That Dublin walloped Mayo by 12 points last time out didn’t surprise Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
That Dublin haven’t lost a game in the two years and 17 days since Kerry cleaned their clock during a heated league encounter doesn’t surprise him either. Nothing, in fact, surprises the Kerry manager when it comes to this Dublin team.
In the wake of Dublin’s 2-14 to 0-14 league win over Kerry on January 30 of last year, the Kingdom management had a brief discussion about how well Dublin were motoring so early in the season. The general consensus amongst Fitzmaurice’s management was that if Jim Gavin’s side could hold their form over the ensuing nine months and deliver a second All-Ireland on the bounce, then they’d be “some team”.
His estimation of the All-Ireland champions went up a notch following their 1-16 to 0-7 hammering of Mayo.
Their consistency, he says, is simply “incredible”.
“I saw a stat a couple of weeks ago concerning the great Kilkenny hurling team which won four All-Irelands in-a-row in the middle of the last decade. Their longest winning streak between league and championship ran to 13 games. That puts into context what Dublin are doing. It is incredible,” remarked Fitzmaurice.
“Their level of consistency, their level of performance week in, week out, year in, year out is unbelievable. The Championship is one thing. If you’ve achieved that in Championship, that is doable. When you put all the variables that come into it during the league and they’ve managed to do what they’ve done, it is incredible.”
But that is not to say they are invincible. No team is. “They are beatable. Whether it will happen this Saturday night or not, I don’t know. It will happen at some stage. I’d love if it was this Saturday.”
Were the hosts to prevail, it would end their opponents’ 33-game unbeaten run and, in the process, prevent the visitors to Tralee from equalling the 34-game unbeaten run achieved by a legendary Kerry team almost 90 years ago.
Kerry’s longest spell without defeat during the two years of Dublin dominance is six games. They achieved that on two occasions. There were the six victories on the bounce which secured them a league final berth in 2016 and there was the league draw against Tyrone in the spring of 2015 followed by the five championship games which propelled them to an All-Ireland final showdown with Dublin.
Championship alone, only Gavin’s men have had their number. Their league form, though, shows nine victories and one draw from 17 outings.
“We know we are close in championship terms. It is different in the league because you don’t have the same level of preparation you do for championship, you don’t have the full deck to work with. Like anything, if you fail you come back and you go again. You try to learn, you try to improve. That is what we have been doing every time and we have been getting closer and closer. We’ll keep going until we get there.
“Sometimes, our lads can be relaxed against certain opposition and it can show in our performance. Against the likes of a Dublin, the fact they have won so many games and the fact they have been so consistent, it will be a huge motivating factor.
“I thought their display against Mayo was as close as you are going to get to a perfect performance at this time of year, particularly the second-half. We saw ourselves how physical and tough Mayo can be when they beat us here. Definitely, it was a fantastic performance from Dublin.”
Central to a home victory at Austin Stack Park will be the display of the Kerry defence who, Roscommon aside, have conceded more than any other team in the top flight this season. Mayo and Monaghan both plugged holes during their respective wins over the green and gold. Fitzmaurice, though, feel the spotlight falls too regularly on his back six and particularly, criticisms of his rearguard that they are susceptible when the opposition run at them.
“We love making a deal about this in Kerry. I don’t think it happens to just us. If you get good footballers coming at you at pace, it is hard to defend against. It is not something we get particularly hung up on. I think every team is vulnerable when you run at them.”
A crowd of around 12,000 is expected this evening. This compares to the 7,000-plus attendance which witnessed their last league meeting in the Kingdom. It isn’t just Dublin’s record bid that contributed to the game selling out in the middle of last month.
“As we very well know, any of the teams can beat each other and this has contributed to a greater interest in the league. Particularly early in the year, there are great levellers there. The games are always competitive and from that point of view, there is huge interest. Television, as well, is another huge factor. Ten years ago, you might have had a game televised on a Saturday night but I don’t think there was anything on Sunday. Now, nearly every Division 1 game is shown over the course of the weekend between Eir and TG4. Television glamourises it a bit more and people want to get out and support their teams.”
Not to mention getting a whiff of summer’s portents.
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