As Dublin prepare for their date with GAA history, few are giving Kerry any chance of stopping them completing the “Drive for Five.”
The Boys in Blue only seem to be getting better and haven’t truly been troubled in a Championship game since the 2017 All-Ireland final against Mayo.
Their second half demolition of their arch-rivals in this year’s semi-final has left many forlorn about the upcoming All-Ireland final, with most predicting yet another landslide victory.
Yet, there are several reasons why those outside Ireland’s capital, specifically those in Kerry, might feel cautiously optimistic about the Kingdom’s chances of upsetting Dublin’s applecart.
The weight of history
Dublin might have been all-conquering over the last two seasons as they mercilessly swatted aside every team they’ve come up against, but they are now in a position to go where no men’s team, hurling or football, has gone before.
Dublin have been ruthless for the best part of four years and have never blinked under pressure. Yet, if they find themselves a few points down with time running out in such a pivotal game, it remains to be seen whether they can cope in the same calculated manner as they have demonstrated in the past.
Nerves are going to be a factor and it would be hugely surprising if the Dubs win this game in a similar manner to every other game this summer.
Furthermore, the lesson of 1982 should serve as a stark reminder to Dublin not to take the challenge lightly.
Kerry were similarly tipped to complete the five-in-a-row against an Offaly side they had previously vanquished, but couldn’t shake off the Faithful County in the crucial decider, leading to one of the most iconic moments in GAA history when Seamus Darby goaled.
While the records show that Dublin have beaten Kerry in each of their last four Championship meetings, they don’t show how they were put to the pin of their collars every single time.
Discounting the 2011 final when Dublin were huge underdogs, Kerry have offered more resistance than most pundits expected them to against the men from the capital and have actually caused the Dubs as many problems as Mayo have in the 2010s.
In the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final, Kerry ripped Dublin apart in a glorious first half with Colm Cooper pulling the strings at centre forward. Three years later, they did something similar in the first half of their 2016 semi-final, although with more brawn than finesse.
Dublin looked to be coasting in 2016, but Kerry employed a full press on Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs for five minutes before half time and reaped the rewards, hitting 2-04 without reply to leave the Dubs reeling at the break.
On both occasions, Dublin’s superior fitness and game management got them over the line, but they still needed injury-time scores in both games to do so.
Even in the 2015 All-Ireland final, which Dublin dominated from start to finish, Kerry remained within touching distance throughout. Dublin spurned goal chance after goal chance in a downpour in Croke Park, leading to the lowest scoring All-Ireland final since 2003.
It meant that, with seconds left on the clock in a game they had totally dominated, Dublin were to be seen flooding their defence and holding on for victory.
Perhaps it’s the long history of being dominated by Kerry, but something about Kerry bothers this Dublin team more than any other. They unhinge Stephen Cluxton like no one else and may just be able to finally strike a hammer blow that Dublin won’t be able to recover from.
If Dublin looked vulnerable at any stage in this year’s Championship, it was for 50 minutes against Cork in the first game of the Super 8s. Cork’s forwards, Brian Hurley and Luke Conolly in particular, had Dublin’s defence on a piece of string.
However, the concession a Dublin goal when the game was still in the melting pot signalled the end to Cork’s challenge and they faded badly.
Cork made Dublin’s rearguard look decidedly ordinary that day and it stands to reason that Kerry’s superior set of forwards can inflict even greater damage.
Donegal’s Michael Murphy recently said that any team which hopes to beat the Dubs needs score 2-20. In David Clifford, Paul Geaney, Sean O’Shea and Stephen O’Brien, Kerry have an arsenal capable of completing that daunting prospect.
Both Meath and Mayo also did a number on Dublin’s forwards for large periods of their respective games. Meath restricted Dublin to just nine points after 52 minutes, while Dublin hit six points in the first half of their semi-final clash with Mayo.
If, and it is a big if, Kerry can strike a balance between a defensive performance akin to Meath’s and an offensive performance that is slightly better than Cork’s, they may just build up an unassailable lead that Dublin won’t be able to claw back.
The protests surrounding referee David Gough may have exactly the effect that Kerry fans would have wanted.
Gough will now be over conscious of every freekick he awards Dublin on Sunday because any 50/50 decision that goes Dublin’s way will now surely be seen as biased.
Gough lives in Dublin, so what? Countless intercounty players from around the country live in the country’s capital, yet their integrity isn’t called into question when they play Dublin.
Rival fans don’t subconsciously worry that their Dublin-based players will turn around and kick a ball over their own crossbar out of a bizarre loyalty to the place in which they live.
The majority of the protests point to Gough’s decision not to award a free for a frontal challenge from Kevin McManamon on Peter Crowley, a challenge that looked like a fair shoulder in real-time.
People forget that the RTE’s commentary team both lauded that tackle as it happened because it looked like a textbook shoulder to the naked eye. To call Gough’s integrity into question is farcical, however, the hysteria that has arisen following his appointment will only work in Kerry’s favour.
Gough will now side with Kerry, whether consciously or subconsciously, on every 50/50 for fear of being biased and impartial. That can only work in the Kingdom’s favour if the game is close heading down the closing strait.
Money doesn’t kick a football over the bar
Contrary to what certain Portugal-based Kildare journalists would have you believe, money does not, in fact, kick a football over the crossbar. Dublin players do not dine exclusively on a diet of €50 notes to enhance their playing abilities.
Dublin’s funding is disproportionate and there is no doubting it, but some would have you believe that all of Dublin’s funding goes directly to their senior footballers.
In reality, that money filters down to clubs of all codes and to under-13 C teams. Of course, it gives Dublin an advantage, but to suggest that their players are professional is baseless and inaccurate.
Money will not determine the outcome of Sunday’s final. It will be decided by who is better prepared tactically and whether Kerry can spring a surprise that will be sufficient to knock the Dubs off their stride.
Kerry will not look at Dublin as an unbeatable financial juggernaut, but as an excellent team that need to be knocked off their perch.