Let’s be real here. Dublin are 1/5 to win on Sunday. In the simplest of terms, the bookmakers believe that Jim Gavin’s team have an 83% chance of defeating Kerry.
If they turn up and are allowed to do what they always do, they will secure an unprecedented five-in-a-row. There’s no two ways about it.
Dublin have devoured every opponent that has been laid out before them and never before have Kerry gone into a senior All-Ireland as such rank outsiders.
But look, 83% isn’t 100%. There is a window of opportunity here for Kerry and it would be foolish to suggest otherwise. The Munster champions have, at the very least, a puncher’s chance, although it’s also true that they’ll need a number of key factors to work in their favour on the day.
Dublin are possibly the greatest team ever when it comes to punishing weaknesses. To win, Kerry cannot show any.
It almost goes without saying at this stage but the kickouts, especially Shane Ryan’s, will be pivotal.
As we saw in that devastating 12 minutes against Mayo, Dublin’s press can suffocate the life out of the opposition if it works as planned. Securing primary possession is huge in every game but the champions’ forwards are deadly when their supply lines are fully operational. Ryan will need to find a way out every time Dublin kill the ball. It’s a daunting task for rookie goalkeeper who plays a lot of his football outfield, but the Rathmore man has done well so far.
Going short is rarely an option against Dublin. They love trapping their opponents and ganging up to force a turnover. Will Kerry try overloading one side of the pitch, which might disrupt the Dubs’ preferred formation, or will Ryan try to go long over the press?
Either way, ball-winners like David Moran and whoever partners him in midfield will have to be ultra competitive, and the rest of Kerry’s middle eight will need to snaffle up their fair share of breaks as well.
Moran’s importance cannot be understated. If he can continue his recent run of form, Kerry should at least be in the picture.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen who will be entrusted by Peter Keane to marshal Dublin’s talismanic No. 8 Brian Fenton. Jack Barry is only just returning from injury but the Na Gaeil youngster has to be seen as a viable option if fully fit. He wasn’t named in last night’s official starting 15 but he has held Fenton to just one point in the last four meetings between the sides, a remarkable stat when you consider the fact that Fenton is Dublin’s third highest scorer from play in this year’s championship.
If Kerry break even at midfield, that will relieve some of the pressure on man markers Jason Foley and Tadhg Morley, who will undoubtedly have their hands full with Paul Mannion and Con O’Callaghan.
A lot of people are tipping Tom O’Sullivan to pick up Mannion but I’m not so sure. O’Sullivan has had a terrific year and he has kept Paul Kerrigan, James Carr, Jamie Brennan and Peter Harte scoreless, but the majority of those guys are link players who operate further out the field. Defending an inside forward like Mannion is a different ball game. The Dingle defender has the attributes to do a job in there but to me it would make more sense to leave Foley and Morley at it.
O’Callaghan is the front-runner for Footballer of the Year and Mannion isn’t far behind him so Kerry will be doing extremely well to contain the pair of them. Nullifying them completely might be unrealistic but limiting their goal chances will be massively important.
To date, Dublin are averaging over two goals a game in this year’s championship. If they manage more than that on Sunday, the chances of a Kerry victory will be slim.
THE FINAL QUARTER
So, if Kerry can negotiate all of those challenges, and get enough ball to the likes of David Clifford, Paul Geaney, Stephen O’Brien and Seán O’Shea, and if Clifford and Geaney and O’Brien and O’Shea bring their shooting boots, they should be there or thereabouts heading into the final quarter of the All-Ireland final. And as we saw back in 2016, that’s when things get really interesting.
Kerry will need to compete for 70+ minutes and to do that, Peter Keane will almost certainly call on 21 of the 26 players at his disposal.
On Sunday, the 15 Kerry footballers on the field at the end of game will be just as important, if not more important, than the ones who start.
Everyone wants to march around the pitch behind the Artane Band on All-Ireland final day but in this particular instance, if I was one of the players who narrowly missed out on a starting berth I wouldn’t be completely heartbroken.
When it comes down to it, the guys who are called upon in the final quarter will have an incredibly significant role to play on Sunday. (Assuming, of course, that Kerry are still in the contest.)
It’s a big ask to get all of these things right and I suppose with all the talk of how good Dublin are, it’s hard to be optimistic. How do you stop the unstoppable?
I believe it was Helen Keller who once said (I say “believe”, I obviously googled it) that optimism is the faith that leads to achievement, and that nothing can be done without hope and confidence.
If there’s one thing Kerry fans are rarely lacking, it’s hope, and if there’s one thing Kerry players are rarely lacking (especially in Croke Park), it’s confidence. Let’s bring both on Sunday and see what happens.
Kerry team to play Dublin: Shane Ryan; Jason Foley, Tadhg Morley, Tom O’Sullivan; Paul Murphy, Gavin Crowley, Brian Ó Beaglaoich; David Moran, Adrian Spillane; Gavin White, Seán O’Shea, Stephen O’Brien; David Clifford, Paul Geaney, Killian Spillane.