Monday 16 September 2019

Paul Curran: 'Half of the Dublin team had a huge dip in form that won't happen again - Kerry beware'

Michael Darragh Macauley (left) and James McCarthy (right) didn't hit their top form against Kerry. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Michael Darragh Macauley (left) and James McCarthy (right) didn't hit their top form against Kerry. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Paul Curran

Dublin and Kerry go at it again next Saturday after playing out a thrilling draw last Sunday week and it already feels a little bit different this time around.

The majority believed that Dublin would complete the five in-a-row with relative ease but I must say that I didn’t buy into that train of thought.

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Kerry are a young team who were able to prepare for the game without too much distraction and knowing that all the pressure would have been on their opponents. That is the ideal scenario for the underdog and in Kerry you are not dealing with the ordinary.

This group of Dublin footballers are incredibly talented, intelligent and very level-headed but they are also human and it is impossible to completely block out all the noise that would have been building in the weeks before the decider.

Preparing to do something that has never been done before must be a difficult place to be for any player and the fear of actually failing can seep into the mindset and can have a negative effect on performance.

I am not saying that this was the case with the Dublin players but how else can you explain the huge dip in performance from the likes of Brian Fenton, Michael Darragh Macauley, James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper and Niall Scully and to a lesser extend Ciarán Kilkenny and Con O’Callaghan?

Was it simply down to their direct opponents shutting them down or were their minds in a place that it hadn’t been over the last four seasons? I think it would be fair to say that it was a bit of the two.

Kerry were ultra-competitive on Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs and were able to turn Dublin over with a very high pressing game plan. When good forwards get a good supply of ball they can be very dangerous.

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Fortunately for Dublin, the Kerry radar was slightly off and they couldn’t turn a lot of pressure into important scores. That is something that Peter Keane and his attacking unit will look at this week.

Jim Gavin will have looked hard at the kick-outs and will be reasonably happy that his captain was able to find his men in the first half despite being under the most intense pressure.

Kerry adopted a full court press for 35 minutes but the Dubs still had a significant lead of five points just before the break. Then Jonny Cooper fouled David Clifford one time too many and received his marking orders.

Most people focused on this one incident after the game but for me it didn’t have a negative effect until the last fifteen minutes of the game. Dublin still managed to stay in control and were comfortably ahead going into the last quarter.

The big turning point was a Paddy Small shot that dropped short and was worked up the field to Killian Spillane who finished to the net. A Dublin score thirty seconds earlier would have stretched the lead to six and possibly broken the Kerry spirit.

That one score seemed to reignite the Kerry challenge while at the same time a small bit of doubt crept into the Dublin game.

Both teams still had time and chances to win it but in the end the result was a fair one.

The big question now is which team has learned more from the first game and which team will find the improvement? Kerry will be happy that they proved they can compete with this great Dublin team and they will have gained valuable experience.

They will look for a repeat performance in terms of the “defensive” side of their game and they will try and repeat the heroics around the midfield sector.

Up front their forwards will be wiser when it comes to shooting for scores from the correct positions and generally being more clinical when it comes to simple pass execution all over the field. Easily said of course but very difficult to put into action on the biggest occasion of them all.

Dublin have, I feel, more areas that they can identify for improvement and more of their players just didn’t manage to get to the levels we expect from them on match day.

Jim Gavin usually has his team in lock down the week before big games but lock down for next Saturday kicked in a couple of minutes after the final whistle.

He would have forensically examined the tape with his management team before the team got together before the first session after the game and the prep work will be extensive.

I was nervous of Kerry the first day and I am still nervous but I am a lot more confident going into this game. I think the champions will fix the fixable and their collective minds will be a lot clearer.

I think this is the game that they can throw off the shackles and attack Kerry from the throw-in and I expect them to do just that.

Fenton and McCarthy will be delighted to have another opportunity and class players always perform when their performances have been questioned. Kerry beware.

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