He’s been assessing the action here on the site for much of the summer and I’m delighted to welcome back JPM into the guest slot to provide his thoughts on Sunday’s championship decider.
Well the nights are closing in, the kids are back in school and the hurling has been decided. That of course means there is one more serious occasion to be determined in the GAA calendar for 2011, the All-Ireland football final. It brings to the climax all of the hard training, punishment and desire that has been exerted and nourished by the 33 counties that participated since the beginning of May. And at the end of it all it is fair to say that the best two teams in the country are contesting this final. It is for the ultimate goal and in the hope of achieving legend and glory that Dublin and Kerry will both line up in Croke Park on Sunday next.
However it is with different pedigree and perhaps different ambitions that these two teams take to the field. Kerry have been in this place countless times before. The experience and savvy they bring to the occasion is without equal. Eight times in the past ten years the Kingdom have been here. In itself this achievement is astounding, when you consider the effort required nowadays actually to accomplish it. And let’s face it – it’s not getting any easier. So you have to take your hats off to Kerry that they keep coming back year after year, producing the players and the mentality to reach this peak. With the summit now in sight it is difficult to rule against them. They believe they have some sort of divine right to winning the All-Ireland and it’s fair to say that Kerry have the instinct and belief that they will deliver the goods at this stage. And that’s why they are so difficult to beat.
Dublin on the other hand have to go back sixteen years for their last appearance in the decider. So getting here is an achievement in itself for the ‘Boys in Blue’. In doing so they have dealt admirably with all the national media and local hype that seems to have been the downfall of so many of their predecessors. God bless the Hurling Final, the ‘Boys in Green’ versus Slovakia and Russia, the Rugby World Cup and the 9/11 remembrances, Pat Gilroy must be thinking. The All-Ireland football final has sort of snuck up on us in the meantime and the national media has not had the time or the space to ramp up the focus on Dublin’s achievements until late this week. And this is a big benefit to the team. Also they also have had much tougher encounters along the way than their Kerry counterparts.
The old saying is that you are only as good as your last game. Kerry beat Mayo by nine points scoring 1-20 in the process. Dublin scraped by Donegal by two points scoring 0-8 in the process. Dublin also failed to score from play for sixty minutes whereas Kerry at that stage had 1-16 to their credit. So looking at the semi-finals it seems clear that Kerry are favourites and rightly so. But this might not be an accurate reflection of either of these teams. Kerry did beat us but we missed some crucial scores while at the same time Kerry grabbed all their opportunities.
The Dublin v Donegal game was by all standards a game of ‘muck’. The tactics employed by Donegal were exceptionally negative and while on the whole they worked, it was to Dublin’s credit that they still overcame them. In the process this Dublin team has shown more patience in their game and a more unselfish nature within the team. Bryan Cullen’s point to seal the deal against Donegal came via a pass from their top man. Whereas before the suspicion was that he may have taken it on himself, and blown the opportunity, this team now appear to be playing as a cohesive unit. And as a result they have shown the self-belief required to win the hard-nosed contests.
It also seems clear that the game will be won and lost in the middle third of the pitch. Whoever dominates possession here can get the required ball into their classy forwards and they will do the damage and win the contest. Against us the Gooch was unmarkable. But the simple fact is that he’s that way against every team. They only way to stop a player of his calibre is to quench the supply. Dublin too have quality in the final third. Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly will perform if they are presented with decent ball. To be fair to them it won’t be the same game they had to grind out against Donegal and more space in theory should be available to them. Alan Brogan versus Eoin Brosnan is also a key matchup for the Dubs. If they can get proper ball to him one suspects he will have the pace to unsettle the Kerry centre-half back. On the other side Declan and Darran O’Sullivan will be expected to terrify the entire Dublin back line. Kerry also have the luxury of bringing on Paul Galvin. To have a player of his calibre on the bench says a lot for the ability within the team. Plus his introduction might unsettle the Dubs and the crowd themselves and maybe make them lose sight of the big picture.
Both teams have the ambition to win this title and on the day it will be decided by who wants it more. Many of the Kerry players are on the go a long time and possibly a few may be bowing out at the end of this season. The timing of these retirements is important to the Kerry man. Will he go out at the top or in second place? Dublin also have the aspiration to win it and they have a lot of youth and on their side. They bring a freshness and excitement to the All-Ireland. Plus to see the Hill in full swing will revive some old memories and cheer up most in the capital.
At the end of the day the All-Ireland final is the pinnacle of the football year. Hopefully it will be a great game. That is what all of the country wants to see: great players playing great football. Whether you’re supporting Dublin or Kerry, everyone wants to see a thrilling contest with the winners rightfully coming out on top and lifting Sam Maguire.