Pat Spillane: 'I could be eating these words by tea-time but I’m convinced the Dublin full-back line is vulnerable'
Rarely have I been so looking forward to an All-Ireland final.
I have watched countless hours of the teams’ championship performances this season. I have pored over the statistics and read all the articles. Being perfectly honest, my head is ready to melt from an information overload.
It’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff and explain why I believe Stephen Cluxton will lift the most famous trophy in Irish sport this evening.
In Dublin’s case, their strength rests in their overall pace, fitness, strength, athleticism, support play, decision making and ruthlessness.
Their four mostinfluential players are Stephen Cluxton, Jack McCaffrey, Brian Fenton and Ciaran Kilkenny – but they can still win without all four being exceptional.
They are constantly evolving – this year they are playing at a faster tempo and hitting Con O’Callaghan with more direct ball.
And the statistics underline just how dominant they have been this summer. They have averaged 27 points per game; hit 17 goals and have had an average winning margin of 15 points – and they’ve won six of their seven championship matches by double-digit figures.
At the other end of the field they have conceded an average of 12 points per game while Cluxton has conceded just two goals – one of which was from a penalty.
Their third-quarter performances are simply awesome as they demonstrated against Mayo, scoring 2-6 in 12 minutes. Excluding the Tyrone match they have outscored their opponents 5-33 to 2-13 in the five other games in the third quarter.
Kerry’s strengths are more understated. However, they have potential match-winners in David Clifford, Paul Geaney and a much improved Stephen O’Brien.
Unlike Dublin, who haven’t been taken to the wire in championship football since the 2017 All-Ireland final, five of Kerry’s six championship games were hard-fought affairs, with the verdict in doubt going into the last quarter.
In terms of intensity, work rate, tackling and tracking back they beat Tyrone at their own game in the second half of the All-Ireland semi-final.
Kerry’s management has made judicious use of their bench – particularly in the semi-final against Tyrone with Jack Sherwood, Gavin White and Tommy Walsh all making telling impacts and, finally, being rank outsiders (5/1) is a psychological advantage.
It has been mostly overlooked, but the Dubs have been slow out of the blocks in three of their championship games this season.
They only managed to score five points in the first half against Meath; trailed Cork by four points after ten minutes of their Super 8s tie and were two behind against Mayo at half time in the semi-final.
I could be eating these words by tea-time but I’m convinced their full-back line is vulnerable.
Kerry’s weaknesses are far more obvious. The centre of their defence can be prised apart and their deployment of a sweeper has been a dismal failure. And they have a tendency to leave their full-back line exposed. To top it all off, Kerry’s goalkeeper Shane Ryan would probably prefer to be at full-forward today.
And the figures don’t lie – the Kingdom have conceded an average of 17 points per game; Cork hit them for three goals and they were poor in the first half against Meath and Tyrone, and looked open throughout against Donegal. While their forwards receive all the plaudits, they too havew issues.
Their average score of 22 points per game is short of Dublin’s 27 points per game Likewise their total of seven goals pales into the shadows compared to Dublin’s 17.
And they are too dependent on Sean O’Shea for scores – he has contributed 1-37 out of 7-112 – a fraction over 30 per cent.
Kerry’s kick-out strategy can be exploited. Though they have retained 76 per cent of their restarts, this won’t be good enough to win the final.
And lastly, with 16 of the squad having come into the side in the last two years, Kerry are very inexperienced compared to Dublin.
But, in the immortal words of Donald Rumsfeld, there are the unknown unknowns. Kilkenny failed utterly to cope with the loss of Richie Hogan two weeks ago.
Likewise, Henry Shefflin’s early departure due to injury unhinged Kilkenny hurlers’ Drive for Five in the 2010 final. Could Dublin cope with the loss of Brian Fenton, for example?
A refereeing decision could play a big role. And just for the record I have no problem with David Gough – he is the best in the country.
Jim Gavin has micro-managed every aspect of Dublin’s Drive for Five. But what he cannot legislate for is how his players will react as the minutes tick down to the final whistle.
The mind can behave in a peculiar way when you come within touching distance of immortality. Still, everything has to go perfectly right for Kerry for them to cause an upset.
It’s too big an ask.