Tuesday 20 February 2018

Tomás Ó Sé: Kerry have helped create the Dublin monster

For a Kingdom player, I can tell you there's nothing better than beating Dublin - and nothing worse than losing to them

Tomás O Sé, Kerry, reacts against Dublin in 2013
Tomás O Sé, Kerry, reacts against Dublin in 2013
Dublin-Kerry games have always had that edge. Win them and there’s a little more satisfaction. Lose them and you’re down for longer (Stock picture)

Tomás Ó Sé

The nicest thing I can say about Dublin is probably that they gave me my best day in football. They also gave me my worst.

The best was 2009. Jesus we hammered them in the quarter-final that day. My clearest memory of that game was looking up at the Hill with a few minutes to go and it was half-empty. An hour and a half earlier the thing had been heaving.

That year we had been struggling. We were being told we were done. Even our own fellas at home were against us. We weren't given a chance going into that quarter-final. But after 70 minutes with us that day, Dublin left Croke Park a shell of a team. Winning that game was like getting to the end of a rainbow.

After that, I knew we'd go pretty close to winning the All-Ireland that year. And as it turned out, we did win it. The Dublin game set us up for that.

The worst was the All-Ireland semi-final in 2013. Now you might be surprised that it's not the 2011 final.

We blew that game. Blew a winning position. Blew a bloody All-Ireland. Nine times out of ten we'd have seen that game out, and in some ways that made it easier to digest. I suppose you could tell yourself that wouldn't happen like that again.

Extra All Ireland pics 15 .jpg
Dublin's Paul Casey celebrates with the Sam Maguire cup as team-mate Kevin McManamon is overcome with emotion in 2011
Dublin celebrate in 2011

So for me 2013 was more galling. In 2011 they put us down. Any team can do that to you on a given day. But in 2013 we threw everything at them and they still bested us. They had put us down in 2011, and '13 showed that they were mad to put the boot on our throats.

It was only then it started to become clear that in letting them off the hook in '11, we'd helped to create a monster. 2013 was the end of me too. That game has every reason to stick in my craw.

I suppose it's important to put all of that into context. When I grew up there were two teams you had to beat. There was Dublin and there was Cork and that was it. Winning those games was just non-negotiable. When you grow up hearing stories about Heffo's team and the likes of Billy Morgan, they leave a mark.

Those rivalries were fierce. Someone reminded me recently of a story PO told about a team meeting before one of those games with Dublin in the '70s. Micko, Páidí said, had this thing about Paddy Cullen. He reckoned Cullen was the best goalkeeper in the country and was key to the whole Dublin set-up. And he wanted to upset him.

Now Cullen was a good player but he had men in front of him like Sean Doherty, Pat O'Neill and Brian Mullins. They were strong men. Hard men who were well respected by the Kerry players of the time. I don't think I'm being unfair when I say they were well able to put manners on a fella as well.

Anyway, Dwyer told his players that if they got through one on one with Cullen and got the chance, they were to give him a good rattle.

Páidí stuck the hand up and asked Dwyer if he had any suggestions how they might get back out in one piece!

Dublin-Kerry games have always had that edge. Win them and there's a little more satisfaction. Lose them and you're down for longer. I'm gone three years now but these are still the games I miss.

At the moment in Kerry we're down. Four wins in a row in championship the Dubs are going for. Jesus. When you say it like that. . .

For a few years we were on top. Now it's their turn. The roles have been reversed. And the one thing that stands out for me is the amount of leaders on the two teams.

People get mixed up as to what leaders are. For me they are the fellas who do the right thing when it's needed and make the big plays.

We always had them in our team. Seamo. He came on the scene when Kerry were down but he'd nearly always be the best player there. And he'd fire some lad over the line or win a ball he shouldn't just when we needed it.

Colm Cooper will play for Kerry again next year

Darragh was the same. The big paws would go up and he'd grab a crucial kick-out. Declan O'Sullivan too. The Gooch. Jesus he'd pull genies out of airtight bottles.

Leaders do it on the big days against the best teams. And they do it in the sh*t in Waterford or the muck in Sligo or up in Donegal in the depths of winter. They never hide. They go and hunt the game down. They just know how to boss a match.

Dublin have leaders now. And I think 2011 brought it out of them because I know from playing them myself that wasn't always the case. The team we played against in the 2000s? Well they were good lads. And they had some very good footballers.

But you'd be going out against them and you were fairly confident that once you'd turn the game against them they'd accept their fate and move on. That as soon as you scratched below the surface, beneath the 'marching towards the Hill' craic, the chest out, preening stuff, you could get into them.

That's not the case any more. 2011 gave them a taste for beating Kerry. But 2013 gave them the bit of extra confidence. Look at Cluxton, Philly McMahon, James McCarthy, Bernard, Paul Flynn. Ciaran Kilkenny too. These are boys who put out fires every time they go out.

Now I don't like saying this but can we say the same about this Kerry team? For me, that's the difference between the two sides.

Fellas at home would be moaning at me, saying I'm too hard on Kerry sometimes. And I know some lads haven't been impressed in what I write here at times. But it's only because it still hurts. I hate seeing Kerry lose. There's still a connection there.

Paul Flynn celebrates scoring Dublin's first goal as Kerry's Brendan Kealy looks on
Paul Flynn in a huge player for Dublin

I'll use Paul Flynn as an example. He has been superb for the last number of seasons. Our lads they were brilliant in 2014. But can we say we have someone similar to Flynn? Someone who is consistently excellent like he has been? Can we say we have kicked on since the 2014 All-Ireland win? I don't think we can.

Did success come to a few of them too young or too early in their careers? I'm not sure. But loads of lads won their first one young and kicked on. And these lads can do that too. David Moran and Paul Murphy were outstanding that year and they can go toe to toe with the Dubs. There are others too.

Fellas have said to me Kerry were lucky to win that one. Now I wouldn't agree but that's a flavour of what is being said about these lads. It just goes to show how fickle things are when it comes to football.

Now I'm not writing these boys off. Far from it. One thing about Kerry, they are never a beaten docket. When we had bad years in '02 and '03 we always believed. We always believed that we were Kerry and that we could stick to anyone. Always.

Stephen Cluxton of Dublin during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Meath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton

These boys can do it tomorrow. They'll need to put the squeeze on Cluxton. Make Cian O'Sullivan do something he doesn't want to do. Frustrate their forwards. And you need your own forwards on song.

That's a lot of things to get right, but that is what Kerry will need to do. This Dublin team are that good.

I believe that performance is in Kerry. I don't think we're as consistent as Dublin. We haven't learned how to fly at that altitude consistently yet. But there is a big game in us.

I had a bit of a go at a few Kerry lads after the league final and it wasn't popular. We didn't show anything else that day and I don't think we were holding anything back either. Kerry need to show something different and deliver a performance they can stand over. I don't think they could do that in either the league final or last year's All-Ireland.

Logic points to a Dublin win. If you put the body of work Dublin have produced over the last 18 months up against Kerry's, it's hard to make a case for us.

But if you asked me where the hope is coming from, I'd ask you where did Dublin see their hope back in 2011? They have a serious team now but those lads like Flynn, Brogan, Cluxton and the rest won't be around for ever and they'll be hard to replace. The worm has to turn at some stage. Why can't it be tomorrow?

All that has happened in the Kerry dressing-room to this point is talk and planning. And that's all fine but when it comes to it, it isn't really worth a sh*t. Going out and doing it? That's the real stuff.

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