For the Kerry and Dublin players, Saturday is going to be one of the longest days. Handling the morning of an All-Ireland final is a skill in itself. You don't want to wake up too early, but it's always a rough night's sleep however cool you think you are. And your brain has a mind of its own, so you generally have no say in what time you wake up. You'd pay good money to be able to sleep on until after nine, but there's nothing surer than that you'll be staring at the ceiling at seven.
With a six o'clock throw-in on Saturday, that's 11 hours to kill. Eleven hours is no picnic when you're trying to do nothing. Especially when you're talking about young lads in their 20s. You can only go off for so many walks. You can only sit through so many movies or play so many games of Fifa. At least Liverpool are playing the lunchtime game in the Premier League on Saturday – that might do the job for a couple of hours.
You can’t do anything physical. You’re buzzing with nervous energy but you know you can’t be wasting it. I remember being on a warm-weather camp one time with Kerry in Lanzarote, and training was set for seven o’clock one evening. A heap of the younger lads killed the afternoon playing a fairly hectic game of five-a-side among themselves, and could barely raise a gallop by the time training came around. It was brainless, obviously enough. But understandable too.
This will have to be handled by the two management teams. The Dublin players will all wake up in their own beds, so it’s slightly easier for them. Unless Kerry decide to fly up on Saturday, they’ll all be waking up in a hotel together. Donie Buckley was involved with Mayo in 2016 when they had the same thing to deal with, so his experience will be important. But there’s no handy answer.
Stephen Cluxton showed again in the drawn game that he can laser the ball like nobody else
Hotels are a grand place to fall asleep at the end of a day. Waking up in one with nothing to be doing until teatime is a different story. We used to kick O’Neills balls up and down the corridors to see could any of us keep it between the walls. We weren’t just as accurate as we liked to think we were. It cost the county board the price of a few lightbulbs down the years and probably the odd picture frame. Cheap at twice the price.
Throw it all into the mix and I would expect the first 10 minutes on Saturday to be nervy. I’d be amazed if every shot went over the bar in the opening few attacks. Everybody needs to shake the nervous energy out of themselves and find their own rhythm. No matter what you tell yourself, you’re not in the zone until you’re in the game.
Think back to the 2016 replay. I remember watching Tom Parsons in the warm-up that day and he was kicking points away without a second thought. But then, 30 seconds into it, he had the first chance of the day and you could see as he stuttered into it that he wasn’t quite in the zone yet. A minute later, James McCarthy got into the Mayo half but rushed his shot and kicked it so wide he was lucky to catch the netting behind the goal with it.
Look who you’re talking about there: Tom Parsons and James McCarthy. These weren’t excitable kids. You couldn’t ask for two more solid men to be taking the first shot in an All-Ireland final replay. And they came up with efforts that they’d be given out to for in an under-14 game. Purely mental mistakes, the sort you come up with when you’re bursting to make a mark after sitting around doing nothing all day.
When the game settles down, the first job for Kerry is the same as for the last day. Stephen Cluxton showed again in the drawn game that he can laser the ball like nobody else. Three or four of his kick-outs were arrowed 30 or 40 yards with no deviation on them. If he was in those hotel corridors with us years ago, every light fixture in the place would have been safe as houses.
I presume you have to go back a long way to find the last time Brian Fenton didn't take a shot at goal in a game
The ball went like a shot out of a gun for him, no curl, no fade. Playing against that is a high-wire job but you have to go for it. Kerry got done a couple of times with their high press but I don’t think that will stop them trying it again on Saturday. They just need to pick and choose when to do it.
You could see David Clifford at times waving at the rest of the Kerry players to get up the field loads of times in the first half. He stopped it in the second half – I presume someone said it to him at the break. In fairness to the rest of them, they're right not to go kamikaze-style at it every time. Cluxton would love nothing more than to be facing the same set-up every time he puts the ball down. He might not get you the first time, he might not get you the second – by the fifth or sixth, he'll be licking his lips.
Dublin's major questions lie around the players who didn't have their best game the last day. I presume you have to go back a long way to find the last time Brian Fenton didn't take a shot at goal in a game. Ciarán Kilkenny didn't have one either. That's some day's work from Kerry to manage it once. Now they need to do it again.
Fenton is one of those midfielders who likes to be scoring. Ciarán Whelan was like that too. He fed off the crowd’s reaction when he got forward and nailed a point or scored a big goal. It filled him with confidence and made him a better player and a tougher opponent. The flipside was that you could sense it in him the longer he went without a score. He could start forcing things, maybe trying too hard to get on the scoreboard. That’s where you wanted him if you were playing against him.
When it comes down to it, a replay is about upping the ante from the last day. Both teams have shown their hand
David Moran and Jack Barry would love to see the same out of Fenton the next day. He’s a prince of a midfielder with a lovely balance about him and a huge engine. But if he isn’t scoring – if he isn’t even getting in position to shoot – then Dublin are missing out. Not just on the scores he gets but on the crowd reaction.
When Dublin are humming, Fenton is generally a big part of it. Whether it’s Moran or Barry on him – they switched over and back a fair bit in the drawn game – that’s got to be a big part of the plan. Keep Fenton scoreless. Shotless if possible. Take it from there.
When it comes down to it, a replay is about upping the ante from the last day. Both teams have shown their hand. Cormac Costello was the rabbit from the hat for Dublin in 2016 but I wouldn’t be too sure there’s a surprise parachuting in anywhere along the way this time around. Kerry were flat to the mat in the drawn game and had about a dozen players playing well. Dublin only had about eight or nine. Those aren’t good numbers for Kerry going into a replay.
The Dubs will improve. Paul Mannion misjudged a ball and let it bounce over his head at one stage the last day. I’d say he was in China the last time that happened to him. You could see him in the second half, trying too hard. Someone of Mannion’s class won’t let that happen two days in a row. Con O’Callaghan actually had a fine game and Kerry only kept his personal score down by giving away frees. Dean Rock got all the points Con didn’t score. There was probably a goal or two in there as well.
But there are still things Kerry players can do to lift it again. I’d love to see Clifford pulling off a blockdown or a turnover of a Dublin defender. We know what he can do with the ball, that’s not in question even though his radar was a bit off the last day. But the lift he would give the rest of the team by doing the kind of thing Paul Mannion does, chasing back and stripping the opposition, would be massive.
It’s like seeing a fella going over the top in the trenches and following him without even thinking about it. I fully expect Clifford to score more than he did the last day. But it’s the over-and-above stuff that could push Kerry even further.
You're not going to beat Dublin out the gate. If you beat them at all, it'll realistically be by a single score
All in all, I’m more optimistic for Kerry than I was heading into the drawn game. Two weeks ago, I was hoping Kerry had it in them. Now, I know they have. Kerry people don’t have to talk themselves into it any more. All the evidence is there in front of us.
The Dubs are still favourites and rightly so. Everyone is allowed an off day and when you sit down and really go through it, Dublin not only survived their off day, they were the ones pushing and forcing the issue at the end. It brings it back to the biggest issue of all for Kerry: how do they actually find themselves ahead at full-time?
You’re not going to beat Dublin out the gate. If you beat them at all, it’ll realistically be by a single score. That’s the hardest thing. When it comes down to it in injury-time, Kerry have to be able to be like a basketball team, controlling possession and making sure that they’re the ones who take the last shot of the game.
That’s the hardest part. I think the experience of the last day will stand to them in that regard – remember, it was Peter Keane’s first time in that situation too, as well as the players’. So I think they will be better equipped if they get it to that five, six, seven minutes of injury-time again.
But ultimately, that’s what the Dubs live for. I give Kerry a more of a squeak than I did before, but I still expect Dublin to do it.