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Eoin Liston: Don't be surprised if Kerry pull a rabbit from the hat


Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice


Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice

All year long I have been saying that Dublin look unstoppable and that they're the best team in the country.

I've tipped them to win the All-Ireland from a long way out. So in the final furlong, am I about to change horses?

I haven't been as nervous about travelling up to an All-Ireland final since 2009 when we played Cork.

We knew we had the measure of them, but there was still the worry there about getting beaten by the Rebels because there's so much history between the two counties. It would have been an awful one to lose.

Kerry are going in to an All-Ireland final as underdogs and it's a fantastic position to be in. It's certainly not the usual situation for Kerry teams and it means that they won't lack for any motivation.

And there are reasons why any underdog can win. There are plenty of reasons why the Kingdom can win, why they can retain Sam Maguire on Sunday.

I'm going to look at those now. Partly I'm doing this to console myself and partly so I can settle my nerves so that I can head up to Dublin and enjoy the weekend.


Look at the facts; Kerry are All-Ireland champions and they haven't lost in the championship since 2013. To be labelled the underdog in those circumstances must surely sting the players more than a little bit.

After the drawn All-Ireland semi-final with Mayo a few weeks ago I'm not so sure everyone would have been tipping Dublin in the way they have been in the build-up to Sunday.

You'd have to give them credit for blowing everything out of the water all year long up to that, but it was their first big test and it took everything they had to get over it. What's being said about Dublin this week is being based largely on 15 minutes of football at the end of the replay against Mayo.

It was a fantastic 15 minutes of football, but before that they were just about hanging in there.

Look at Kerry's strengths. They have the best midfield in the country over the last two years; Anthony Maher and David Moran share a house in Cork and they play like best friends - they have a brilliant understanding.

They are both great in the air and the two of them have the ability to kick in quality ball to the forwards. They are a settled partnership and you can't say the same about Dublin's midfield, that has been chopped and changed all year.

Dublin's great strength is Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs, but we got a bit of joy against him in the 2011 final and that gives me cause for hope.

I fully expect Kerry to push up on his restarts in order to make him go long, which will play into Kerry's hands, particularly with players like Johnny Buckley, Tommy Walsh and Bryan Sheehan ready to help out in the middle.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice was in his first year as manager when he lost to Dublin in 2013 and I'm sure he'll admit that he's learnt a lot since then. Certainly, seeing the Dubs in their two games against Mayo will have been a huge benefit.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Kerry win one-in-four Dublin kick-outs and have a real plan, a rabbit in the hat, for what will happen on those other three.

Kerry's discipline has been excellent under Eamonn and this is a big thing for any team - you don't see them mouthing at referees or bawling linesmen out of it and it makes me proud as a Kerryman.

Dublin's discipline this year, and I first noticed it in the league, has left a lot to be desired. How often did we see them against Mayo having frees moved up against them for protesting? A good referee like David Coldrick won't let a team away with that.

Kerry have been susceptible to the high ball this year. Dublin, though, don't have a recognised target man and there's no player of great height that you'd be worrying could exploit that area. Losing Eoghan O'Gara to injury was a major blow for them in that regard because of his physical presence.


Our defence is probably the greatest cause of concern, but I would have confidence that a great coach like Eamonn will have spent the last four weeks working on that. We have always had backs able to play one-on-one and what he'll have been working on is defending as a unit.

We'll see the midfield and wing-forwards getting back to help out and everyone will know their role.

Then there's Kerry's undoubted greatest strength - the forwards. There's no full-back line that will sleep easy on a Saturday night thinking about marking James O'Donoghue, Kieran Donaghy and Colm Cooper.

I've been going for Dublin all year, but I truly believe that Kerry can win on Sunday.

Irish Independent