Sunday 21 January 2018

Kingdom's summer starting to look a bit like Custer's last stand

In terms of sending people into exile, the Kerry approach in making the Gooch and Tomás ó Sé sit on the bench for less than an hour in Tullamore hardly compares with Dreyfus or Napoleon.

Maybe to a Kerryman the punishment of being told they are not starting a championship match is the ultimate in wielding the knife. Anyway, in bringing the duo on, it was making a virtue out of necessity. Antrim were dispatched, even if it was hardly convincing, and everything in the garden is rosy.

The sins of Gooch and ó Sé were hardly mortal and are merely the reflection of a team who are staggering on and hoping that someone will light the fire. Where the inspiration or desperation comes from will be revealed tomorrow because this is a great game from a Kerry point of view. They are now like the caged lion and must fight or die. And Croke Park before a full house is where redemption can come.

Now Kerry are back in the real championship with the endline in sight. They must have felt all along they were going to win the qualifiers, even if it was a struggle, so now they can finally show their real form.

Perhaps it is some kind of grand strategy to lull everyone into a false sense of security and Kerry had always decided to peak in August. But I am not convinced. For me, Kerry are showing signs of terminal decline and it has been exaggerated by not making more radical changes to the team. The great players are showing signs of wear and tear, while their greatest of all, Darragh ó Sé, would make much more impact as a sub than being on from the start. Imagine the lift he would give the team coming on after half-time with a game in the balance. On from the beginning he is just another player. This was the year to persist with at least three or four new players.

Darragh's brother Marc has not been himself either this summer. Struggling with injury, he has not been able to carry out his fireman job in marking the best forward on the opposing side. There is nobody else to do this job. Will the management risk him on Bernard Brogan who would have a size advantage? Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Jack O'Connor must wonder now whether coming back was worthwhile as the ship hits continuous storms. Because no matter what he does, he cannot replace the ó Sé brothers, who are the engine of the team.

The only leader this year has been Paul Galvin. In a different era, he would have been dispatched to Van Diemen's land for his crimes and there is not much football there. Now he has carried the torch for his county but it will go out soon if there is no one else to add fuel.

The most obvious manifestation of a team in decline is when they lose possession. With it Kerry can still create a bit of magic but once it is turned over, there are not enough hungry players fighting to get it back. Ultimately, that is going to beat them, even though they still have more class players than everyone except, possibly, Tyrone.

If this is a game to salvage Kerry's season, then it is also a perfect one for Dublin to break into the top rank. Each Leinster title has been followed by defeat to a big team and this is a great chance to slay the dragon and lay the foundations for an All-Ireland. To do so they need all the heavy guns on from the start.

It is all very fine having Cullen, Whelan and Ryan on the bench but it is now clear that they are better than the starting players. So the bench is much weaker today than the Leinster final.

Yet the Dublin management made most of the right moves on the day and winning that game against Kildare when it looked before half-time that they were getting roasted was a fair achievement and worth far more in terms of confidence than most of the previous cakewalks.

What Dublin have is a massive workrate which Kerry are unlikely to match and yet the Dubs must overcome a deficiency in sheer class. However, the Brogans, Jayo and Conal Keaney will more than stretch the Kerry backline where Tommy Griffin does not look happy.

In the past, I have always favoured Kerry in these games on the simple basis that they had far better players and even this week I have changed my mind a couple of times. However, this is beginning to resemble Custer's last stand for Kerry. The Indians are closing in. These young Dubs look set to take their biggest scalp.

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