Thursday 18 January 2018

Gavin expects semi-final to go right 'down to the wire'

Jim Gavin:
Jim Gavin: "They know and we know there’s literally a bounce of the ball between us." Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

The speculation will ramp up over the next few days. 'Kerry will have to bring something different' will become a family refrain before throw-in, though no-one is quite sure what that might be.

A curve ball at midfield has been mentioned, but then so have plenty of other things. We'll only truly know come 3.30 on Sunday.

Big games like this are usually accompanied by poker faces, and Jim Gavin wasn't giving much away at his pre-match press briefing either. The Dublin manager cleared James McCarthy to play this weekend but then he did that before the quarter-final against Donegal too.

Neither side is going to reveal much until David Gough gets the thing underway.

At the end of it all, Dublin will either have beaten Kerry for the fourth time in a row in championship - a scarcely digestible stat for Kerry people - or the Kingdom will have broken the hold this Dubs side have had on them since 2011.

Read more: Sheehan: I don't see how Dublin can be hungrier than we are

Gavin's side go in as clear favourites, and their recent record in this fixture colours that thinking greatly.

There was just three points between the sides in the All-Ireland final but it felt like Dublin were in control throughout.

This year's league final didn't offer any evidence to contradict the idea that Dublin are ahead of their great rivals. Kerry were two down when Aidan O'Mahony got sent off but again it felt like Dublin were doing only what they had to.

Gavin, naturally, was keen to play down the significance of those results.

"They know and we know there's literally a bounce of the ball between us," countered the Dublin manager. "Some of the scorelines would reflect otherwise but that's the harsh reality of it. When you look at the strength in depth that they have in the squad now, they have grown this year.

"There's multiple All-Ireland winners in that squad and we are nowhere near that in this Dublin football team.

"Tadhg Morley and Brian Begley have come into the side, they look very composed. They still have their marquee forwards and outstanding players coming off the bench; Barry John Keane, (Johnny) Buckley. . . we could go on.

"James O'Donoghue is back, Colm Cooper will probably be back as well and Paul Geaney is back to great form. Darran O'Sullivan is injury-free and looks very fluid. Donnchadh Walsh is back to his best. . . I could go on and on about the quality of this Kerry side.

"So it's going to be a really tough game and a big challenge."

If McCarthy doesn't make it, Ciaran Kilkenny could be pressed into action at half-back again. Gavin would be happy to try that again and believes the Castleknock man can operate comfortably in a number of positions.

"We've got quite an adaptable squad and the players just slotted into that position," he said. "Ciaran played his part and did what's expected from him for the team. Yeah, it was seamless."

"Ciaran. . . I've played him in the U-21s at full-forward. He hasn't played in the full-back line yet, but every other line, he has played. He's very flexible and understands the game very well.

"He's got great game intelligence so he knows how to play the various roles, be it corner-forward or wing-back."

Dublin negotiated the Donegal hurdle last time out but one of their star men, Diarmuid Connolly, saw red after picking up two yellow cards.

After that game Gavin called for more protection for players from referees.  

Read more: O'Keeffe: Kingdom are the one team that can beat Dubs  


"Diarmuid is well able to look after himself," he explained yesterday. "I was just stating the facts that a manager has said it, and a player has said it, that they went after him - so that was a statement of fact more than anything else.

"The point I was trying to make is we just want to see skilful players play skilful football, and be allowed play the game within the rules of the game. That's all we want to see."

And Gavin admits his side will face a very different challenge from the one which Rory Gallagher's Donegal posed in the quarter-final. "Kerry do pose a different challenge," he said. "They keep a lot more players up the field. They are all outstanding individual players. Collectively they play very well.

"We've seen from recent times, in 2013, what can happen if you give them the space, that they can punish you.

"We understand the challenge that it is, and this one will go down to the wire."

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