Saturday 16 December 2017

Here is why Kerry v Dublin this weekend is even more intriguing than normal

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin in action against Peter Crowley of Kerry
Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin in action against Peter Crowley of Kerry
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The symmetry of Dublin's return to Kerry for a league match, two years and 17 days later, won't go unnoticed this week.

It was of course in the Kingdom where a Dublin team last tasted a league or championship defeat, their 1-10 to 0-15 reversal in Killarney unveiling a few flaws around indiscipline and the absence of Stephen Cluxton that day as the home side went to town on Sean Currie's kick-out.

It seems a lifetime ago now.

That it's 33 games later that they head down to Kerry seeking to equal the existing longest unbeaten record in league and championship, compiled by the first four-in-a-row All-Ireland-winning Kerry team from 1929 to 1932, who also added in three league titles on that run for good measure, adds a little to that symmetry and intrigue.

When that Kerry team of Tim and John Joe Landers, Miko Doyle, Con Brosnan, Paul Russell and Joe Barrett put together that unbeaten sequence in just under four-and-a-half years, it incorporated four victories against Dublin, including the 1932 All-Ireland semi-final, albeit Dublin teams that were dominated by city-based players from other counties.

Similarly, Dublin have seen off this Kerry four times since that Killarney meeting in the course of stockpiling their 28 wins and five draws.

Stephen Cluxton of Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Stephen Cluxton of Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Among modern-day players in the county, Kerry's tradition is well respected and was something Paul Galvin routinely referenced during his career but that run of defeats is likely to be preoccupying Kerry much more than any historical record being matched or surpassed.

Former midfield great Jack O'Shea doesn't see any great significance, beyond the need for Kerry to halt the current sequence of losses that grates away.

"Do these things mean anything?" asked the four-time Footballer of the Year.

"I don't know. It would be nice obviously for the Dublin team to create it, they're consistently good, they're playing well. Kerry people would get some satisfaction from stopping it maybe.

"But this is a different ball-game, different times, different players, just a different game. Winning a match will be a priority for both teams leaving the dressing-room, records are there to be consulted afterwards. I don't think either team will be playing primarily to equal or stop a record.

"It's an important game from Kerry's point of view," continued Jacko. "A win would give them a great lift, regardless of records.

"But losing those last four games in league and championship is far more motivation than any record for Kerry. They'll be more worried about their own performance and result than any history."

In an overall context O'Shea is viewing this season through the prism of change, the acceleration of young players off the trio of All-Ireland-winning minor teams creating a curiously healthy uncertainty.

"There are a few lads involved with the U-21s and Kerry won't really know, in my opinion, where they are going until they go back. There are places up for grabs on the Kerry teams and a few of those U-21s are pushing for them.

Jack O'Shea:
Jack O'Shea: "Losing those last four games in league and championship is far more motivation than any record for Kerry." Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

"It's fair to say that Kerry need a few players to strengthen the team a bit if they are to contend. I think we're looking at more change than at any stage in recent years."

The sequence of games between October 1928 and March 1933, when Kerry's run ended against Meath in a routine league match in Navan, has the anomaly of a walkover against Wexford in November 1930.

Postponed Kerry had been slated to play Kildare in Naas at the beginning of the month but after making the journey the match was postponed because of an unplayable pitch.

When it became apparent that Wexford would not be fulfilling against Kerry two weeks later and the points were given, the Kildare match was refixed, resulting in the only draw of the 34-match run.

The awarding of those points constitutes a win and must be recorded, just as Tim Slattery, the Kerry-based GAA archivist, has done in compiling this list. But, in terms of 'on-field' achievement, Dublin have already equalled the record with their last win over Mayo.

The dateline of games played also reflected the erratic nature of the fixtures calendar at that time.

For instance, the 1931-'32 league campaign began on March 8, 1931 against Laois but wasn't completed for almost two years when the final was played between Kerry and Cork in early February 1933 in Killarney. In the meantime, the 1932-'33 league had already begun before that final with Kerry recording wins over Laois and Dublin.

There were many milestones for that Kerry team. Miko Doyle remains the only player to have won four All-Ireland senior football medals by the age of 21. The Landers brothers, John Joe, Tim and Billy, were the first set of three brothers to win All-Ireland medals together on the field and built a reputation for innate understanding between each other.

So good was Tim 'Roundy' Landers that he caught the eye of soccer clubs across the water at the time.

Socially, it was also felt that this Kerry team, containing Republicans and Free Staters, helped to transcend the divide that existed in Kerry GAA in the post-Civil War era with their success and popularity.

But there was a heavy-handed undercurrent to their game too, a notoriety for rough play that manifested quite often.

The historian Dr Richard McElligott chronicled the era in his book 'Forging a Kingdom - the GAA in Kerry 1884-1934'.

Their 1930 All-Ireland final against Monaghan prompted a subsequent complaint from the Ulster county, after their one and only appearance, over the "brutality" of the Kerry team while Kerry complained of a visit by referee Martin O'Neill, prior to the 1932 All-Ireland final with Mayo, warning them that any repeat of their previous conduct would result in the match being stopped!

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