GAA Football

Kerry boys not ready to take Dublin's greatness away

David Moran and Brian Fenton will be key men in the middle on Sunday. Picture by Seamus Loughran.

All-Ireland SFC final: Dublin v Kerry
Sunday, 3.30pm, Croke Park, live on RTÉ2 & Sky Sports Arena

IT’S rare that past, present and future all meet on one day. It could, perhaps should, have been Tyrone, but it’s fitting that it’s Kerry on a day where there will be a deeper legend written than by any other All-Ireland final.

Whether Dublin complete the five-in-a-row or the Kingdom lay a Darbyesque ambush, these two could contest half-a-dozen or more finals in the next ten years.

Yet through all the storied history they share, there’s nothing like this.

What Kerry are not used to is being the wee boy with a slingshot and a single stone, staring up at a giant that will mince them whole if they miss their shot.

They’ve had barren spells, they’ve had nemeses, but they’ve never had an unbearable, unscratchable itch as bad as Dublin.

For the last six years, Mayo have had all the credit for dragging football to shore and performing chest compressions, but Kerry would perhaps be owed a wee bit of that respect.

In 2011, they were level after 71 minutes. In 2013, arguably the best game of football ever played, they were level with 69 minutes gone and they’d a 3-on-1 on the crucial kickout only for Michael Darragh Macauley’s big paw to get there first.

The 2015 final, they just couldn’t live with it but they learned, and a year later they were five up at half-time and three up with nine minutes to go.

It’s all relevant, and it’s all irrelevant.

Dublin have swapped a few since but of the 20 players they used three years ago, only Paul Flynn has gone.

Their cosmetic changes compare to open heart surgery on Kerry. Aidan O’Mahony, Anthony Maher, Darran O’Sullivan, Colm Cooper, Donnchadh Walsh, Kieran Donaghy, Bryan Sheehan, Marc Ó Sé, all retired.

Not only is this largely a new team, but it’s a new manager. Eamonn Fitzmaurice never got the credit for how close he came to breaking the code. Some of the ways his teams tried to unpick the Dubs were seriously inventive.

Up until now, be it as minor or senior boss, Peter Keane has largely had better players than the opposition. That’s reversed here and we’ll only know tomorrow evening if he has the tactical acumen to bring his side across the line.

They may be unbeaten but Cork tore them up at times. They were gasping for air when Donegal scored a goal and had another disallowed for a square ball. Tyrone were so comfortable against them for 35 minutes that there seemed no hope of reprieve.

Even though they rescued the game, there’s so much about the whole performance – second half and all – that makes it very difficult to provide a case file in their defence here.

Tyrone’s plan was fairly basic. They hit the wings and from there they kicked it diagonal to Cathal McShane. Dublin will be more orchestrated, more organised, and far more ruthless.

It was only when Kerry went man-to-man against the Red Hands that the game turned. Their sweeper system was so ragged, yet the idea of exposing their defence one-on-one against the Dubs isn’t something you want anyone finding in your search history.

Dublin will be determined to put paid to Stephen O’Brien’s outstanding run of form, certainly more so than in the league meeting earlier this year when they didn’t really bother marking him at all.

His stock has soared but that will earn him a date with James McCarthy tomorrow.

_________________________________
Probable match-ups

                       S Ryan

T Morley       J Foley           P Murphy
D Rock       P Mannion    C O’Callaghan

G Crowley T O’Sullivan B Ó Beaglaoich  
B Howard   C Kilkenny        N Scully

          J Barry           D Moran
         B Fenton      MD Macauley

                   K Spillane
                  P McMahon

G White        S O’Shea      S O’Brien
J McCaffrey  J Small      J McCarthy                    

         P Geaney        D Clifford
      M Fitzsimons     J Cooper

                     S Cluxton
_________________________________

John Small is the perfect fit for Sean O’Shea, just as he was for the league game in Tralee, which Kerry won.

In terms of Kerry’s match-ups, they have a secret weapon. Donie Buckley was at the heart of Mayo’s decision making on the matter, which was close to perfect at times.

Paul Murphy is set to renew a duel with O’Callaghan that he had a fair bit of success in during the league meeting. Jason Foley, having performed admirably in a tough station against Cathal McShane, looks most likely for Paul Mannion, who has been Dublin’s best forward this summer.

Tom O’Sullivan is expected to go on Ciaran Kilkenny, but there could be a physical mismatch there that Kerry would be taking a big chance on in a central position.

Yet there’s the same concern for Dublin at the other end. For all their defensive qualities, who marks David Clifford? Jonny Cooper is primed for the nod but Kerry will fancy that battle. Clifford can handle the physicality.

Cian O’Sullivan is unlikely to start, though Philly McMahon probably will, and he’ll be the man most likely to drop off Killian Spillane and into the space as their part-time sweeper.

There are goals in Kerry, and they’ll need them. Realistically, they’ll need two, if not three, to make this a fight.

Their forward line has the potential to break the 20-point barrier, but to do that, they need the ball. Kerry just do not look physically capable of dominating possession on kickouts from either end.

They’ll have laid plans for Stephen Cluxton but Mayo took 29 per cent of his ball away and still got hammered. Kerry will do well to match that return.

David Moran has been Shane Ryan’s go-to man but Dublin annihilated his pairing with Anthony Maher in 2016, when they split one to each wings and Kerry kicked the ball on top of them. Dublin just broke it and gobbled up the breaks. Kerry have to learn from that and overload on one side rather than splitting their fielders up into one-v-one battles.

Jack Barry’s role will be to tail Brian Fenton but when you look at their half-back and half-forward divisions, there just isn’t the height and power to cope with Dublin’s sustained pressure on the ball over 70 minutes.

This is not 1982. Dublin will only feel the pressure of the five-in-a-row chase if this goes to the final quarter. But if you combine their last five championship meetings, Dublin have won the last 15 minutes by 5-20 to 0-12.

There is the sense that their options, with Paul Flynn retired, and Bernard Brogan, Eoghan O’Gara and Kevin McManamon all on the brink, are not as deep as they once were.

Kerry - who, lest we forget, did win a 2017 league final against a strong Dublin side - will turf Tommy Walsh and perhaps James O’Donoghue in at some stage, and they’ll have Killian Young and Jonathan Lyne for experienced reinforcements at the back. They will believe that if they take it to the brink, Dublin won’t be able to turn the game as easily off the bench now.

The boys in the Kerry ranks will be men very soon, and men with All-Ireland medals. Plural. Just not yet.

Money. Professionalism. Coaching. Luxuries. Hard work. Talent. You can choose yourself what you think it’s proof of.

Come Monday, a few at least will head for the retirement home, and the rivalry takes a turn towards Kerry’s favour.

But as of now, Dublin are the greatest we’ve ever seen. Tomorrow, they prove it.

____________________________________

Man of the moment
Brian Fenton
THE man who’s timed his run to perfection, in the figurative sense as much as the literal. Stepped into the team for his championship debut in the summer of 2015, and five seasons on he’s yet to lose a game. It’s a phenomenal record but it’s as much everyone else’s as it is his. Fenton has tended to shine on big occasions, winning man of the match in his first final against this opposition, but Kerry will feel that if they can shut him out of the game, they stand a real chance. Tyrone limited his impact very well in the opening 25 minutes last year, which allowed them to build a platform. Jack Barry has a good record on him, but this is the reigning Footballer of the Year.

Team talk
Dublin (probable): S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, J Cooper, P McMahon; J McCaffrey, J Small, J McCarthy; B Fenton, MD Macauley; B Howard, C Kilkenny, N Scully; D Rock, P Mannion, C O’Callaghan
HAVING found himself out of the team of late, Cian O’Sullivan seems set to be the first man of their power five at the back not to start an All-Ireland final since 2013. There has been speculation that Philly McMahon might be seated on the bench too, but his physicality will most likely earn him the nod over the unfortunate Davy Byrne. The front eight will be the same front eight it’s been through late summer. Rory O’Carroll will make the bench but Bernard Brogan most likely won’t. Diarmuid Connolly to come in at some point.

Kerry (probable): S Ryan; J Foley, T Morley, P Murphy; B Ó Beaglaoich, T O’Sullivan, G Crowley; J Barry, D Moran; G White, S O’Shea, S O’Brien, P Geaney, D Clifford, K Spillane
PETER Keane’s biggest call will be at midfield, where it seems inevitable that Jack Barry’s good record in duels with Brian Fenton will earn him the starting slot ahead of Tommy Walsh, with Adrian Spillane dropping out of the side. Gavin White’s been trained up all year for the Jack McCaffrey man-marking job. Jack Sherwood’s impressive second half against Tyrone is unlikely to be enough to earn him a start. Shane Enright, Jonathan Lyne and Killian Young will add a bit of experience to an otherwise young bench.

Dublin tactical take
CIAN O’Sullivan’s almost certain omission means they’ll most likely operate with a rotating sweeper, with Philly McMahon and James McCarthy most likely to fulfil the role. Kerry won’t want to give them a sweeper at all, and by lining out with five out-and-out forwards and a marker on Jack McCaffrey, there will be times when Dublin’s full-back line is inevitably left exposed. Their work on the kickouts from both ends is what offers them the domination of most games, and they will have no fear of David Moran in the air when they think back to recent meetings. Jonny Cooper looks the most likely to pick up David Clifford, and they will be wary of Kerry trying to use the aerial route that’s been successful against them.

Kerry tactical take
SO much of the beating of Dublin will have to have been done in the last three weeks and continued on the line tomorrow afternoon. Kerry have so many questions to answer. Can their full-back line cope? Can they win enough of their own ball on Shane Ryan’s kickouts? Can they curtail Ciaran Kilkenny? Can they put enough pressure on the Dublin full-back line? Will they do it in the air? Can Sean O’Shea shake off the attentions of John Small and influence the game? And can Gavin White be the man to stop Jack McCaffrey running the show? That is an awful lot of ifs. Get enough of them right and Kerry can absolutely win, but it’s a huge challenge.

Key battle
Jonny Cooper v David Clifford
IN all the games they’ve won this decade, when’s the last time Dublin had to worry about a real superstar full-forward playing against them? Ordinarily their match-ups don’t seem all that pivotal as so many of their defenders are so versatile, but suddenly you’re looking and wondering who picks up a big, strong, quick inside forward like David Clifford. This will be the first time they’ve faced him in a championship game, which makes him a relatively unknown quantity. It has to be Cooper who picks him up, and it will be his biggest man-marking task in quite a while.

Weather watch
IF the GAA has gained anything by bringing the All-Ireland finals forward, it’s that the football final will be played in sunshine forever more. This is the weekend the kids go back to school, and that means good weather. 16 degrees and sunny in Croker tomorrow.

Last championship meeting
2016 All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin 0-22 Kerry 2-14
LEADING by 0-9 to 0-4 early on, it seemed that the Unbeatables were about to steamroll Kerry. Then Paul Geaney intercepted a kickout in a brilliantly planned routine, they worked a goal off it and by half-time, the Kingdom had turned the five-point deficit into a five-point lead.
Geaney got up with Stephen Cluxton on Anthony Maher’s hanging shot and palmed across the line in stoppage time, giving Kerry the most unlikely of 2-8 to 0-9 interval advantages.
Dublin figured the game out and led by the imperious Diarmuid Connolly, they quickly wiped out the lead not once but twice, having found themselves three down again in the final ten minutes.
Referee David Gough waved away Kerry appeals for a free with a point between them in stoppage time, and Dublin broke the length of the field for Connolly to kick the sealing score.

Dublin: S Cluxton; D Byrne, P McMahon (0-1), J Cooper; J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, J Small; B Fenton (0-1), MD Macauley; P Flynn, D Connolly (0-3), C Kilkenny; K McManamon (0-2), D Rock (0-12, 0-8 frees, 0-2 45s), B Brogan (0-2)
Subs: P Andrews for Flynn (45), P Mannion for Small (50), E O’Gara (0-1) for Macauley (59), M Fitzsimons for Cooper (66), C Costello for Brogan (70)

Kerry: B Kelly; S Enright, M Griffin, K Young; P Murphy (0-1), P Crowley, A O’Mahony, T Morley; A Maher, D Moran (0-1); Darran O’Sullivan (1-0), C Cooper (0-5, 0-4 frees), D Walsh; K Donaghy, P Geaney (1-4)
Subs: S O’Brien (0-1) for D O’Sullivan (39), J O’Donoghue (0-1) for Donaghy (50), BJ Keane (0-1) for Walsh (51), B Ó Beaglaoich for Morley (56), B Sheehan for Maher (58), M Ó Sé for Geaney (66)

Referee: D Gough (Meath)

Who’s the ref?
David Gough
FORGET the furore. David Gough is the best referee in Ireland. He should have had an All-Ireland final by now, but he has this one, and rightly so. Kerry are still sore about his decision not to award Peter Crowley a late free in the semi-final in 2016, and made that the basis for a seemingly orchestrated campaign to put pressure on the GAA not to put him into this game. You can only read the game cynically now, and you have to think Kerry didn’t want him because he allows more physicality in the game than any other referee. That only suits one team, and they don’t wear green and gold.

Betting box
Dublin 1/5
Draw 14/1
Kerry 5/1
Handicap
Dublin (-6) 11/10
Draw (-6) 11/1
Kerry (+6) 10/11
First goalscorer
Con O’Callaghan 5/1
Dean Rock 6/1
David Clifford 13/2
Worth a punt
Any Dublin Player to get a black card in injury time 9/2

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