Darragh Ó Sé: Dublin and Kerry will be physical – get over it
This game will be worth a month’s training for Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s team
Kerry have no choice here. They have to go to Croke Park and tear into the Dubs. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Let’s get something out of the way from the start. The league final tomorrow is going to be physical, you can bet your life on that. I have no problem with that at all – and I wouldn’t imagine for a second that either team has the slightest issue. People need to get over themselves when it comes to what kind of sport football is. All this fainting and swooning and harking back to the old days when everything was supposedly far more pure would melt your brain.
Kerry and Dublin played games in the 1970s that were absolute bloodbaths where markers were laid down and fellas didn’t talk to each other for years afterwards. There was a game in New York that the old greats still talk about as if it was a warzone. And yet we’re supposed to get teary-eyed for the rare old times! Please.
This carry-on of pretending that either team is whiter than white is a nonsense. They will both try to stop the opposition any way they can. Kerry will target Dublin players, Dublin will target Kerry players. The least we can do watching on from the sidelines is be a bit grown up about it.
Full of beans
It’s actually fairly easy to judge the mood in Kerry this week as we head to Croke Park. Sometimes we go up there full of beans and ready to teach the Dubs a thing or two, sometimes we keep our powder dry and don’t say too much because we know we’re in for a rough day. This time, though, it’s straightforward enough. We haven’t honestly got a clue one way or the other.
Kerry could be an up-and-coming force or they could be in trouble. We don’t know. The league has been so hit and miss that it has left us completely unsure of our ground down here. The only thing I could say and be reasonably sure of is that they’re lucky to be in a league final and haven’t played well enough to deserve to be there.
I went to Killarney last Sunday to watch them play Tyrone and I left more confused than ever. Tyrone looked like they gathered up a few fellas out of their beds that morning. They could barely pick the ball up off the ground. They looked totally uninterested in the whole thing, which you’d never expect from a Tyrone team.
There wasn’t even a row in them. Normally between Kerry and Tyrone, there’d always be a bit of baggage or a bit of a racket some way. But there was nothing last Sunday. Kerry had them put away inside the first 20 minutes at will. Tyrone played two sweepers in the second half – and them supposed to be chasing the game! I couldn’t work it out at all.
The worst of it was that it meant that Kerry had played badly in Cavan the week before but couldn’t tell whether or not they’d learned anything from it because Tyrone put up such a poor show. So as I say, we’re heading to Dublin not really knowing what the story is with Kerry.
That said, I don’t buy this argument that I’ve heard in a few places that this is a game Kerry would have liked to avoid. Anyone who thinks that knows nothing about what it’s like to be in an intercounty set-up at this time of year. Think of all the other top teams around the country who have no decent game now for months. They’ll be heading off on training camps and playing A v B games from now until June or July or even August before they meet any real challenge. Wouldn’t they snap your hand off for a test like this?
A final against the Dubs in Croke Park is worth a month’s training. If Kerry are going to win an All-Ireland, they’ll have to go through Dublin at some stage so to my mind, you couldn’t play them often enough. Go out and throw everything at them. See what works. More importantly, find out what doesn’t work. The trophy doesn’t really matter – Kerry and Dublin have plenty of trophies. But the game itself matters big time.
At the minute, when I look at Dublin, I see a team that has a five- or six-point headstart every time they play in Croke Park. I don’t mean that as in it’s a home venue – people would want to stop cribbing about that stuff fairly soon as well. No, what I mean is there isn’t a pitch in the country that plays as fast or where the sod is as good or as clean as in Croke Park. That suits the Dubs down to the ground because they’re fast, athletic and relentless. It’s a pitch built for the best team and they’re the best team.
So although Kerry should have come out on top in Tralee a few weeks ago, I find it hard to see this as a similar chance to beat them. If the Dubs were going to be caught in the course of this league, I always felt it was going to be in a provincial ground like Tralee or Clones or above in Donegal, places where conditions would have neutralised their advantages a small bit.
This game can be very simple sometimes. If you were picking a team with the best 15 players in the country at the moment, you’d have seven or eight Dubs on it. I was lucky enough to play on a team in the noughties that you could have said the same for and there’s a great comfort in it.
You never have to worry about whether your team is going to perform. You know it. And you know above all that you have to match the performances of the players around you. Nobody is going into a game thinking the have to paper over the cracks or they have to cover off the weak link. Instead, every player is full sure that everyone else will meet a certain standard and he has to meet them or he’ll be gone.
What Jim Gavin has as a result is a dogfight to make the team now. Look at the players he’s gone through the league either without or with only a game here and there. Jonny Cooper hasn’t been seen yet. Diarmuid Connolly has less than half a game played. James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey, Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn have a couple of games each. Cormac Costello won them an All-Ireland and isn’t in the mix yet.
As much as it pains me to say it, Kerry aren’t really on the radar of those Dublin players at the minute. That’s not how it works when you’re at the level they are. Those players are concerned with one thing and one thing only – getting a place in the team for the championship. Brogan isn’t going into the game thinking about what Kerry player will be marking him. He’s going in thinking about what Dublin player he has to keep at arm’s length.
So Kerry have no choice here. They have to go to Croke Park and tear into the Dubs. They have to make them worry about external opposition for once, shake them out of the comfort zone of competing against themselves. If they can do that, it will be a day well spent.