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Dubs all set to go four-th

Nine teams have put themselves in a position to win four in a row in football but only three succeeded, underlining just how difficult it is. Now it's the turn of Jim Gavin's men to shoot for the elusive target - will they hit it or can a new force emerge?

Alongside GAA president Paddy McFlynn and then Taoiseach Garrett FitzGerald, Kerry captain Jimmy Deenihan holds the Sam Maguire aloft after his team completed the All-Ireland four-in-a-row in 1981. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Alongside GAA president Paddy McFlynn and then Taoiseach Garrett FitzGerald, Kerry captain Jimmy Deenihan holds the Sam Maguire aloft after his team completed the All-Ireland four-in-a-row in 1981. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Rumours and conjecture generally don't increase the store of sporting knowledge, but they have a place nonetheless if, for no other reason, than adding greatly to the gaiety of the public.

So it's in that spirit that a theory behind Dublin's 12-point win over Kerry in their clash in Croke Park in early March is recounted.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice trained the Kerry squad so hard in the run-up to the game that it was hardly surprising they wilted so badly in a second half where they were outscored by nine points.

His rationale went further. He wasn't at all unhappy to see his squad take a heavy beating, if only to emphasise the amount of work that lay ahead if they are to have any chance of wrecking Dublin's four-in-a-row ambitions.

It doesn't matter if that's all pure nonsense, as it still creates an impression that Kerry are up to something in their attempt to prevent their greatest All-Ireland rivals joining an exclusive club.

Obsession

They won't admit it publicly, of course, but blocking Dublin from becoming the first to win the four-in-a-row since Kerry in 1981 is a powerful motivation in green-and-gold territory.

Just as dislodging 'Heffo's Army' in 1975 and stopping them winning the three-in-a-row in 1978 were all-consuming aims for Kerry in the Mick O'Dwyer era, ending Dublin's current monopoly is just as much of an obsession for the current group.

Deep down - and they could well be correct - they believe that they are the only county capable of beating Dublin this year.

It may not have looked that way when Dublin demolished them in March but then few thought that Kerry could assemble an All-Ireland-winning team so quickly after losing a league quarter-final to Meath in March 1975 either.

"In 15 years that I have been reporting on the Kerry scene, I have never seen a worse display by Kerry in an important game. I know there are a lot of Kerry followers who will be just as well-pleased that Kerry are out of the league so that they can concentrate on the championship.

"But if they witnessed last Sunday's debacle, they would have been far from happy because it offered absolutely nothing in the shape of comfort. A disaster, pure and simple. What would Dublin have done to Kerry the way they played last Sunday? I shudder to think," wrote John Barry in 'The Kerryman'.

Six months later, a Kerry team that featured 13 of the side that lost to Meath ran Dublin ragged in the All-Ireland final.

Forty-three years later, similar doubts are being expressed in Kerry about their relationship with an even more successful Dublin team.

"The simple fact of the matter is that we are a long way from getting anywhere near Dublin right now. But what team is? Mayo? Possibly, but after that, it's slim pickings.

"We are playing catch-up. The problem is that we are trying to catch one of the greatest football teams this country has ever produced," wrote former Kerry All-Ireland medal winner Seán O'Sullivan in 'The Kerryman' after this year's defeat by Dublin.

So why the emphasis on Kerry at a time when there's so much excitement in Dublin at the prospect becoming only the fourth team to win a four-in-a-row?

It's down to history and tradition, accompanied by a sense that if any team is to stop Dublin, it will be Kerry.

O'Sullivan mentioned Mayo as most likely to trouble Jim Gavin's history-chasers but even if they recover from the trauma of another early exit in Connacht and match up against Dublin in a knockout game later in the season, it's difficult to see why it would be any different to recent years.

Yes, Mayo have come close to beating Dublin on several occasions, but they didn't see it through. And with no sign of an influx of new talent, why should it any different if they meet Dublin again?

Galway have made rapid progress this year but whether it would be enough to match Dublin on an All-Ireland stage is open to debate.

Their change of style has certainly made them difficult to beat, but that's never enough to win an All-Ireland. They need to be more expansive when the occasion demands, an example being the last 20 minutes of the recent Allianz League final when they had an extra man and wind advantage.

Despite that, Dublin outscored them 6-4 over the remainder of the game. The experience may well prove invaluable for Galway, having showed how much they have to learn.

Still, they can be put on the contender list, unlike Cork, who have drifted so far back as to be unrecognisable from the force that used to reach the last eight with relative ease every year. No Ulster county has reached the All-Ireland final since 2014, nor have any of their representatives seriously stretched Dublin.

Mind you, they have come closer than anyone in Leinster, which continues to be hopelessly lopsided.

That, combined with the back door option for counties that lose in the provincial championships and the fact that Dublin will have two 'home' games in the 'super 8s', leave Dublin in a much more advantageous situation than any of the other nine teams that put themselves in line for the four-in-a-row over the last 118 years.

Four of them didn't even retain their provincial titles, the most recent being Kerry, who lost to Cork in the 1987 Munster final replay.

Galway suffered a similar fate in 1967, having been blitzed by Mayo in the Connacht semi-final. How they and Kerry 20 years later would have loved a second chance.

Ironically, there's a safety net is in place nowadays but Dublin won't need it. They are so far ahead of the rest in Leinster that short of being kidnapped and locked away for the summer, they will pick up a 13th title in 14 seasons.

The four-in-a-row project should be much more difficult but their dominance in Leinster means that Gavin can calibrate training to bring them towards their peak around 'super 8s' time.

Contrast that with Galway and Mayo, who had to be well-primed for May 13, and all of Ulster, which is strewn with banana skins right from the start every year.

Pressure

Kerry's schedule is nicely timed, with no game until June. Even then, they will be at home to Clare who, for all their improvement under Colm Collins, are unlikely to win in Killarney.

And however upbeat Cork and Tipperary may sound, both are some way off Kerry. All of which makes Dublin's four-in-a-row bid easier than it should be. Of course that doesn't mean they won't slip up.

However hard they try to ignore it, the pressure of winning such a rare prize will make things more difficult, especially when room for error disappears after the 'super 8s'.

At that stage, it will be a question of how good the other three contenders are and whether any of them has improved sufficiently to beat Dublin.

There's also the possibility that Dublin may have dropped back a little by then, leaving them vulnerable.

Some of the defensive play against Monaghan and Galway in their last two league games was unconvincing and will certainly have been under Gavin's microscope on the training ground.

Others will have spotted the lapses too, with a view to exploiting them if they reappear later on.

And here's another theory doing the rounds. Kerry are supposed to be already working on plans to counteract Dublin.

Irish Independent

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