Thursday 22 February 2018

Kerry's big-day know-how to prolong Dubs' wait for Sam

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

THEY started the championship as second and third favourites respectively to win the title and have built on their ambitions all the way to an All-Ireland final which has electrified expectations, not only in Kerry and Dublin, but throughout the entire Gaelic football landscape.

Exciting memories of Jack O'Shea v Brian Mullins, John O'Keeffe v Jimmy Keaveney and Tim Kennelly v Tony Hanahoe, all under the shrewd gaze of Mick O'Dwyer and Kevin Heffernan, from the '70s and '80s have provided a fascinating backdrop to the first Kerry-Dublin final for 26 years.

That filled the weeks in the run-up to the final, but now it's time for a new generation of Kerry and Dublin players to assert themselves in a grab for supremacy, which, if achieved, will assure them of a comfortable place in their county's affections.

If Dublin win their first All-Ireland title for 16 years, it will not only release the pressure valve on a huge tank of frustration, it will also leave Jack O'Connor's squad as the first from Kerry to lose to Dublin since 1976.

That's not a tag they want to take home on Monday night, no more than they want to feature in what would be Kerry's fourth's All-Ireland defeat in 10 seasons.

As for Dublin, this is the opportunity they have sought for years, most of which were spent in a lonely place as many of their main rivals from around the country racked up All-Ireland successes. At long last, the chance has presented itself to Dublin, but the big question is whether they are good enough to take it.

I suspect not. They are a rapidly-improving outfit, edging ever closer to breakthrough day, but it's their bad luck that, having finally made it to the final, they are meeting Kerry, the all-time championship specialists.

Of course, Dublin will be boosted by the efficiency of their own performances during their better spells in this year's championship and by a suspicion that the Kerry defence -- where all except Killian Young are over 30-years-old -- can be targeted in a menacing manner by high power delivered at real pace.

To that end, Kerry were expecting that Dublin would start Kevin McManamon, whose driving runs at the Donegal defence changed the complexion of the semi-final. However, Pat Gilroy has opted to keep McManamon in reserve, thus retaining the option of imposing his direct style on the game if attacking Plan A runs out of momentum.

Barry Cahill and Bryan Cullen, both of whom were in the half-back line when Kerry overran Dublin two years ago, are now in attack, but retain defensive responsibilities too as part of a more integrated game plan, which is more cautious than used to be the case.

Nowadays, Dublin are set up to be hard to beat, operating off a packed defence when the opposition has possession and a direct approach to getting the ball into the Brogan brothers and Diarmuid Connolly when the flow is the other way.

That strategy worked to maximum effect in the near-perfect performance against Tyrone, but much less so against Wexford, who helpfully threw an own goal Dublin's way at a time when they were becoming increasingly edgy.

And when it came to unhinging Donegal's massed defence in the semi-final, Dublin took an incredibly long time to make any headway. They went a full hour before scoring their first point from open play and finally winning with 0-8, a return which wouldn't have won any semi-final since 1956 when Galway beat Tyrone in a 60-minute game.

It's difficult to believe that the Kerry attack, complete with the finishing expertise of Colm Cooper, Declan and Darran O'Sullivan would have taken anything nearly as long to figure out a way to pilfer scores off the Donegal defence, however congested the approach routes might be.

Kerry have averaged 1-20 per game in the championship and while their opponents did include lower Division defences from Limerick and Tipperary, they maintained the average against Mayo in the semi-final, having earlier taken Cork for 1-15. The only big concern about the Kerry attack has been the indifferent form of Kieran Donaghy, who has scored just six points in the championship.

Nor has he been especially effective at ball-winning, which used to be his trademark speciality. Kerry have survived without Donaghy being on full power so far, but he needs to be back to his best for what will be a huge test against Rory O'Carroll and his defensive colleagues, who have conceded an average of 13 points per game.

If they maintain that tomorrow then Sam Maguire will almost certainly be in Dublin's possession by 5.0, but it's unlikely they will restrict 'Gooch' and Co to such a low total.

There's a new energy, organisation and efficiency about Dublin these days which, in turn, has increased confidence levels. However, Kerry are some way ahead of anything Dublin have encountered so far, which could translate into a victory for experience and big day know-how over a developing work-in-progress.

Verdict: Kerry

Dublin -- S Cluxton; C O'Sullivan, R O'Carroll, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; MD Macauley, D Bastick; P Flynn, B Cahill, B Cullen; A Brogan, D Connolly, B Brogan.

Kerry -- B Kealy; K Young, M O Se, T O'Sullivan; T O Se, E Brosnan, A O'Mahony; A Maher, B Sheehan; Darran O'Sullivan, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; C Cooper, K Donaghy, K O'Leary.

REF -- J McQuillan (Cavan)

Irish Independent

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