Saturday 20 January 2018

Peter Canavan: Battle-hardened Dubs have edge over Kingdom

Kerry have too many questions to answer, and McCaffrey can steal the show for Gavin's troops

Paul Flynn, left, and Michael Darragh MacAuley
Paul Flynn, left, and Michael Darragh MacAuley

Peter Canavan

The morning of an All-Ireland final is not a pleasant place to be. From the semi-final to the final, for every morning I couldn't help wake up and think of Croke Park and All-Ireland final day and the prospect of getting my hands on Sam Maguire. I expect every player is the same.

It brings a serious level of pressure and for weeks beforehand you become familiar with a nervous energy that makes it hard to relax. It's important to take your mind off it. If that means having a bit of craic and playing a hand of cards, going for a walk or reading a book, you do whatever you can to not expend too much nervous energy.

On the morning of my first final, in 1995, we were staying in Finnstown Castle Hotel and I played nine holes of golf. The idea of that now seems madness, walking a few miles around a course, but our fourball that morning included our manager, Art McRory!

By 2003, it had tapered into a light walk around the golf course. You also had the usual round of meetings, mass and, in some cases, physio treatment.

In 2005, we were staying in Castleknock and myself and Chris Lawn walked around the course, trying to absorb that special feeling that you will imminently be part of the biggest sporting occasion in the country. We both knew this was the last time we would be in this position.

Any thinking about the game needs to serve a purpose. Nowadays, players know that psychological preparation is every bit as important as the physical preparation. You have to equip yourself for different eventualities.

'Does he start Kieran Donaghy? He is the captain of the team. An inspirational figure who has done it on the big stage time and time again'
'Does he start Kieran Donaghy? He is the captain of the team. An inspirational figure who has done it on the big stage time and time again'

Players will have been taught methods to deal with the anxiety/stress - therefore, they can view the game in a more positive light, rather than in fear or dread. You learn that regardless of all the hype and all the buzz, it's still only a game. The simple things will decide the game. That's all.

Kerry and Dublin have nothing to learn about how to prepare for a final. The Dublin players have no travelling to worry about, while the Kerry squad could tell you every pothole on the road on the way up.

Make no mistake, this game will lie in the hands of Eamonn Fitzmaurice. How he plays his hand will decide where Sam Maguire spends his winter.

Take it for granted that Dublin's style of play is not going to change. Some feel that Jim Gavin has crucial decisions to make in terms of players who are pushing hard to get the starting 15.

But he will want players coming off the bench to have a serious impact and he knows Kevin McManamon provides that. When the game opens up, he has no problem immediately getting to the pace. He is lethal.

Imagine the temptation at this point to start Michael Darragh Macauley ahead of Paul Flynn, who appears to be struggling with injury. Macauley deserves a starting berth, but Gavin has to tread that line between having something in his hand, and keeping Kerry in suspense. The Kerry management have a greater range of questions to answer.

I don't believe they will participate in a shootout. The hallmark of Fitzmaurice's tenure has been his pragmatism. He is not in it to nurture a stylish brand of football, he is in it for Kerry to win, regardless of how it's done.

He knows what makes life difficult for Dublin, observing that in the League they had difficulty with teams who put bodies behind the ball. Like they did last year, Kerry will enter this final with a conservative approach.

Another thing he might try is to push up on Dublin's kickouts. Mayo did this only half-heartedly. They always gave Dublin one or two choices. Not only did the Dubs win 18 out of 19, but they created scoring chances out of the majority of those kickouts.

Mayo's Jason Doherty is quickly closed down Dublin players, left to right, James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey, and Jonny Cooper
Mayo's Jason Doherty is quickly closed down Dublin players, left to right, James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey, and Jonny Cooper

Tyrone proved that when you don't kick the ball out to Kerry, you rob David Moran and Anthony Maher of their effectiveness in midfield.

One other huge element comes in his selection dilemma.

While the team has been named officially, this is merely Fitzmaurice following protocol and it might have little or no bearing on his real plans.

If he goes with a defensive approach elsewhere, can you really afford to have Colm Cooper as a creative force operating deeper? That was a role he struggled with against Cork.

Or will he be tempted to start the mercurial dead-ball expert that is Bryan Sheehan, knowing how crucial the freetaker is on the big day.

Does he start Kieran Donaghy? He is the captain of the team. An inspirational figure who has done it on the big stage time and time again.

But still. . . this year it hasn't come as easy for him.

It's clear from their second-half performance against Tyrone that they no longer rely on him. Does Paul Geaney get the nod here?

Every one of the Dublin subs will be well and truly scrutinised by the Kerry management.

It's the same for Dublin. Gavin will have considered what Tommy Walsh can bring Kerry in a pressurised situation. He will already have plans drawn up for that eventuality.

Quite often on All-Ireland final day, the performance of one player can make a huge difference. On big days like this, often it's not one of the marquee forwards that steals the limelight, but one of the footsoldiers. This game could be well set up for Jack McCaffrey.

He has the speed to open up the Kerry defence and cause a lot of trouble. If Kerry do concede space to Dublin and drop men behind the ball to limit the space for Brogan and Paddy Andrews, there will be more ground around the middle for Diarmuid Connolly and McCaffrey to use their cutting edge to cause problems for Kerry.

So, the old question. Who will win?

It has to be Dublin.

I think Kerry have had one stiff examination in nine weeks, since the Cork replay. Whereas Dublin, in a short space of time have had two really physical, competitive games.

In both games, the character of the Dublin players was questioned and they weren't found wanting.

They have watched as Tyrone - with a forward line they would see as inferior to theirs - opened up Kerry for four goal-scoring chances.

If you consider how the two games against Mayo brought Kerry on last year, you can make exactly the same case for Dublin this year.

That will be enough to take them over the line.

Irish Independent

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