KERRY versus Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final in front of a near full house in Croke Park.
This is the biggest day and the biggest game so far in the 2022 championship.
Mind you, it would want to be. After today, we’ve only the two finals left!
I could go full ‘Anthony Daly mode’ and reminisce about the great Dublin v Kerry games: the skelpings, the characters, the craic.
But, to be perfectly honest, I don’t remember too much about any of them. All I do recall is that any time we lost it was billed as a great game.
The classic example is the 1977 All-Ireland semi-final, regularly touted as the greatest game of all time.
If you get a chance, watch the full video of the game. It hasn’t aged well.
It’s not sour grapes on my part. But it is most definitely NOT the greatest game of all time.
Maybe I am getting cranky in my old age, but the Dublin v Kerry championship clashes in the last decade or so don’t have the same universal appeal as the duels during the seventies.
The Dublin supporters, like the Kerry fans of my era, became so accustomed to winning they got bored and stopped going in the same numbers.
Likewise, there has been a drop off in Kerry’s fan base, though for an entirely different reason.
They’ve got tired of losing and repeated failures at All-Ireland level, and stopped travelling.
In fairness, the cost of bringing a family from Kerry to Dublin on a day trip for a match is astronomical.
As for staying in a hotel in Dublin on a match weekend, unless you have won the lotto it is not affordable.
Rip-off Ireland is alive and well in the hotel industry in the capital.
So, who is going to win today? There is no definitive answer.
Dublin appear to have their mojo back after a difficult league.
A big ‘but’ has to be added, though. Dessie Farrell’s side hasn’t been tested in the championship.
Only at around five o’clock this evening will we know whether the lack of competition to date has cost them.
Of course, Kerry strolled through the Munster championship in second gear.
However, Mayo did offer some resistance in the quarter-final.
Whisper it quietly – had the Kingdom been playing against Armagh instead that afternoon, they probably would have lost.
Let’s examine what former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld labelled the ‘known knowns’.
There are striking similarities between the various statistics racked up by the two sides in
Kerry have averaged more than 25 points per game in their three games; Dublin’s average in their four games is more than 22 points.
Dublin has conceded an average of just over 12 points per game; Kerry has conceded just fewer than 11.
Dublin’s average winning margin is over 15 points per game; Kerry’s just over 14.
Drilling deep into Dublin’s performances is probably futile.
They never looked like losing any of their games.
The Dubs were devastating in the first half against both Meath and Kildare.
Against Meath, they registered 18 scores from 19 shots.
In the Leinster final against the Lilies, Dublin converted 12 of their 14 first-half chances, chalking up an impressive 5-7.
Cork posed a bit of a challenge in the quarter-final with their ultra-defensive set-up.
But after 13 minutes of the action, with Dublin leading four points to one, I jotted down two words – ‘game over’.
Deploying a sweeper against Dublin is akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul.
It allows them to play the game on their terms.
Such is their game intelligence, allied to the luxury of having an unmarked player out the field, they will eventually find the pockets of space to get their runners into it and win the game.
Being hyper-critical, Dublin were outscored by both Meath and Kildare in the second half of their respective matches.
The absence of two of their key players, captain James McCarthy and vice-captain Can O’Callaghan, impacted on their performance against Cork.
I have never been convinced about the Dublin defence; I think their full-back line is there for the taking.
Despite limited opportunities, Cork opened them up on several occasions.
Up front, they occasionally struggle to cope against packed defences.
They were unable to replicate the glorious free-flowing front-foot game they played against Kildare when faced by Cork’s massed defence.
Even though Dean Rock hasn’t missed a free in the championship, the absence of a left-footed place-kicker could be a handicap.
Their subs bench is only a pale shadow of Dublin’s golden era – and, apart from the Kildare game, they have been very shy in the goal-scoring department.
The Dubs failed to create a single goal chance against Cork, and scored only one each against Meath and Wexford despite their dominance.
So, to be perfectly honest, I don’t really know whether Dublin are ready to push on and win Sam.
As for Kerry. On the plus side, they have been consistent since the start of the year.
They have fielded close to full-strength teams in all their games, and attempted to deliver top-class performances.
So I have more of a handle on them, compared to Dublin.
Their attacking flair, star forwards, and new-look defensive system – featuring Tadgh Morley in a sweeping role – are obvious pluses.
But what has stood out is their incredible work rate all over the field.
This is the key difference compared to previous Kerry sides of recent years who have not got the All-Ireland job done.
The tackling, tracking, and unselfish runs, allied to a swarm defence, puts opponents in possession under enormous pressure.
Here are just two statistics to underpin this argument.
Of the 1-28 they scored against Limerick, 16 points came from turnovers.
They were even more effective against Mayo: all but seven points of Kerry’s 1-18 total came from the same turnovers.
And it is very difficult to score goals against them.
In their 14 games this year to date, Kerry have conceded one goal from open play – against Tyrone in the final round of the league.
The importance of having a powerful substitutes bench was demonstrated last Sunday.
Limerick hurlers owe their victory over Galway in the hurling semi-final to the impact of their replacements.
Kerry have a powerful bench. Against Cork, the first three subs on that evening – David Moran, Paul Murphy and Paul Geaney – were all All-Star winners.
Against Mayo, Murphy was introduced while three of their other replacements – Killian Spillane, Micheál Burns and Joe O’Connor – would be first-team players with most other counties.
Kerry beat Mayo despite playing relatively poorly.
The poor performance of midfielder Diarmuid O’Connor was worrying.
More backs and midfielders (4) scored than starting forwards (3).
Even though Mayo only scored 0-13, they got away more shots than Kerry – primarily because the Kerry defenders stood off them.
The Dublin management team don’t need to be on top of their game to have noticed that Kerry, too, struggle to break down blanket defences.
They were one point up after 50 minutes against Cork.
Allowed to play an attacking, kicking game Kerry are devastating.
But when forced to carry the ball and play it through their hands, and bring it into the tackle, they can look very ordinary indeed – see the first half against Mayo.
Kerry don’t need reminding that in last year’s semi-final loss 25 of the 30 turnovers they conceded happened in the Tyrone half.
Against Mayo, 16 of 24 turnovers happened inside the Kerry attack zone.
Again, like Dublin, Kerry are goal shy this season.
They created one chance against Cork, which they failed to convert.
Even though Limerick were punch-drunk by the end of the Munster final, Kerry still managed only one goal.
They created two green-flag chances against Mayo – David Clifford (inset) scored one, Paul Geaney missed the easier chance.
Clifford is the best forward and, probably, the best footballer in the game right now.
But I worry over whether he is being overused, in the sense that virtually every attack is going through him.
More worrying is that most of his assists come from his brother Paudie.
But when Tyrone’s Conor Meyler man-marked Paudie in last year’s semi-final and Lee Keegan did a similar job on his brother two weeks ago, David was less influential.
And when that happens, the Kerry attack is blunted.
You can be certain Dublin will have some marking plan for both Cliffords this afternoon.
For Dublin the big question is whether either, or both, of Con O’Callaghan and James McCarthy will be match fit.
O’Callaghan provides Dublin with the X factor up front, while McCarthy is the on-field leader.
They are Dublin’s two most influential players – if both are missing, Kerry will definitely win.
The Kerry dilemma is the fitness of David Clifford. He clearly wasn’t 100 per cent right playing against Mayo.
Had it been any other player, he would have been substituted. Yet he scored 1-2 from play.
And Kerry’s injury woes don’t end with Clifford.
Will Adrian Spillane and Jack Barry be match fit? Given their athleticism and pace, the pair are archetypal Croke Park players.
In past meetings Barry has done a most effective tagging job on Brian Fenton – who, as a result, has never been at his most effective best against Kerry.
Jack O’Connor is a great man for ‘horses for courses’ when it comes to team selection.
Against Limerick they wanted scoring forwards, so Killian Spillane started his first ever Munster championship match and was named Man of the Match.
Only in Kerry would the Man of the Match and the highest scorer in the previous game be dropped for the next game.
But for the Mayo match Jack opted to go with Dara Moynihan’s prowess as a workhorse.
Do Kerry start David Moran, who is the best midfielder in Kerry by a country mile?
Moran started against Mayo and was superb. But he might not be as effective against a pacier Dublin.
Personally, I would start him and get as much as you can out of him for as long as possible.
Anyway, after all these words, it is time to get off the fence.
It would be easier to pick the winning lotto numbers than to get the inside track on what’s happening in the Kerry camp – never mind what’s going on in Dublin.
Kerry boss O’Connor has an excellent track record when it comes to having his team in peak shape for the games that count.
I have a sneaky feeling that their poor performance against Mayo might be down to them doing a heavy block of training the week before.
This is the game they wanted to peak for all season – and it will be the moment they finally get the better of Dublin in the championship after six failed attempts.