Frank Roche: 'It doesn't take a whole lot to ignite hostilities between Dublin and Kerry'
Animosity levels have never been far from the surface when Dublin face Kerry and it’s unlikely that there will be any love lost in Saturday’s final replay
It stands out as one of the more curious images of a famous and sometimes fractious Dublin-Kerry rivalry... Jim Gavin walking past a post-match shemozzle as if he didn't even see it, or couldn't be bothered, or both. An oasis of managerial calm in the storm.
It was last February in Austin Stack Park, and Peter Keane's supposedly callow hosts had just edged a riotously entertaining Allianz League contest by 1-18 to 2-14.
It had been a full-blooded roller coaster but, unlike their 2017 encounter at the same venue, not remotely spiteful.
But then some unidentified flashpoint lit the tinderbox and players, subs and fellow sideline aficionados were charging into the fray.
The 'melee in Tralee' wasn't particularly prolonged or ugly; but it was another sign that it doesn't take a whole lot to ignite hostilities between this pair.
For all the mythology, Dublin v Kerry often turns cranky. True, there was no such collective outbreak of lawlessness eight days ago, but you had Jonny Cooper's red card and several other cameos that won't have been forgotten by either side.
And we all know how festering wounds often seep to the sequel surface. Especially when the All-Ireland prize is so enormous. And especially when there is 'history'.
Gavin's visible disinterest in that post-match league spat told you more about the Dublin manager than the pumped-up participants.
Tempers cooled quickly and everyone went home in one piece. Well, almost. As Paul Geaney found himself trapped underneath a scrum of bodies, he feared his season was over. "I ended up like a turtle on the ground with my legs in the air," the Kerry forward recalled last May. He had been trying to pick up colleague Peter Crowley when two bodies, one from each side, fell on top of him.
His initial dread, a torn cruciate, proved wide of the mark but Geaney required minor knee surgery and sat out Kerry's next four league games. His teammate, Brian Ó Beaglaoich, missed just the one, suspended after the CCCC investigated the melee. Dublin's John Small sat out the next two for a doubled-up ban.
Safe to say, Dublin v Kerry is an intoxicating cocktail occasionally spiked with bad blood.
For all the classic contests this decade (2013, '16 and now '19) there have been individual flashpoints (the 2015 All-Ireland final), rampant cynicism (the drawn league clash two years ago) and barbed commentary (arising directly from that 2017 rumble in Tralee).
You could argue there's even more enmity between Dublin and Mayo. Countering that, Dublin and Kerry have been knocking lumps out of each other for decades. Even on a different continent.
Back in 1978, they rendezvoused in New York for a pre-championship charity game, played in a Gaelic Park monsoon. "It turned into an absolute brawl and myself, Bomber (Liston) and Pat O'Neill were sent off by Séamus Aldridge," the late Páidí Ó Sé recounted in his 2001 biography. Six years later, Páidí was a seasoned veteran facing Joe McNally in the 1984 All-Ireland. Taking up sentry at corner-back, he extended the hand to his young Dublin opponent.
"To my amazement he leaned in with the shoulder and put me on my arse," Ó Sé wrote. "I thought about this for a minute; waited until the national anthem started. Then, while most of the 68,000 punters in the ground were gazing proudly at the Tricolour flying above the Nally, I gave Joe a fierce root up into the hole. He left the field in the second half, scoreless."
Back then, and much later in the noughties, Kerry had the whip hand in this rivalry. Whereas for the past decade it has been Kerry's turn to suffer under the yoke of Sky Blue oppression. They haven't enjoyed it.
In the rain-lashed 2015 final, Kieran Donaghy took exception to the close attention of a Dublin defender (he initially thought it was someone other than Philly McMahon) as they grappled for possession.
"He gouged my eye on the ground," Donaghy claimed to David Coldrick, his protestations picked up on the Meath referee's mic and subsequently aired on the documentary, All-Ireland Day. "I didn't see that now, Kieran," Coldrick replied.
"That was just two lads competing, that's all," McMahon chimed in.
The incident was highlighted on The Sunday Game that night. McMahon vehemently protested his innocence the next day, saying: "If I did connect with his face, I didn't intentionally do it." But he added: "If I get all these accusations against me and I win an All-Ireland, I don't give a s**t, to be honest."
For McMahon, the postscript came in the form of a one-match ban - but he still had that medal.
Perhaps the most persistent example of needle came in the 2017 league, when they played out a 0-13 apiece stalemate against a backdrop of Dublin equalling Kerry's sepia-tinted record run of 34 games unbeaten.
As Colm Keys reported in the Irish Independent: "Referee Sean Hurson would have needed 360-degree vision to catch much of the cynicism. In the end, he dished out 13 yellow cards, eight to Kerry players and two to Ciarán Kilkenny."
The post-match narrative was even more intriguing. In an interview with The Herald, Paul Curran took withering exception to Kerry's "totally defensive" style of play - not their physicality, as others may have construed. "Kerry really should be ashamed of themselves," the former Dublin star declared.
Typically, both duly qualified for the decider. And at a pre-final promotion, McMahon suggested Kerry were "certainly more physical" than usual in Tralee, adding: "If that's the way they have to play to win games, that's up to them."
Éamonn Fitzmaurice was having none of it, and complained of a "complete lack of balance" in the narrative surrounding that game. "My worry was that it was developing into a situation like the All-Ireland final replay last year where there was an orchestrated campaign against Lee Keegan," he alleged at Kerry's final press conference.
While lauding Dublin as a "fantastic" team with an outstanding manager, he added: "Make no mistake about it, they have a hard edge."
Fitzmaurice cited three previous Dublin games, two against Kerry, claiming "Declan O'Sullivan was taken out of it" in the 2011 All-Ireland and "one of our players was wrestled to the ground and basically choked" during the 2016 semi. "So, they have a hard edge but so have we," he concluded. "I have never tried to paint us whiter than white."
You might argue Kerry had the last laugh; they won that league final. But that was mere shadow boxing compared to what is at stake this Saturday at Croke Park.