Dublin and Kerry renew rivalry at headquarters

Kingdom’s Tommy Walsh will not lack for motivation back on the big stage

It's little over four months since the counties met in the All-Ireland final but Dublin and Kerry are back in Croke Park this evening for the opening evening of the Allianz Football League before an expected attendance of around 30,000.

At such an early stage of the season it’s little wonder that both teams give the impression of rubbing the sleep from their eyes and being only half dressed.

Enforced absence means that Kerry are short about half of the All-Ireland final team – including injuries to former Footballer of the Year winners Colm Cooper and James O'Donoghue as well as All Star Anthony Maher – and Dublin's championship winners haven't exactly been tearing back either.

The fixture has an interesting recent history. Dublin have won four of the last six league meetings. The county's win in Killarney in 2010 was their first in Kerry for 28 years and the first sign of the risorgimento of recent times.


Disciplinary controversies

On all three occasions this decade that Dublin have opened the league campaign under the Croke Park lights as All-Ireland champions, the opponents have been Kerry. The two so far, in 2012 and ‘14, have been shared with one win each.

Last season exists in the memory under something of a pall of gloom. There was little memorable football, some very one-sided matches, disciplinary controversies and an All-Ireland climax played in monsoon conditions with players slipping and sliding around the field.

Not that Dublin felt hugely conflicted: their 0-12 to 0-9 win was recently acknowledged by one Kerry All-Ireland winner as “just about the most comprehensive three-point defeat ever suffered by Kerry”.

If the winners wintered with great satisfaction a cloud descended on the losers.

Had their All-Ireland in 2014 been illusory? How did they give such a flat performance on the biggest day of the year? Could Eamonn Fitzmaurice recharge the whole panel with a sense of purpose?

The good news has been that the veterans of the very good times, like Marc Ó Sé, Aidan O'Mahony and Kieran Donaghy, have all recommitted to the cause, bringing experience to the task of recovery.

Further optimism lies in the success of the county’s minors, who under Jack O’Connor won back-to-back All-Irelands. The same management will take them into under-21 territory this year.

It is however the in-between generation that needs to stamp its authority on the team. There will be high hopes that former Young Footballer of the Year and AFL exile Tommy Walsh, who starts this evening, can put behind him a tough year's rehabilitating from a bad injury picked up in Sydney.

There was surprise that he didn’t get a gallop at some stage last September given that Dublin’s centrefield were doing a lot better than anticipated. Lining out later on at full forward, Walsh has the physique, football ability and hunger to play a big role in re-energising the team.

Orthodox role

Dublin manager

Jim Gavin

isn’t without his own concerns. The announcement that Rory O’Carroll was taking a year off to travel to New Zealand has removed one of least replaceable players from consideration.

Even allowing for the general fluidity of modern defensive systems, a full back like O’Carroll who can play an orthodox role on the edge of the square but is also mobile and capable of organising the other backs isn’t going to leave behind an easily-filled jersey.

Early speculation centres on All-Ireland winning under-21 captain David Byrne and St Vincent's All-Ireland club medallist Jarlath Curley.

Although Dublin have been dominant in the league for the past three years, Gavin hasn’t felt inhibited about trialling both players and ideas. Last year’s defensive experimentation in the league looked at times excruciating but it made the team harder to penetrate in the long run.

Brian Fenton came from nowhere in 2015 to serve a constructive apprenticeship in the league and ended the year as Man of the Match in the All-Ireland final and an All Star.

The team is conspicuously well-served in attack even in the absence of retired Alan Brogan with Eoghan O'Gara due back from injury although maybe not in the league, Paul Mannion returned from overseas and prolific graduates of the under-21s, Cormac Costello and Conor McHugh as well as 2014 minor captain Con O'Callaghan all adding to last year's options.

KERRY: B Kealy; B Ó Beaglaoich, M Griffin, S Enright; P Murphy, K Young (capt), F Fitzgerald; D Moran, J Buckley; S O'Brien, D O'Sullivan, D Walsh; B J Keane, T Walsh, P O'Connor. Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times