Sunday 18 August 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Kerry hold most fears for Dublin in first knockout test - why Jim Gavin's men will want to beat Tryone'

Dubs have extra incentive to beat Red Hand as it would avoid Kingdom clash in semi-final

Kerry’s Paul Geaney battles Donegal’s Ryan McHugh. Photo: Sportsfile
Kerry’s Paul Geaney battles Donegal’s Ryan McHugh. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Around 5.30pm on Sunday, the safety harness which has been attached to Dublin as they plot their way towards the previously unconquered five-in-a-row peak will be removed.

Two treacherous slopes rise before them, and this time the risk of falling is real. Unlike the gentle gradients in Leinster and the first two Super 8s games, this is punishing terrain, where one slip could end the dream of creating history.

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And instead of being joined by friendly Sherpas, Dublin will be met with open hostility as opponents attempt to make conditions as dangerous as possible.

Obviously, it's pointless even thinking about the final ascent, in case the lower one proves unmanageable.

That challenge comes on the weekend after next when Dublin play in the semi-finals, either as group winner on Saturday or runners-up on Sunday.

If Dublin beat Tyrone, they will almost certainly play Donegal or Mayo; if they lose, Kerry will probably be coming their way. If Meath beat Kerry, and Mayo beat Donegal, there's a chance the Kingdom would be squeezed out on scoring return, although it's highly improbable .

Jim Gavin wants to avoid a Kingdom showdown most. Photo: Sportsfile
Jim Gavin wants to avoid a Kingdom showdown most. Photo: Sportsfile

Not even a threat of torture by waterboarding would force Jim Gavin to announce which of the trio he would most like to avoid in the semi-final, but privately he will have his own thoughts, based on recent experience.

So who would Dublin prefer to dodge in the semi-final? Here's my running order.

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1. KERRY

Whether it's the county's football DNA or a sense that a new force is not only massing, but getting very close to being the real deal, many believe they are the biggest threat to Dublin.

Apart from their personal ambitions, they will regard themselves as carrying extra responsibility to be the team that prevents the Dubs crossing a new frontier.

Kerry hold most of the records in football, so it would be a severe blow to the county's pride if Dublin were to become the first to land the five-in-a-row, a prize that eluded the Kingdom in 1933 and, more painfully, in 1982.

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Given Kerry's tradition in the championship, Dublin would prefer to avoid them altogether this year. That might not be feasible, but it's best to put it off for as long as possible.

Of all the remaining contenders, Kerry have the best record against Dublin since Gavin took over.

It's 8-3 to Dublin, and one draw, from 12 championship and league games, with Kerry's most recent success coming last February when they won by a point in a Division 1 game in Tralee.

In fairness to Dublin, there was a massive fitness differential between the teams.

New Kerry manager, Peter Keane had worked the squad hard in his bid for a high-momentum start to the season, whereas Gavin had declared a week earlier that Dublin were "just getting into pre-season mode."

Still, it gave Kerry's young guns a chance to shoot down Dublin and build early-season confidence.

2. MAYO

They haven't beaten Dublin in their last 14 Championship and League meetings (11 defeats, three draws), all of which coincide with Gavin's presence in the blue corner.

Despite that, Dublin would have still have every reason to be wary of Mayo, who beat them in the 2012 semi-final and tested them to the limit in six championship games between 2013 and 2017.

Three of them produced one-point wins for Dublin and two were drawn. And while Mayo lost by seven points in the 2015 semi-final, it was only in the final quarter than the tide turned.

For whatever reason, Mayo's game troubles Dublin more than any other opposition and they are best avoided for as long as possible.

3. DONEGAL

As the last county to beat Dublin in the championship (2014 semi-final), and with a rebuilt model fine-tuning rapidly, many believe they are best placed of all to disrupt Dublin.

They have played them less often than Kerry and Mayo in the Gavin era, winning one, losing five and drawing two of eight games.

There's certainly a lot to like about Donegal, not least their ability to run up high scores.

They have averaged 1-19 in five championship games and look very much like a side where the best is yet to come.

However, on the basis of their experiences against Donegal since 2014, Dublin would probably prefer them to Kerry or Mayo as semi-final opponents.

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