Saturday 25 January 2020

Today's Allianz Football League finals

Dublin player Eoghan O'Gara Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin player Eoghan O'Gara Photo: Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

Division 1, Dublin v Kerry, Croke Park, 3.30: By all accounts Kerry are confident of bringing a really competitive edge to this final, the latest instalment of a traditional rivalry which has been played for the greater part of history on Kerry’s terms.

Dublin’s current era of prosperity has its roots in a traumatising hiding from Kerry in Pat Gilroy’s time, corrected with that stunning comeback in the final stretch of the All-Ireland final of 2011. Kerry blew it, indisputably, with careless handling but there was no debating Dublin’s superiority in 2013 or in last year’s September finale.

What grated with Kerry was not so much the latest defeat, though three in succession from Dublin in championship was unprecedented, but rather the wretched poverty of their football. Both teams struggled with the conditions, but Kerry had too many below-par individuals to keep their hopes afloat. In desperation they brought on Kieran Donaghy and began lobbing in high balls. It nearly worked yet Dublin were streets ahead, even if the scoreboard did not reflect it.

That has been a slightly nagging issue for Dublin, the lack of ruthlessness to really bury a team, which had been a hallmark of Kerry in their pomp. It could happen yet, it might be the next phase, and they have a surfeit of attacking options, all gunning for a place and only two or three probably guaranteed the start. Back into the mix comes Eoghan O’Gara, while Paul Mannion has shown no loss of impact during his time away. That a player like Cormac Costello takes so long to find a spot, and even then isn’t a more regular starter, says it all about Dublin’s abundance of forward riches.

Therein lies the test for Kerry. They have, collectively, to deal with Dublin coming at them, with regular runs from deep and the likes of James McCarthy and Philly McMahon eating up the ground. In the same way that Jim McGuinness prepared from afar for Dublin’s challenge, Eamonn Fitzmaurice must also have been consumed with a strategy with Dublin in mind. Their midfield was wiped out last year, another department on a mission. Donaghy has returned to this old habitat and done well but this is a switch up a gear for him and all the others.

With Anthony Maher to return and James O’Donoghue also in recovery, Kerry can look forward to ongoing improvement if they don’t ship a bad beating today. That does not look like happening and they entertain reasonable hopes after a six-match unbeaten run of making it seven. Brendan O’Sullivan has been giving them good attacking variation coming off the bench and Darran O’Sullivan has enlivened the attack with his trademark runs. But beating Dublin might have to wait a bit longer.

Dublin: S Cluxton; P McMahon, J Cooper, D Byrne;  J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, J Small; B Fenton, D Bastick; P Flynn, P Andrews, C Kilkenny; P Mannion, D Connolly,  B Brogan.

Kerry: B Kealy; M ó Se, M Griffin, S Enright; P Crowley, A O’Mahony, F Fitzgerald; K Donaghy, D Moran; B Sheehan, P Murphy, D Walsh; D O’Sullivan, C Cooper, S O’Brien.

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Verdict: Dublin

Division 2, Cavan v Tyrone, Croke Park, 1.30

It feels a long way since Cavan went to Healy Park at the end of January and surrendered by two points. Today’s reunion is an entirely different proposition coming during a spell of summer-like weather, and on good ground before a huge crowd, compared to the mud-splattered, rain-sodden match in Omagh.

These defeats can be character-forming, for the one that followed was harder to swallow and the last they’ve incurred. Cavan’s one-point reverse to Derry was a match that slipped from their grasp and they’ve spent much of the league hoping it would not come back to haunt them. Their form turned midway through the next match against Meath and hasn’t changed course since. The team’s peak arrived in the form of a 17-point demolition of Armagh, evidence of what they can do when they click.

Seánie Johnston, the top scorer and man of the match that day, has overcome a hamstring injury to be named in today’s starting side, with some good players on the bench like Cian Mackey, Jack Brady and Eugene Keating ready to come if he can’t last the duration.

The inspirational captain Gearóid McKiernan advertised his talents with five points from play in the match that sealed promotion, the win over Galway in the last round. He typified a team full of running and rising confidence, the side’s vaulting ambition underlined by full-back Killian Clarke storming up the field to score.

Over seven years Cavan became almost institutionalised in Division 3 before getting up two years ago. Tyrone attracted much of the attention this spring, on the back of last year’s championship effort, but in the final rounds, with Mickey Harte’s team virtually sure of promotion, they dropped points in successive draws.

In that time Cavan kept producing fireworks but they have been making life unduly hard on themselves with some errant shooting. It is at under 21 level that Cavan have laid the foundation of their current rise at senior, winning four provincial titles back to back, the first two at Tyrone’s expense. In Croke Park and on the crest of the current wave, they have every chance, provided they can keep their shooting straight.

The pressure is off and their real ambition is not beating Tyrone, but Armagh come the Ulster Championship. Tyrone, led by Seán Cavanagh in what will be his 100th league appearance, are streetwise enough to be able to deal with the force coming their way.

Cavan: R Galligan; P Faulkner, K Clarke, J McLoughlin; C Brady, C Moynagh, K Brady; T Corr, L Buchanan;  D McVeety, G McKiernan, M Reilly; D Givney, M Argue, S Johnston.

Tyrone: M O’Neill; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; R Brennan, J McMahon, T McCann; C Cavanagh, M Donnelly; N Sludden, M Bradley, R Donnelly; C McAliskey, S Cavanagh, R O’Neill.

Verdict: Tyrone

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