Dubs have learned how to rule Kingdom
KERRY footballers head for Croke Park tomorrow night facing up to a challenge that nobody would have thought remotely likely to appear on the horizon when they sentenced Dublin to one of their most embarrassing defeats in championship history in August 2009.
Kerry won that All-Ireland quarter-final by 1-24 to 1-7 en route to winning the title, leaving Dublin with a confidence deficit which many thought would take years to replenish.
However, such has been the transition in Dublin's fortunes that, 30 months on, they begin the new season as All-Ireland champions, while seeking a fourth successive win over Kerry. It's rare for any county to record three consecutive wins over the Kingdom, but Dublin achieved it between February 2010 and last September.
The margins were tight (two points, one point, one point), but, significantly from a Dublin viewpoint, they held their nerve on each occasion, which was in marked contrast to the 2009 quarter-final shambles when they'd been beaten by the end of the first quarter.
Dublin's initial step on the recovery route was taken in Killarney two years ago this weekend when they recorded a first away league win (1-12 to 1-10) over Kerry in 28 years with a new-look team. It included Rory O'Carroll, Philip McMahon, James McCarthy, Michael Darragh Macauley and Kevin McManamon -- players who have gone on to make a huge contribution to Dublin's resurgence under Pat Gilroy.
That win also coincided with the launch of Dublin's new approach to the league, which yielded 11 wins, one draw and three defeats in the 2010/'11 seasons.
That compares very favourably with the previous three years. They won only two league games (Division 1) in 2009, were in Division 2 in 2008 and won just six of 14 Division 1 outings in 2006/'07.
Dublin again beat Kerry in last year's league (3-10 to 1-15 in Croke Park), another victory which helped solidify their self-belief, although nobody could have predicted that it would be the forerunner to their grittiest performance for years when they rescued what appeared to be a lost cause in the All-Ireland final.
Once again they won by a point (1-12 to 1-11), proving that they no longer had any psychological hang-ups against Kerry.
Now, they head for their first real competitive outing as All-Ireland champions, hoping to extend their period of superiority over Kerry, who will be very anxious to avoid a fourth defeat in six games in Croke Park, having lost to Dublin twice last year and Down in the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final.
Their wins came against Limerick and Mayo in last year's All-Ireland quarter and semi-final.