All-Ireland football final preview; Kerry v Dublin

GAABy Sean McGoldrick
Who will take home Sam on Sunday?
Who will take home Sam on Sunday?

So after 62 matches, the All-Ireland final pairing which had been widely forecast before a ball was kicked in the 2015 championship has come to pass.

For the fourteenth time since 1892 Dublin meet Kerry in the September showdown.

Being football’s market leaders, Kerry aim to keep their rivals – particularly Dublin - in their place. So this is a particularly significant test. 

Dublin has never beaten Kerry in three successive championship encounters. But after wins in the 2011 final and the semi-final two years later, Dublin is within touching distance of a notable achievement.

Furthermore, a Dublin win will give them a 3-1 lead over the Kingdom in All-Ireland wins this decade and elevate Jim Gavin into pole position in the race to be rated the Team of the Decade.

This wouldn’t sit easy with Kerry and, in particular, Fitzmaurice who is missing a championship win over Dublin on his managerial CV. 

On the other hand if Kerry wins Fitzmaurice will be the first coach since Billy Morgan in 1989-90 to guide a team to win back to back All-Ireland senior titles.

Traditionally Dublin-Kerry encounters rarely disappoint in terms of football quality. Sunday's game could be the different. 

In last year’s final Kerry eventually broke with tradition; they eschewed much of their traditional attacking flair and essentially beat Donegal at their own game. They defended in numbers and attacked on the break.

Having come out on the wrong side of two gung-ho championship encounters against the Dubs in 2011 and 2013 Kerry will surely play the percentage game.

Apart from keeping their six defenders in place; their midfield and half forward line will spent much of the 70 minutes on defensive duties while Dublin regularly have 12 players behind the ball when defending.

It hasn’t always being sweetness and light between the counties either. When they clashed in the League in March, Dublin’s Michael Fitzsimons saw red. His colleagues Denis Bastick and Philly McMahon were black carded as was the Kerry pair, Paul Murphy and Jack Sherwood.

Interestingly it was the first time that Kerry had beaten Dublin in a competitive match during Fitzmaurice’s reign.

We won’t know for certain whether Cian O’Sullivan will feature until match time. It is unrealistic to expect a player whose career has been blighted by hamstring injuries to be fully match fit just two weeks after damaging the muscle again.

It’s a huge call for Jim Gavin as O’Sullivan has become Dublin’s most important player in their new defensive set-up. It is unlikely that John Small, Philly McMahon or Jonny Cooper – who has been restricted by a hip injury – are sufficiently well versed in what is expected of a sweeper to prove as effective as O’Sullivan.

Worse still, the chances are that if O’Sullivan doesn’t make the team or is forced to retire early his replacement centre back could have to mark Colm Cooper as well as fulfilling his sweeper duties.

Kerry’s James O’Donoghue has ongoing issues with a problematic shoulder; he survived the semi-final but there is no guarantee that the injury won’t recur. 

It’s a gimme that Kerry will target Stephen Cluxton’s short kick-outs, though this is easier said than done. It won’t have escaped the attention of the Kerry brains-trust that Dublin scored a total of 1-7 directly from Cluxton’s unchallenged restarts in the replay against Mayo.

As he is left footed the majority of Cluxton’s short kicks are directed towards his right hand side and Dublin builds their attacks from this flank with James McCarthy and Cooper being key ball carriers in these moves. So don’t be surprised if Kerry floods their left flank to disrupt them.

Inevitably Cluxton will have to go long with some of his restarts and his ability to find players like Ciaran Kilkenny, Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn and Michael Darragh Macauley in pockets of space has been hallmark of his quarter-back style of goalkeeping.

But one of Dublin’s biggest worries is Flynn’s indifferent form. He looks a pale shadow of the player who won four All Stars on the spin and was withdrawn 20 minutes before the end in the replay against Mayo. He’s shown classic signs of burnout. It would represent a huge turnaround and a massive boost for Dublin if Flynn caught fire in the final.

It was understandable that Diarmuid Connolly was below par in the replay. Dublin needs him at his mercurial best as he is certain to be targeted as part of Kerry’s policy of ‘hammering the hammer.’ Likewise Dublin’s best player this summer Jack McCaffrey will be taken everywhere but where the action is by his 

The Kerry defence has a ‘soft centre’ and they have looked vulnerable when opponents run at them – which are probably what Dublin do best. Furthermore, their ability to get their key forward Bernard Brogan on the ball via cross field kick passes remains a potent weapon.

For Dublin to win they need to score goals – probably a minimum of two, though with Kerry likely to reinforce their defence with extra bodies they may cough up less chances than they did against Tyrone.

With their superb conditioning Dublin will back themselves to physically outlast Kerry. So, if they’re still in the hunt with five minutes left the chances are that Stephen Cluxton will collect the silverware.

But none of Kerry’s first choice players has suffered as serious a wobble in form as key Dublin players such as Flynn, Macauley, Jonny Cooper and Dean Rock has endured at the business end of the season.  

Instead Anthony Maher, Stephen O’Brien, Johnny Buckley, Donnchadh Walsh, Shane Enright and Jonathan Lyne are having the season of their lives. 

Fitzmaurice has gone for broke with his named team. He has disregarded family heritage with no member of the O Sé family in a Kerry All-Ireland final team for the first time since 1972. 

And instead of Kerry being led out by Austin Stack’s man (Kieran Donaghy) the honour falls to David Moran, from Stack’s bitter Tralee rivals Kerins O’Rahillys. Believe me, these things count in Kerry and there will be repercussion for the manager if his side are beaten.

Still, Kerry has a better balanced bench – even they can only use six of their rested stars!  

Unlike the last two meetings, they could be out of sight before Dublin has a chance to exploit their superior athleticism in the dying minutes.

Verdict: Kerry.