Kerry will ask serious questions but Dublin’s high work-rate to prove pivotal
High-intensity game and their attacking prowess can see Jim Gavin’s men home
These are the games that make all the hard work worthwhile. Those long, dark evenings of winter all start out with this part of the championship in mind and, in Kerry and Dublin, this is the one players and supporters look forward to most of all: an All-Ireland semi-final, with a final showdown against Mayo within touching distance, is really do-or-die. For both teams, it is time to deliver.
The Kerry management have been bold in their team selection. In particular, the back line has been changed around and, aware of the high tempo Dublin bring to the field, they’ve gone for youth and pace over experience in handing starting jerseys to Mark Griffin, Shane Enright, Fionn Fitzgerald and Peter Crowley and keeping Eoin Brosnan and Aidan O’Mahony in reserve.
You can be sure the two Ó Sés, Marc and Tomás, will take care of their individual battles like they always do on days like this in Croke Park. For the younger Kerry players, this is a big ask. It’ll be a whole new experience for them, a new level of intensity. I’m sure Eamonn Fitzmaurice has tried to replicate that intensity in the behind-closed-doors sessions but I don’t think you can do so fully.
A lot will depend on how these young Kerry defenders react to the Dublin players driving at them but Fitzmaurice knows his chosen players have pace of their own and, when you’re on a Kerry panel in the first place, they’re obviously good footballers. Still, it’ll be a big ask for these players to man the barricades against the waves of Dublin attacks.
How can Kerry win this? They can. I expect to see a conservative game plan from Kerry, with wing half-forwards Paul Galvin and Donncha Walsh and midfielders Johnny Buckley and Anthony Maher helping out quite a lot in defence. The plan will likely be to win possession – especially eyeing those occasions when Diarmuid Connolly goes on a solo run and dispossessing – and to break out at speed.
Kieran Donaghy’s absence from the Kerry attack will raise eyebrows, especially outside Kerry. He is a talismanic figure. Fitzmaurice and his selectors have made the decision and it brings freshness. Like any new management, there is no baggage. He doesn’t have to be loyal to players. It is progressive too, and fitting with the way the game is evolving with great demands on athleticism and energy.
Donaghy’s absence reflects the game plan Kerry want to adopt. Instead of the long, high ball which had become predictable with Donaghy in the team – there will be a lot of fast, diagonal play into Darran O’Sullivan and Declan O’Sullivan and James O’Donoghue with the Gooch pulling the strings on the 40. I wouldn’t be surprised either if Cooper also drifted inside on occasions, switching with either of the O’Sullivans.
It will be fascinating to see what Dublin do with Cooper. It could be a game-changing decision. Will they man mark him? That wouldn’t suit Ger Brennan. How do they close him down, so that he doesn’t dictate the possession into the inside forwards?
Having said that, the platform for Kerry’s dominance in the Munster final over Cork came from Maher and Buckley winning midfield. Cork were naïve with long kickouts and I can’t see that happening with Stephen Cluxton, whose kickouts will again be a key factor. Kerry were highly successful in closing down his kick-outs in 2009 and 2011 and forcing Cluxton to resort to kicking 50/50 balls to midfield. For Kerry to do that again demands serious concentration and man-to-man marking, especially when wing-forwards Connolly and Paul Flynn make the hard runs to win possession and offload to James McCarthy and Jack McCaffrey.
Kerry’s work-rate will have to improve on what we’ve seen to date. There is a relentlessness to Dublin’s play with a philosophy of attacking in waves from half-back and midfield. Kerry’s tactics will be really to work very hard for turnovers and to counterattack at pace. Dublin can be a little gung-ho in attack and Kerry – with skilful, speedy and clever forwards – will seek to expose them at the back when Dublin are thin on cover.
Dublin have been the form team all year. I’ve been impressed with them, particularly as an attacking force. There is quick delivery of the ball and the diagonal movement of players and use of the ball is hugely impressive with players working as a unit to support the ball-carrier.
Dublin’s spread of scorers has been most impressive. The emergence of Paul Mannion and Ciarán Kilkenny has contributed to this and there’s a swagger about them.
In contrast to Kerry’s young players, the young Dubs like Johnny Cooper, Kilkenny, Mannion and McCaffrey are proven winners at U-21 and National League level and they’ve been instrumental in lifting the tempo of Dublin’s performance levels. They’ve added significantly to the team.
That spread of scoring has meant there is no overreliance this year on Bernard Brogan. He is still working very hard and is typical of the present Dublin team in that he is one cog in the collective. Overall, it is better for Dublin.
Dublin have been guilty of spurning some clear-cut goal chances by not giving that final pass to better-positioned players. Kerry will have periods of dominance and it’ll be interesting to see how Dublin fare on the back foot.
I think Dublin will edge it. Their high work-rate – both in possession and without the ball – and their tackling and ability to turn over ball combined with their attacking force will see them home.