stand for that.

"Familiarity had bred a certain level of contempt and, once the rancour set in, the game took on a disturbing life of its own. Fists and mud flew, lads were sent off and recriminations began.

"It got plenty of publicity and certainly whetted the appetite for a likely clash between us in the All-Ireland final later on.

"It also left Kerry feeling that little bit better about ourselves, not just because we had won the game but because we had put down a marker against Dublin," wrote O'Dwyer in his autobiography.

Four months later, Kerry demolished Dublin by 17 points in the All-Ireland final, in what was the first leg of a four-in-a-row. Kerry won seven All-Irelands in the 1978-'86 period, beating Dublin in four of the finals.

On Sunday, Dublin will be attempting to beat Kerry for a third successive time in the championship, something they have never achieved in the 123-year history of the rivalry between the counties.

Also, the bitter memory of conceding 3-18 two years ago, their highest ever championship giveaway rate against Dublin, is still fresh in Kerry minds.

Whether the sulphurous nature of this year's league game was down to the bad conditions or a ratcheting up of the physical stakes with a longer-term aim in mind will never be known for certain, but it has certainly added to the intrigue surrounding Sunday's game.

So too have comments from Kerry captain Kieran Donaghy, who after describing Rory O'Carroll as one of the best full-backs in game, added a comment which Dublin might feel was designed with the referee in mind.

"He (O'Carroll) is unbelievable at being close to you all the time.

"He doesn't really have an interest in playing football or the game, he just wants to get close and pull and drag you as much as possible and to get away with it at the same time," said Donaghy.

Irish Independent

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