The lie of the land for Kerry this weekend is very simple. They have to beat Dublin on Sunday and bring an end to this long spell of misery against them. People in Kerry are never not thinking about winning the All-Ireland but at this stage, I would nearly argue that beating Dublin is more important. Another loss to them would be catastrophic. It can’t go on like this indefinitely.
To me, this is way bigger than the hold Tyrone had over our team back in the 2000s. It’s gone on for longer and the Dubs have won more All-Irelands. The job for this current Kerry team is to break the spell that has lasted since 2011. Another defeat will mean more psychological pressure for the next Kerry team that tries to do it.
One win might be all it takes. That’s how this whole thing started, after all. For years and years, it was the other way around. Dublin couldn’t beat Kerry no matter what they tried, stretching all the way back to 1977. But once it was over, it was over. Dublin won the All-Ireland final in 2011 and everything got turned on its head.
That win burst the dam. It was probably always going to burst at some stage anyway but you never know. That 2011 game was the one Jack O’Connor always found toughest to take because Kerry were in control of it coming down the stretch, but Kevin McManamon’s goal changed everything. A few steadier heads, a few refereeing decisions going the other way and Kerry could have extended Dublin’s misery for another year.
When you’re the dominant team, that’s your priority. You’re not just winning for the sake of getting through to the final or winning to lift the Sam Maguire. You’re winning to keep the other crowd down. When it’s your big rival, it’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger says in Conan The Barbarian – you want to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentations of their women.
There’s no good that can come from entertaining the idea that a certain team has it over you. There’s no logic to it. The wheel turns in every sport – your job is to make it turn quicker
We played Cork in two finals, in 2007 and 2009. They were huge occasions with absolutely massive fear and pressure surrounding them. Far more so than in other finals. Both times, we went to Croke Park for those finals feeling that, come hell or high water, we could not face going back down the road having lost to Cork. Couldn’t do it. It wasn’t just another final. It was way more than that.
Dublin have to be feeling some of that sense of duty and responsibility going into this weekend. I would say that on some level, it’s nearly as if they owe it to themselves and the players that have gone before them to keep the run going. I’m not saying it’s a big part of their motivation but it’s definitely in there somewhere. Keep them down, don’t give them a sniff of what it feels like to win one of these games.
And the opposite goes for Kerry. The rot has to stop somewhere. I don’t buy the idea of bogey teams. You’re either good enough or you’re not. There’s no good that can come from entertaining the idea that a certain team has it over you. There’s no logic to it. The wheel turns in every sport – your job is to make it turn quicker.
When you look at the players who have come through the Dublin team since Kerry’s last win in 2009, there’s probably no big disgrace in not being able to beat them. Between the Brogan-Flynn-Connolly generation and the Mannion-McCaffrey-Kilkenny generation, you had two separate five-star teams rolling into each other with the best goalkeeper of all-time orchestrating it all.
So it’s nothing to do with bogey teams or anything else. Dublin were better than Kerry all the way along and that’s why they kept beating us. Is it still the case? Sunday will tell us a lot on that score.
I don’t think the quarter-finals told us much we didn’t already know. They were very similar in a lot of ways. Neither Dublin nor Kerry were all that impressive but they still both won fairly handily in the end. There was a flat atmosphere in both games. There was very little spectacular in what happened. Most of all, you came away from both games thinking that what either team showed wouldn’t be good enough the next day.
The loss of James McCarthy and Con O’Callaghan was huge for Dublin against Cork. It stood out like a sore thumb because it slowed them down so much. Cork weren’t good enough to do anything about it other than hang in there. But without the pace and directness of McCarthy and O’Callaghan, Dublin let Cork think they might be up to the task.
Remember, Cork were only a couple of points down coming up to half-time in that game. They had made enough chances to be level but kicked a few wide and dropped a couple short. Even so, they still came out for the second half within a kick of a ball of Dublin. Nobody thought they were going to win but it was there for them to make a game of it if a couple of things went their way.
When Con O’Callaghan is in the team, the Dubs are always menacing. Same with McCarthy bombing on from wing back
They didn’t and the result was never in doubt. But go back and check how Dublin played that second half. They didn’t blitz Cork, they didn’t blow them out of the water. They didn’t score a goal or even create a goal chance. After half-time, four of the next five Dublin points were frees by Dean Rock. It was enough to pull the sheet up over Cork’s face but it was fairly drab stuff.
Now, I wouldn’t knock them for it. You go with what you have on a given day. Every other team in the country would sell their granny for a free-taker like Dean Rock. Dublin are the one team you never see looking to take a quick free to work a better angle. As soon as anyone is fouled inside the 45, they drop the ball and walk away. He has been some weapon for them that way over the past decade.
But there’s no denying they lose something crucial when McCarthy and especially O’Callaghan aren’t there. Compare the last day to the Leinster campaign where they were so ruthless in dealing with Meath and Kildare, teams that would be much of a muchness with Cork. They were like fellas in a slaughterhouse – they came in, hung up their coats, slit some throats and washed their hands on the way out. No fuss, no grind, no messing.
When Con O’Callaghan is in the team, the Dubs are always menacing. Same with McCarthy bombing on from wing back. They bring the bit of punch in general that just isn’t there in somebody like Rock. For all his brilliance on the frees, Rock has never been the sort of inside forward that scares defenders to death.
He’s always very good to come on the loop or to appear on the back post to palm home a goal at the end of a team move but he doesn’t have O’Callaghan’s relentless, goal-hungry attitude. He is markable. Whereas Con, when he’s in the mood, isn’t.
So obviously enough, the availability of those two crucial Dublin players is going to be right up there when it comes to the deciding factors in this game. Because otherwise, on the evidence of the last day, there really isn’t a whole pile between these two teams.
Kerry won handy enough against Mayo in the end but it was still a game that was in the balance 15 minutes into the second half. There was only a point in it. We were sitting there thinking that if Mayo could find their shooting boots, they could make a burst here and ask some serious questions. And seeing as they were in the more or less the same place against Kildare when Lee Keegan and Oisín Mullin dug them out of it, you couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t do it again.
This is my worry for Kerry. We just don’t know what they’re capable of yet. With some of these players, we are still in a holding position. We think they’re probably good enough and we certainly hope that’s the case. But the fact of the matter is, hoping is not the same as knowing.
I hate backing against Kerry. It goes against everything I grew up with
And it definitely isn’t the same when you’re going up against a team that none of these players has ever beaten in championship. Whatever confidence Kerry players bring into this game, it isn’t the confidence of knowing they have Dublin’s number. No more than the rest of us, they are hoping they have it. They won’t know until they go and do it.
I hate backing against Kerry. It goes against everything I grew up with. But if I sit back and look at this realistically, a Dublin team with Con O’Callaghan and James McCarthy in it is just a more proven proposition than Kerry right at this moment. With those two on board, I make Dublin favourites.
Now, if one or other of them are missing, that definitely tightens it. And if neither of them is playing, well then we have a different story on our hands. I am confident that Kerry have enough about them to beat a slow, ponderous Dublin.
So that’s as plain as I can make it. Dublin with the two lads, Dublin win. Dublin without them, Kerry win. Dublin with one of them – let’s hope fellas have been practising their penalties.