Sport

Kenny Archer: It's Dublin and Kerry's Gaelic football world - for the rest it's only cage wars

Kenny Archer

Kenny Archer

Kenny is the deputy sports editor and a Liverpool FC fan.

Dublin celebrate regaining the Sam Maguire Cup by defeating holders Kerry in Sunday's All-Ireland SFC Final. Pic Philip Walsh
Dublin celebrate regaining the Sam Maguire Cup by defeating holders Kerry in Sunday's All-Ireland SFC Final. Pic Philip Walsh Dublin celebrate regaining the Sam Maguire Cup by defeating holders Kerry in Sunday's All-Ireland SFC Final. Pic Philip Walsh

Let's face facts, folks.

In Gaelic football, it's Kerry and Dublin's world. The rest of us just live in it. Once a while, some of us thrive.

But the Big Two are never far away from the podium, and never for long.

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At least two out of every three All-Ireland senior football finals will involve Dublin or Kerry, sometimes both.

And Dublin or Kerry will win more than half of those finals.

Indeed, when either of them get to the ultimate stage they win two times out of every three. Dublin's final winning percentage is 70 per cent (31 out of 44); Kerry's is 61 per cent (38 out of 62).

What's more, the Dubs haven't lost an All-Ireland Senior Football Final since Down defeated them in 1994. So, excluding draws, they've won the last 10 finals they've contested.

Kerry are much more beatable, not just by the Dubs, but as Armagh and Tyrone both showed in the first decade of this century.

Those were two tremendous teams, though: the Orchardmen a driven, excellent outfit under the exemplary guidance of Joe Kernan, who would surely have won more All-Irelands in another era; the Red Hands boasting one of the greatest players ever, Peter Canavan, along with a fearsome forward line.

Still, as was shown then, more often than not The Kingdom only exit to the eventual champions, as has been the case in their last six finals against the Dubs, Tyrone in the semi-final two years ago, and Donegal in the 2012 quarter-finals. The exceptions since 2008 were Cork in 2020 (when there was no 'back door' due to Covid), Galway in the Super Eights opener in 2018, and Mayo in a 2017 semi-final replay.

Tyrone's Conor Meyler and Kerry's Paudie Clifford in action during the 2021 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Pic Philip Walsh
Tyrone's Conor Meyler and Kerry's Paudie Clifford in action during the 2021 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Pic Philip Walsh Tyrone's Conor Meyler and Kerry's Paudie Clifford in action during the 2021 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Pic Philip Walsh

Dublin's weekend win over Kerry took the former's tally of All-Irelands to 31 – you need to add together the next five counties on the roll of honour (Galway with nine, Cork and Meath with seven each, Cavan and Wexford with five each) to overtake that. Adding on Down's five only matches Kerry's total of 38.

Dublin and Kerry's 69 between them is more than all the rest put together (67).

History teaches us that Gaelic football's Big Two have reached two-thirds of all previous finals – and around four out of five finals ever since the traditional format was changed in 2001.

Their dominance has only been increasing.

Between them they've won two out of every three finals in the modern era: it's now nine for Dublin compared to six for the Kingdom since the introduction of the qualifiers format in 2001.

Sure, those stats are arguably skewed somewhat by the unprecedented dominance of the Dubs' six-in-a-row team, but two of those final victories (2015 and 2019) came against Kerry anyway. Dublin also defeated Kerry in the 2011 decider and on Sunday past.

Three of the eight other triumphs came in the first three seasons of the new era: Galway, Armagh, and Tyrone.

Five of those other eight triumphs came in the first eight seasons of that new era, with that extraordinary Red Hands team under the guidance of the brilliant Mickey Harte adding two more titles, both against Kerry.

In the 15 years since then, though, only Cork (2010), Donegal (2012), and Tyrone (2021) have taken the Sam Maguire Cup away from Dublin or Kerry.

The Big Two have now won 10 out of the last 11 All-Ireland Football Finals.

Dublin's Paddy Small scoring his goal despite the best efforts of Kerry's Paul Murphy. Pic Philip Walsh
Dublin's Paddy Small scoring his goal despite the best efforts of Kerry's Paul Murphy. Pic Philip Walsh Dublin's Paddy Small scoring his goal despite the best efforts of Kerry's Paul Murphy. Pic Philip Walsh

Some people thought Dublin were 'gone' after relegation from Division One last year, followed by defeat in the All-Ireland semi-final for the second season running.

That seemed a bizarre take to me. Last year they lost by a point. To Kerry. The year before they exited against Mayo. After extra time.

Back in early March of this year, before they travelled to Celtic Park to take on Derry, I described Dublin as "the best panel of players in the country." The hosts edged the understrength visitors out that day, but Dublin made their depth of talent count when it really counted.

Dublin boss Dessie Farrell was able to bring the highly experienced and talented trio of Jack McCaffrey, Niall Scully, and Dean Rock off the bench in Sunday's final.

Of course Dublin will lose some stars ahead of next year. Rock has already indicated he will retire from inter-county football. Goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton is 41, and came out of retirement this year. Captain James McCarthy might hang the boots up too after collecting his ninth Celtic Cross; the same applies to defender Mick Fitzsimons.

Yet even if Dublin aren't as strong next year, Kerry will be back, determined to avenge their agonising final defeat.

Even if all those veterans aren't involved next season, Dublin will still be there or thereabouts. The Dubs own Leinster, having won the Delaney Cup for the past 13 seasons in a row.

It's a similar scenario for the Kingdom. Kerry's only loss in Munster since 2012 came in the Covid season of 2020, from a last-gasp Cork goal in the semi-final.

In the new format both Dublin and Kerry are almost certain to reach the group stages and indeed to be top seeds (or second seeds at worst), enhancing their chances of progress straight to the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals.

We could analyse at length the reasons behind this: Kerry's culture and club structures among them; Dublin's population and financial backing; the quality of coaching in both counties; job opportunities in Dublin; the provincial formats; 'home' advantage for Dublin at Croke Park.

Whatever explanation you offer, we are where we are.

Tipping any other team to win the Sam Maguire Cup than one of those two is a very bold call indeed.

The landscape for 2024 is clear. Beat Kerry in knockout football and you'll have a very good chance of ending up as champions. Defeat Dublin, ending their involvement, and you almost certainly will collect the Sam Maguire.

Same as it almost always was, almost always will be.

Everyone else is engaged in cage wars, fighting for the right to take on one or both of the Big Two.