Saturday 17 March 2018

Kerry can draw hope from 1978 ahead of mammoth battle with Dublin at Croke Park

24 September 1978; Tony Hanahoe, Dublin captain leads his team during the pre match parade, Kerry v Dublin, All Ireland Football Final, Croke Park, Dublin Picture credit: Connolly Collection / SPORTSFILE
24 September 1978; Tony Hanahoe, Dublin captain leads his team during the pre match parade, Kerry v Dublin, All Ireland Football Final, Croke Park, Dublin Picture credit: Connolly Collection / SPORTSFILE

Dermot Crowe

Not since the morning of September 16, 1978, has the shadow of Dublin loomed so irritatingly over Kerry. At the time Dublin had won consecutive All-Irelands and defeated Kerry in successive championships.

A third straight summer win over Kerry — which was expected — failed to materialise, and Kerry’s spectacular 17-point coronation dramatically transformed the course of their respective fortunes. From there on Kerry dominated and Dublin became accustomed to dreary days of green and gold subjugation.

And now the worm has turned again, with Dublin on an unprecedented run of three championship wins over Kerry, beginning with the jackknife finish to the 2011 All-Ireland final, moving on to the rip-roaring contest in the semi-final two years later, and then the slog in the rain last September in which Dublin’s mastery was insufficiently conveyed by the margin of three points. Each beating has hardened the view that Dublin’s grip on this fixture is tightening and Kerry are trading increasingly on reputation.

They remain in the small company of teams, however, that routinely emerge whenever the familiar question arises as to who might beat Dublin. For all their recent dominance, vibrant and admirable attacking play, and undeniably high levels of consistency, including four consecutive league titles, Dublin are still chasing that elusive second All-Ireland in succession, striving to nail down a successful defence. Even last year, in the semi-finals, Mayo had their measure the first day but let a great opportunity slip.

In the period since Dublin have lost two mint defenders in Rory O’Carroll, a full-back of the old school, and the flamboyant and eye-catching Jack McCaffrey, with shades of Kevin Moran in his heyday streaming forward at unbreakable speed. The injury that has halted James McCarthy is also challenging but his fitness has been improving and he was togged for the quarter-final even if he took no part.

This gives Kerry hope but the players who have stepped in, David Byrne, with a fine marking job on Paddy McBrearty, and the rapidly improving John Small, are contributing to a defence that in the quarter-final marked ferociously and bossed Donegal. Kerry will present a more advanced and sustained attacking threat.

Have Kerry come on sufficiently to create the conditions for a win? We simply don’t know. In last year’s final they left off Marc ó Sé and now Aidan O’Mahony is no longer a starting player. Younger players like Brian ó Beaglaoich and Tadhg Morley have been introduced and if Kerry had August 28 in mind since losing last year’s All-Ireland final, then pace, and dealing with Dublin’s endless movement and quick transfer of ball, was a priority. In that light, not naming Darran O’Sullivan looks a ruse, with Colm Cooper selected in his place.

Kerry know where their shortcomings have been in previous engagements with Dublin but all the desire and planning in the world will not suffice if the team is not in the right health to avail. They arrive back in Croke Park having lost the league final heavily to Dublin in the meantime, and without a serious test in the championship. To subdue Dublin’s hurricane movement demands monumental concentration and incredible levels of fitness. In the win over Donegal, Bernard Brogan was taken off. No matter. Paul Mannion came on, had a telling input and scored the clinching goal. No forward, even Diarmuid Connolly, is indispensable.

Brian Fenton has become a better player and Kerry have concerns around the middle third having lost the midfield battle last September. Something from David Moran along the lines of the form of August 2014 is one of a long list of Kerry requirements needed to spring a surprise. James O’Donoghue, too, could have one of those days that transforms those around him but you need the complete team performance. It is asking a lot and, most likely, it is asking too much.

Verdict: Dublin

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