O'Connor: ‘An All-Ireland final is a different animal’
Jack demands Kerry use big-game experience to keep rising Dublin waiting for another year
KERRY manager Jack O'Connor is convinced that Dublin will win an All-Ireland title sooner rather than later. But it won't happen this Sunday if he gets his way.
Preparing for his fifth All-Ireland final as Kerry boss, O'Connor is very wary of the threat posed by Dublin, so much so that he is adamant that his charges will need to raise their game to another level if capital men are to be denied.
"This Dublin team, there is no question in my mind, will win an All-Ireland. I just hope it's not this year," the south Kerry man said.
"Dublin have improved dramatically. The boys in charge of them have done a fantastic job in turning around what were two bad defeats in 2008 and 2009, against Tyrone and Kerry. They dismantled the team from 2009 and there are very few of the same players there playing the same positions, so they have radically overhauled the team.
"They are a tough nut to crack and a hard team to break down at this stage because they have a great defensive system in place."
With this huge challenge in mind, O'Connor -- who is forecasting a tight game and not the shootout that unfolded in that one-sided '09 quarter-final -- has called on his experienced Kerry side to raise their game.
"We think we are going to have to get it to another level for the final," the Kerry boss mused.
"We hope there is a big performance in us. We were good for half an hour against Cork, patchy in some of the other games, finished relatively strongly against Mayo. But we think that we will have to go to another level against Dublin because the fitness levels, athleticism and intensity they have would be higher than any team we have faced this year."
While Dublin, one of only two teams to have defeated Kerry this year, are certain to ask the most searching and demanding questions that Kerry will have faced this season, O'Connor believes that Kerry's trump card -- experience -- will have an important role to play on Sunday.
With players like Tomas O Se and Tom O'Sullivan dusting themselves down for an incredible 10th All-Ireland final appearance, Sunday is a new experience for the entire Dublin team. And the been-there-and-done-that mantra should stand to Kerry, explains O'Connor.
"We're hoping that our bit of experience of being in finals before might be some kind of factor if the game goes into the melting pot in the final 15 minutes," the Dromid Pearses clubman mused.
"Of course (the fact that several of Kerry's defenders are over 30) could be a factor, but you just hope that the experience is a factor. It's not just experience on the day, it's preparing in the build-up. An All-Ireland final is a different animal to any other game.
"A lot of players can have a lot of their energy expended before the game even starts. That's where a bit of experience comes in, not building yourself up too much, too far back from the game, because you find you can be flat for the game."
Hoping to grab the initiative with a fast start on Sunday, the Kerry manager is also keen that his charges stick to the county's football principles of playing attacking football, rather than engage in the much-criticised defensive tactics that the likes of Donegal employed this year.
"It's almost a bit like Alex Ferguson with Manchester United, the tradition is there with playing attacking football," O'Connor explained.
"If Kerry went ultra-defensive the fans just wouldn't like that type of football. We wouldn't have the goodwill of the people, and sure if you don't have that, what are you playing the game for?
"All I know is that if we try to play as defensive as that it's not the opposition that would be booing us, it's our own fans that would be booing us so it wouldn't be a runner in Kerry, let's put it like that.
"I'm not disrespecting the football that any other crowd are playing. I'm just saying that the tradition in Kerry is to play attractive, attacking football for the most part and that's what the fans expect and that's for the most part what we try to do."
But while Kerry will not change their football philosophy and focus on their own game, they will try to negate the influence of Dublin's top performers, including go-to man Bernard Brogan and 'keeper Stephen Cluxton.
"For the most part we will be trying to concentrate on our own game because I think if you get too hung up on the opposition you will forget to play your own game," O'Connor said.
"It's one thing to say we'll target Cluxton's kick-outs, but he's a fair operator with those kick-outs and it's easier said than done. He has taken it to a new level in the last couple of years.
"There will be a lot of good duels in the game. They have a few more strings to their bow than Brogan. We reckon they are a very strong unit overall and their big thing is their pace, athleticism and fitness levels. They certainly are the fittest team in the country."
Branding the game as the one that everybody wants to see -- "it's a great clash, the townies against the culchies" -- O'Connor is determined to make Dublin wait for their moment in the spotlight.