Monday 19 November 2018

Payback time

Dublin are enjoying the most successful decade in the 125-year history of their rivalry with Kerry. Their supporters regard it as revenge for the misery inflicted by Mick O'Dwyer's super team in the 1970s-'80s and are eager for more. But will it last? Martin Breheny charts the latest phase in the famous rivalry and talked to Micko about what Kerry should do to change the trend

David Clifford is likely to play a big role in Kerry’s bid to knock Dublin off their perch. Photo: Sportsfile
David Clifford is likely to play a big role in Kerry’s bid to knock Dublin off their perch. Photo: Sportsfile

In the week after last year's Allianz League final, it was easy to find Kerry supporters who believed that a significant marker had been driven deep into the Croke Park turf.

They had enjoyed watching their side end Dublin's five-in-a-row league ambitions, having spotted hopeful signs a few weeks earlier in a feisty group encounter with Jim Gavin's men, which finished level in Tralee.

The double event left Kerry feeling that they were about to break free after an unusually long period trapped under Dublin's giant thumb.

Two pieces of evidence weren't conclusive but they were certainly helping to build a good case.

In fairness to Eamonn Fitzmaurice, he hammered a lid on expectations after the league final win.

"It would be the third competition on our list of priorities. This doesn't change much for the summer," he said.

His caution was understandable but elsewhere in Kerry the mood was growing increasingly upbeat.

Nonetheless, over in Waterville, the wiliest old fox of them all was reading next to nothing into the success, but then Mick O'Dwyer always regarded the league like fast food - tasty at the time but not very nourishing.

"It's grand to win but that's it. Nothing matters but the championship. I played in nine league finals and won eight of them.

"I won All-Ireland finals too but lost a fair few as well. I made up my mind when I became Kerry manager that it would be all about the championship. I never changed from that wherever I went," he said.

Defeat by Dublin tomorrow would end Kerry's prospects of retaining the league title but Micko (pictured below) couldn't care less, provided he sees signs that Kerry are developing into a side capable of launching a serious championship bid.

He is convinced the best prospects of hitting that target rest with a new Kerry generation, one that has done well at underage and is now being challenged to step up to senior.

Patience

"Go with the young fellas. It's the only way. They bring a new energy to every squad. Of course you'll have some older lads too but I have always been a great believer in youth. There are some marvellous young footballers in Kerry. Let them at it.

"It might take them a while to come through, but they will. There's certainly a lot of exciting young forwards around, but we'd need to find a few defenders too," he said.

That sounds like a project which requires patience, a characteristic not in plentiful supply in a county where No 1 is the only slot that's deemed acceptable.

The desire to return there is amplified by circumstances which are troubling for Kerry.

They remain hugely proud of the All-Ireland four-in-a-row success in 1978-81, while still regretting that it wasn't advanced to five in a row in 1982.

Now, they are hearing whispers that the five in a row is back on the agenda, not for them but for Dublin.

It's a scary thought for Kerry that their great rivals may be on the march towards an unprecedented achievement, albeit with a very long way to go yet.

Still, they have passed the treble mark and are hot favourites to make it four in a row this year.

And five? "Of course they are capable of doing it, unless a better team comes along.

"It's very simple - any good team will keep winning until someone else comes along and beats them.

"Dublin have great talent, as we've seen over the last few years, so a team hoping to beat them has to do more than match them," said O'Dwyer.

By all appearances, Kerry are in transition so is it unrealistic to expect them to be the ones to unseat Dublin this year?

"Nothing in sport is unrealistic. We would always believe in Kerry that we can come through very quickly.

"You win nothing doubting yourself. We have the youth. Go with it and see what happens," said Micko.

Kerry may have won the last big contest (2017 league final) with Dublin but it masks a trend that makes depressing reading for them.

Irrespective of what this and next season hold, the 2010-2019 decade will have been Kerry's worst in their 125-year rivalry with Dublin.

They have lost 10 of 14 league and championship games to Dublin since 2010, winning only three and drawing one.

Worse still from a Kerry pride viewpoint, they have lost four successive championship meetings with Dublin, an unprecedented sequence.

It's a much different world to 2009 when Kerry beat Dublin by 17 points in the All-Ireland quarter-final, taking their championship success return to eight wins and a draw from nine games over 21 years.

Six months later, a new-look Dublin team beat Kerry in the first round of the league in Killarney in what was the launch of a decade that has yielded vast riches under Pat Gilroy and Jim Gavin.

Kerry have felt the brunt of Dublin's force more often than most, adding to a discomfort they find hard to take.

It has led to some sparky encounters too, notably last year when both league clashes produced flashpoints.

Fitzmaurice was so irritated by what he saw as unfair attempts to blacken his side's reputation that prior to the league final, he listed a number of incidents involving Dublin that challenged the perception of them as a pure footballing side with no interest in the darker arts.

He took it as far back as the 2011 All-Ireland final, claiming that Declan O'Sullivan was "taken out of it".

He talked of Dublin in the 2013 All-Ireland final (v Mayo) and the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final (v Kerry) when he alleged that "one of our players was wrestled to the ground and basically choked".

And he spoke of "an orchestrated campaign" against Lee Keegan before the 2016 All-Ireland final replay.

"This Dublin team are a serious team that we have the utmost respect for. They're a fantastic footballing team, an attacking footballing team with brilliant players and with an outstanding manager as well. But make no mistake about it - they have a hard edge about them, a seriously hard edge," said Fitzmaurice.

The league final was feisty but controlled, after which Fitzmaurice, happy to have broken the Dublin spell, sped away from gifting a controversial follow-up, while Gavin poured praise on Kerry and their manager.

"I have nothing but the height of regard for Eamonn. He's an absolute gentleman. And I certainly won't be speaking ill of any Kerry player or this Kerry team," said Gavin.

Fooled

Politeness all round, but nobody was fooled. Respect and admiration or not, Dublin and Kerry were thinking ahead to a championship showdown and all that would have entailed. It never happened.

Mayo saw off Kerry, denying them the opportunity to test if the league final win actually changed anything in the dynamic with Dublin.

Last weekend's weather wipe-out delayed it further, although only until tomorrow.

James McCarthy described Kerry as young and brash this week and also noted that "they seem physically ready for it".

He also referenced how Gilroy, the manager who handed him his first start in 2010, brought mental toughness to the squad at the beginning of a cycle which has taken Dublin into its highest orbit.

"It's an attitude just to attack the game when it's there. You want to swing and not be sitting there waiting for things to happen. Collectively, we are very good at that," reflected McCarthy.

Kerry's fall-off after a good start to the league has seen them lose to Monaghan and Galway, so expectations for them tomorrow are not as high as would otherwise have been the case.

Yet, they have won and drawn their last two clashes with Dublin, a record no other county can claim.

That will not be lost on them. Dublin will be aware of it too, not least because deep down they suspect that the biggest threat to their championship dominance could well emerge from Kerry.

"Both teams will go at it hard," said McCarthy.

Probably harder than what normally would be expected at this time of year.

Irish Independent

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