SportGAA

Pat Spillane breaks down the key areas of today's game and picks his winner

GAABy Pat Spillane
Jack McCaffrey and Anthony Maher will face off again today
Jack McCaffrey and Anthony Maher will face off again today

This is the 25th All-Ireland final I have previewed for the Sunday World.

And if any punter had backed all of my predictions they would be in the black now!

In an era when new buzzwords have entered the sporting lexicon, it is important to keep things in perspective. Football matches are still won by the team that scores the most.

Predicting the result of any game is still about examining the respective strengths of five key sectors: goalkeeping, defence, midfield, attack and substitutes.  

Goalkeeper 

Stephen Cluxton (Dublin) v Brendan Kealy (Kerry)

Cluxton is the best goalkeeper in the modern era, having reinvented the role – he now essentially operates as a quarter-back. In order to beat Dublin, opponents have to crack Cluxton’s kick-out code. Kerry almost did it in 2013 and Donegal did so in 2014 – when Dublin coughed up 1-2 from his restarts and Neil Gallagher had a field day.

Since then Cluxton has been more conservative with his kick-outs. His decision-making and shot selection has becomes less assured when teams press up on his kick-outs, as Mayo did in the drawn game.

Initially it was a surprise that Kealy replaced Brian Kelly, who scarcely put a foot wrong last season. Kealy is a brilliant shot-stopper and his kick-outs are superb, but he is less assured under the high ball. 

Advantage: Dublin.

Defence

Dublin: No defence does counter-attacking better; Philly McMahon and James McCarthy scored 1-3 from play in the replay against Mayo. They are less assured, however, when put on the back foot.

Of course, the key issue is the fitness of Cian O’Sullivan, whose success as a sweeper this season has reinforced the Dublin rearguard. Indiscipline, in the form of over-aggressive tackling, was an issue for them against Mayo in the drawn game, when they conceded an alarming 1-8 from placed balls.

It is also interesting to note that their statistics have slipped as the championship has progressed. In their first three matches they conceded no goals and an average of 10 points, whereas in their last three they conceded four goals and an average of 18 points a game.

Kerry: This sector has improved considerably since the league, when they had the worst record going. 

Four players, together with goalkeeper Brendan Kealy, have started all summer, which gives them a settled look. When it comes to specialist man-marking jobs they’re the best in the business with Shane Enright, Jonathan Lyne, Peter Crowley  and Aidan O’Mahony all doing the business.

They are vulnerable when opponents run at them and they could have two 35-year-old players, Marc ó Sé and Aidan O’Mahony, on the field at some stage, which raises doubts about their pace.

Advantage: Dublin.

Midfield 

Dublin: Brian Fenton has been a revelation this summer and had the best game of his career in the replay against Mayo. 

Denis Bastick is a defensively-minded midfielder while Michael Darragh Macauley is a warrior whose straight running causes headaches for opponents. All three will see action today, with boss Jim Gavin ringing the changes at the right times.  

Overall this is an area that Dublin have struggled in, partially because they don’t have a player capable of winning an aerial dual on a consistent basis.

Kerry: In Anthony Maher and David Moran they possess the best midfield pairing in the country. The latter is the complete package, though Maher is in better form this summer. 

He nullified the threat of Mattie Donnelly in the semi-final and scored a vital point near the end. On form they can exert huge dominance, such as in the Munster final replay when they had 56 possessions compared to 20 for Cork.  

Their only weakness as a partnership is a perceived lack of pace, but if they dominate Kerry will win.

Advantage: Kerry.

Forwards 

Dublin: They are averaging 40 attacks; 30 shots at goal and 23 points from play – the latter is an amazing statistic. They’re now performing better as a unit and their conversion of goalscoring chances has improved dramatically – two from two in the drawn Mayo game and three from four in the replay.

On the negative side, Paul Flynn is struggling to capture his best form and though Diarmuid Connolly has been effective, he has also been below his best.

Dean Rock’s lack of pace, allied to a wobble with his free-taking, is a concern and today they will miss the influence of the injured Eoghan O’Gara. Finally, there is no evidence that they are any better at breaking down a blanket defence.

Kerry: Surprisingly, the half-forwards have been outshining the much-vaunted full-forward line, with Donnchadh Walsh having an inspirational season. Their scores come from all angles and different personnel, seven different players scored in the second-half against Tyrone. 

However, it’s their workrate and ability to turn over possession high up the field that sets them apart. On the negative side, their full-forward line has still to hit the highs of previous years. They failed to create a single goal opportunity against Tyrone and only converted 18 of their 31 attacks. 

Advantage: Kerry.

Substitutes  

Dublin: Kevin McManamon, Macauley and Alan Brogan all played key roles when they came off the bench against Mayo. Compared 
to Kerry, though, they lack real depth.

John Small and Michael Fitzsimons are obvious defensive replacements; either Macauley or Bastick provide cover at midfield, while Brogan and McManamon are the only substitutes likely to make an impact up front. 

Kerry: Sub goalkeeper Brian Kelly won an All-Ireland medal on the field of play, while Marc ó Sé and Paul Murphy were first-choice defenders last year. Tommy Walsh underlined his midfield credentials with his cameo appearance against Kildare, while up front they can call on the services of former All Stars Kieran Donaghy, Darran

O’Sullivan and Paul Galvin, as well as Barry John Keane and Bryan Sheehan. So far the Kerry bench has contributed 3-12, an average of 4.2 points per game.

Advantage: Kerry.

We’re a superstitious lot in Kerry and as a result we trust in omens. In 1955 Dublin beat Mayo in an All-Ireland semi-final replay and lost to Kerry in the final. Three decades later the exact same thing happened.  

Now another 30 years down the road we have the same scenario.  Dublin reached the final having beaten Mayo in a semi-final. So I’m expecting the same result in the final as we had in 1955 and 1985.

Prediction: Kerry.