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EXCLUSIVE The Dubs in Thurles will be a true test of Kerry's defensive mettle

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Paudie Clifford of Kerry during the league game against Galway. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Paudie Clifford of Kerry during the league game against Galway. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin has departed the Dublin scene. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin has departed the Dublin scene. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

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Paudie Clifford of Kerry during the league game against Galway. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

WE do indeed live in very strange times – and I don’t mean just the world being turned upside down and inside out by Covid, I mean hurling dominating the back pages in the early part of this week.

Usually on the resumption of the leagues it is football that washes its dirty laundry in public, with regard to new rules and various other storms in teacups, but on this occasion it was the stickmen of the country.

Whatever about the headlines earlier in the week the main attraction this weekend is Sunday’s meeting of Dublin and Kerry in Thurles, of all places!

Let’s not go there – one of the many so-near-and-yet-so-far days of my previous life as a Dublin footballer – and the famous trips to Tipp in the summer of 2001 to face the Kingdom.

The margin and nature of Kerry’s emphatic victory in their league opener against Galway last weekend has certainly propelled this Sunday’s game to the forefront.

Despite Kerry manager Peter Keane’s best efforts to quell any presumptive talk, there seems to already be a giddiness building in the deepest south ahead of this summer’s championship.

Then a letter in the Indo during the week caught my eye. It was from a Tralee reader – was he capturing the general mood in the Kingdom? It read:

“But what has us in a euphoric state of giddy anticipation is the news from the Kerry camp...

“Yes indeed, the Kingdom is back to normal! Peter Keane, our trusted manager, has forgiven himself and his team for conceding the late goal against Cork last year. He gave out about the Jackeens, the Farneys and the Rebels breaking the rules. But he is now at peace with himself and focusing on the new campaign.

“By all accounts, he’s a new man with his mojo back. The rejuvenated manager is talking up attacking football. Why wouldn’t he, when he has the best set of forwards in the country at his disposal, as Galway discovered on Saturday?

“The Dubs broke the rules and got away with a gentle slap on the wrists. The real punishment will be meted out when they meet the law-abiding Kingdom in round two of the national league!”

And who could blame the man from Tralee, based on the evidence of last Saturday?

The men in green and gold made Pádraic Joyce’s side look like minor footballers as they played on the front foot from the outset.

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And when they had Galway beaten, they showed a ruthless streak to run out 22-point victors – despite taking off the remarkable, some say unmarkable, David Clifford at the three-quarter mark.

With his older brother Paudie also scoring freely as well as providing a hard-running and constant supply line, and with big displays also in attack from Killian Spillane and Seán O’Shea, their attack was on fire.

By half-time, Kerry had 2-10 registered – with 2-9, all from play, coming from their inside line.

In Kerry they’ll be hoping the Clifford brothers can develop that same telepathy the Brogan brothers did, and to the same telling effect!

The accuracy, weight, timing and movement of their forward division was exceptional – with their heads-up, first-time football and quick off-loads giving the Galway defence daylight terrors.

The dominance of their offensive unit afforded David Moran the ‘luxury’ of sitting back at times and picking passes from out the field, as well as playing more of a defensive role down the middle.

He’s a player who has felt the heat for late mistakes in games and maybe a modified role is being created as part of Keane’s master plan for 2021.

Last year Keane’s plan was a conservative one and now it looks like he’s going to trust his forwards, as out and out forwards more.

The questions, which obviously got into his thinking last year, will remain over their defence, until such time as they prove themselves in championship action against the best teams in Croke Park.

We need to remind ourselves though that Sunday’s clash is still ‘just’ a league game.

However, Kerry will be looking to strike a significant psychological blow against the six-in-a-row All-Ireland champions.

What would that entail? Well, not just beating Dublin – but inflicting a decisive six-or-so point defeat.

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Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin has departed the Dublin scene. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin has departed the Dublin scene. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin has departed the Dublin scene. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

With the likes of Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion and Diarmuid Connolly – all three who have delivered big time in big games against Kerry – not part of the Dublin panel, the Kingdom will see this year as their greatest opportunity to re-establish the old, natural order – as they see it.

While Kerry have beaten Dublin on a couple of occasions in league games in recent times, including the 2017 Division 1 final in Croke Park, they have not lodged any real damaging doubt in the heads of Dublin players.

That’s the job of the pretenders to the throne, to keep throwing the jabs until they eventually land a knockout blow.

There is more on the line for Kerry than Dublin this Sunday – in many ways, it’s a reversal of fortunes.

Go back to more barren times for Dublin football, and look at the meeting of the counties in Fitzgerald Stadium in February 2010. Just six months after Kerry had inflicted a 17-point nightmare on the ‘Startled Earwigs’, Dublin emerged with their first league victory on Kerry soil since 1982.

It’s significance wasn’t discussed much at the time, as far as I recollect. But, in time, it and other games in that period – but particularly that one – were key psychological landmarks, culminating in the sliding-door All-Ireland final victory of September 2011.

For Dublin it looks like the management will keep using the league to try to find a few new options.

In last year’s league Dublin afforded game-time to 39 different players. With the championship just around the corner they still added Michael Shiel, Seán MacMahon, Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne and Ryan Basquel to that list against Roscommon.

Sunday’s game could take on a life of its own, and should be a cracker, let’s hope so.

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