All-Ireland SFC: Brave Kerry to end Dublin's reign
All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Kerry v Dublin (tomorrow, 3.30pm, Croke Park, live on RTÉ1 & Sky Sports 3)
NOTHING makes the Jones’ Road sparkle like the coalescence of sky blue and green and gold of a high summer Sunday afternoon.
The most fabled of all the rivalries, every meeting is an excuse to pore over the late 70s. This was a fixture that not only produced a clutch of memorable encounters, but which reignited the Dublin public’s love of Gaelic football.
When Kevin Moran sizzled in 1976, he guided the Metropolitans to their first Championship win over Kerry in 42 years. How the modern adaptation could do with a similar swing in fortune.
Three years ago, they produced arguably the greatest game the sport has ever seen. Dublin hadn’t embraced the sweeper and Kerry were happy to rage against the same light for another afternoon. What occurred was a feast for the eyes.
Last year’s final was a little less for the purist. A monsoon descended, the football as grey and depressing as the mackerels that drowned those famous colour splashes inside a packed Croke Park.
Yet it is still the game that gives us hope. By Tuesday, there wasn’t a ticket to be had for this one. Same as always.
But it’s been seven years since Kerry’s last significant victory over Dublin. Run-of-the-mill League wins in 2014 and 2012 were the Kingdom’s only profitable ventures from the last 11.
That record, combined with Kerry’s soft run to this stage, imbues the kinsmen with the fear that they are not sufficiently battle-hardened for this.
Dublin, though, have consumed Kerry’s every thought since the turn of the year. The roadmap was always destined to bring these two together tomorrow. Nothing in Leinster or Munster was ever going to obstruct it.
April’s National League final followed a pattern very familiar to their other recent meetings.
Statistics are often suspected to share a bed with lies and perhaps there is an element of that here.
Take their last four significant meetings: that National League final; the All-Ireland finals of 2015 and 2011; and the epic semi-final of three years ago.
There has never been more than two points between them heading into the last 15 minutes. Once they were level, and once Kerry led.
Dublin have won all four games by a combined margin of 22 points. They have won the last 15 minutes of those games on a combined score of 5-13 to 0-8.
That has opened the doors on the school of thought that Kerry don’t have the legs for this. But they were level in the 69th minute in 2013, having gone toe-to-toe, before they were finally broken by Kevin McManamon’s goal.
They were still level in the 70th minute in 2011. Aidan O’Mahony’s red card in this April’s League final contributed to their fall-off. And in last year’s final, Dublin won the last 15 minutes by just 0-2 to 0-1.
They have Kerry in a psychological vice grip. Those results add handsome layers to Dublin’s warm coat of invincibility.
26 games unbeaten in League and Championship is pushing them towards the yearning ambition of back-to-back All-Irelands.
Fitzmaurice is desperately struggling to break it and looks set to make a number of eyebrow-raising tactical switches.
There are suggestions that Colm Cooper is to be dropped. That would seem a counter-productive move if Kieran Donaghy plays at full-forward for Kerry. Dublin will have no choice but to play Philly McMahon at full-back.
Donnacha Walsh is set to play at midfield to pick up Michael Darragh Macauley’s runs on Dublin kickouts, while Mark Griffin is likely to come out from full-back in a man-for-man approach.
Key to the Kerry studies has been Cian O’Sullivan. They’ve failed in their last two meetings to move him out of the space he loves to occupy, just in front of his own goal. As a result, Kerry haven’t had a single shot on the Dublin goal.
Someone – most likely Paul Murphy – is likely to be pushed up on to O’Sullivan in a bid to make him mark a man. How far Kerry are prepared to go in their pursuit of that move will tell the tale. They could be pointing the gun at their own heads.
But Dublin’s full-back line is suspect now. Laois offered proof on the first outing of the summer. The problem since then is that no team has been brave enough to go and exploit it.
Kerry will at least try.
Brian Fenton won man-of-the-match in last year’s final after ruling his battle with David Moran. Those two will pair up once more as Kerry opt for the Kerin’s O’Rahilly’s man over Anthony Maher.
When they played together, Maher dropped back as a sweeper to allow Moran to push on. That is something that Kerry have missed defensively.
Kerry going with fresher legs – no Marc Ó Sé or Aidan O’Mahony – in defence from the start is another sign that they are going to try and run the gauntlet.
Shane Enright will renew acquaintances with Bernard Brogan, while Peter Crowley will be confident of a repeat mission on Diarmuid Connolly, having kept him scoreless in their last two meetings.
Dublin are likely to reintroduce James McCarthy and push Ciaran Kilkenny into the half-forward line again. Paul Mannion could certainly be considered unlucky to miss out, but Dean Rock’s consistency from frees is something that Jim Gavin highly values.
The champions are weaker in the full-back line and at midfield than they have been at any time in Gavin’s reign. If Kerry are brave enough, they can take them. The Kingdom to prevail.