Posted by Ciaran Whelan
Monday 12 September 2011
The two best teams in the country have reached the All-Ireland final and I think it will be a fascinating contest. It is a difficult game to pass judgement on: some aspects favour Kerry while Dublin have a number of advantages that suggest they can win the title for the first time since 1995.
For one this is familiar territory and for the other it is new ground. Since a hiatus of 11 years after 1986, Kerry have been regular finalists since 1997 so all of the build-up is nothing new to them and they will take it all in their stride. Dublin's big challenge in the week leading to the game will be to manage the hype that will steadily get louder and more intense as the week goes on. It is important that they deal with the inevitable distractions and keep focussed on what they need to do.
Dublin will have learned from the disastrous start they made against Jack O'Connor's side in the 2009 quarter-final when they were all but beaten after a whirlwind start by the Kingdom. Pat Gilroy will have it drilled into them the importance of keeping it tight in the opening exchanges in order to build confidence. Dublin can then take the game to Kerry and ask them the questions that other sides have failed to do, apart from Cork in the second half of the Munster final.
That's an advantage to Dublin. They come into the game far more battle-hardened than their rivals. Tough games against Kildare, Tyrone and Donegal will have given them that important edge. Kildare and Donegal in particular put it up to them and that they were ahead when it mattered at the final whistle is a testament to their mental strength.
Dublin cannot read anything into that semi-final result. They will get far more space going forward this time and it will be interesting to see how Kerry line out defensively to counteract the threat of Alan and Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly. I can't see Eoin Brosnan marking Alan if Dublin's talisman spends most of his time at centre-forward. I expect Killian Young to be given the task of picking him up if that's where Gilroy decides to station him.
I know it is a cliché but the midfield area will be crucial next Sunday. Bryan Sheehan and Anthony Maher have been criticised during the year but in fairness to them they have stood up to every challenge so far. They dominated against Mayo and kept a steady supply of ball going inside to the forward line. Dublin will be aware that they simply cannot allow quality ball inside to Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy. Donaghy hasn't really fired as he has done in previous years but that does not mean he won't be a threat in the final.
For Dublin, Denis Bastick did well on Seán Cavanagh in the quarter-final while Michael Darragh MacAuley has been improving steadily and both will be fully aware of the damage the Kerry forwards can do if they don't stop the supply from the middle third.
The worry for Dublin is that, against Mayo, a number of Kerry players failed to play up to the standard they have set for themselves yet they still won comfortably. They have the capability of racking up big scores even if they are not at their best and they can often be out of sight after a blistering ten-minute spell. But Dublin can't rely on Kerry not hitting the heights they are capable of if they are to win the game. In fact they should bank on their opponents being on form. Kerry are like Kilkenny — they often peak in an All-Ireland final. They have had their difficulties against Tyrone and Armagh in past finals but against southern teams it has been a different story. They beat Mayo well in 2004 and 2006 and turned it on against Cork in 2009. We have not really seen the real Kerry so far this summer but it wouldn't be a surprise if they turn up when it counts the most.
Dublin can't afford to play a zonal defence against the likes of Cooper and Declan O'Sullivan. Kerry will rotate their forward line and I believe Gilroy will instruct his defence to go man to man at the back. Rory O'Carroll has the versatility to deal with either O'Sullivan or Donaghy. The big full-forward will probably spend some time out around the middle of the field on Sunday with O'Sullivan in the inside-forward line while I think Mick Fitzsimons will pick up Cooper.
Paul Flynn and Bryan Cullen will also be vital in helping to snuff out Kerry's attacks. They always work back well but Cullen in particular will need to be aware of Tomás O'Sé's brilliantly-timed bursts forward. Any space left in front of Kerry's marauding half-back will be gobbled up and he has shown so many times in the past how accurate he is when he gets the chance to shoot.
I think it is only fair that Connolly is available for the final and Kerry will have no complaints about his presence. I felt at the time that it was a harsh red card and I always believed he would be available. He showed against Tyrone how much of a threat he is capable of posing and it is a big boost to Dublin to be able to name him in the side. A few sides have shown this summer that there are areas of weakness in this Kerry defence and Dublin certainly have the forward talent to exploit them.
If Dublin keep it tight at the start and build up their belief I think they are capable of pulling off the win. After their tough run to the final I think they might just have the edge if the game is in the balance going into the last 10 minutes.
I am very much looking forward to it and I think it could be an intensely interesting game. There are arguments why both sides can win and it is a game that most people will relish watching. Whatever the outcome it should be a fitting end to the championship season.
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