Form favours Dublin but history and intrigue means Kerry can’t be written off

Hard to call as old rivals do battle in fascinating All-Ireland SFC semi-final


Kieran McGeeney possibly didn’t mean it in the most complimentary fashion imaginable but he wasn’t far wrong all the same. On the BBC couch last Sunday in the wake of Mayo’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Tyrone, he casually predicted that the game they’d just seen would be forgotten by Tuesday.

“The Dublin-Kerry hype is going to hit in on Wednesday,” he said.

“Fantastic occasion, already sold out and whoever comes out of that there will be automatic favourites for the All-Ireland, especially after today’s game. Only time will tell with the media come this time next week but the Dublin-Kerry thing has a life of its own. It really does.”

Hard to argue with the man.

Even in a year where the attendances are on pace to rival the boom years, Croke Park hasn’t been full yet.

Drew 70,818
The closest it came was Dublin’s quarter-final win over Cork, which drew 70,018 to Jones’s Road four weeks ago.

There’ll be another 12,982 stitched in on top of that this afternoon. Three extra trains have been chartered from Kerry and both flights from Farranfore are sold out.

It won’t be just a two-county affair either. Come the end of the year, it will undoubtedly feature in the top-10 list of most watched sports broadcasts.

In the half-light world of online gambling, it had already outstripped every other football and hurling match this year by Thursday afternoon.

Betfair expect to see over €500,000 wagered on the game by teatime, comfortably over-reaching the most bet upon game so far (Dublin v Kildare in Leinster) andout-doing by multiples Mayo v Tyrone, the next game down on the list.

Note that none of this is hype. Ticket sales, travel arrangements, money down – it’s all just facts upon facts that have already come to hand.

Dublin v Kerry doesn’t need hype. Hide it away like a secret gig at a festival and still you’d find you’d fill the place.

And if it’s about history at all these days, it’s about recent history.

The 1970s and ’80s mean very little here. Of the 30 players who take the pitch today, 21 weren’t born in time for the 1985 All-Ireland final that knotted the end of that particular length of rope.

No, the shared history here comes down to two games – and even that is stretching it a bit.

Because as much as the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final between the sides feels sort of similar, with Dublin coming in as favourites and Kerry unfancied, the swings and roundabouts since then have changed a lot.

Only four of Dublin’s starting 15 that day will face the throw-in today; the Kerry contingent isn’t much thicker at just seven.

By contrast, the All-Ireland final of two Septembers ago feels much more relevant.

That irritating one more
It was Kerry’s All-Ireland and then it wasn’t and as many as a dozen of the players whso were on the pitch that day in green and gold will likely figure tomorrow. They all have All-Ireland medals to their name but they know they should have that irritating one more.

Dublin didn’t cost them it, five minutes of pure carelessness did the damage. They have a wrong to right today.

Dublin have spritzed and freshened since that day. The team that beat Kerry belonged to the Brogans and Bryan Cullen and the like, old freighthoppers who nobody could begrudge when they finally caught one that took them where they wanted to go.

Jim Gavin’s team now is hotwired by youth, so effectively indeed that both Paddy Power and Boylesports are taking bets on just three players for Young Footballer of the Year.

As of today, it will be Jack McCaffrey or Ciarán Kilkenny or Paul Mannion. Nobody else from nowhere else need apply.

With youth comes pace and Dublin’s abundance of it is the factor most readily reached for by those who would dismiss Kerry’s chances.

But apart from ignoring the steps Eamonn Fitzmaurice has taken to inject some of Kerry’s own youth and pace into matters – Fionn Fitzgerald and Peter Crowley in the defence, Aidan O’Mahony and Eoin Brosnan on the bench – it also assumes Kerry haven’t the wit to go a little Beckenbauer on it. It matters less that you are not quick from A to B if you make sure not to start at A.

Dripping with intrigue
All in all, it’s a fixture dripping with intrigue. If the cliché holds and semi-finals are for the winning, Kerry certainly can lay claim to the greater amount of practice. Since 2002, they have won eight All-Ireland semi-finals and lost one. In the same period, Dublin have won one and lost five.

Different times, different teams and maybe it all means nothing. But it does add to the feeling Kerry maybe have a better chance than this summer’s form strictly suggests.

If right is right and the world is round, Dublin ought to win. But the closer it gets, the more it feels that anyone shouting it with confidence is either a blowhard or a bluffer.