Kerry tradition will make it a contest but Dublin have moved sport on

Kerry tradition will make it a contest but Dublin have moved sport on

It is only fitting this Dublin set-up have to beat the most successful county in the history of the game to be declared the greatest team ever.

Kerry lead them on the all-time honours list with a total of 37 titles, a leading margin that could be reduced to eight should Dublin win their 29th championship this Sunday.

A significant difference still, but less so when you consider the gap was 14 as recently as 2009.

Contrary to what much of the scaremongering associated with the Dublin juggernaut suggests, don’t expect the lead to change at the top anytime in the next quarter of a century.

Not because Dublin won’t continue to improve, because they will, but because the remainder of the counties will improve at a greater rate as a result of what Dublin have done for the game.

Kerry deserve their place in the final for obvious reasons, but none more so than to reward their decision to go with Peter Keane as manager when Éamonn Fitzmaurice was replaced last year.

Most other counties would have succumbed to the pressure to make a big name appointment, and others would have taken the softer option and re-appointed a former manager.

However, Kerry don’t do soft options. They have always had a ruthless streak that for decades separated them from the pack.

Their overwhelming success has afforded them a status in the game that has made the Kerry accent worth listening to. And that’s where myth and reality can sometimes get blurred and a filter is needed at times.

But make no mistake about it, Kerry will arrive in Croke Park on Sunday with something up their sleeve to rattle Dublin. Whether they can sustain it for over 70 minutes is another thing altogether.

This is not to suggest this Sunday’s decider is a foregone conclusion by any stretch of the imagination.

Kerry, by their nature, have the traditional smarts and the historical know-how to cause an upset. Phrases like ‘hammer the hammer’ are part of the footballing fabric in the Kingdom, and they will do all they can to find the weak link in the Dublin armoury.

But therein lies the problem; where previous Kerry teams would have been able to collectively execute a gameplan, while individually playing what’s in front of them, to outplay teams into submission; this Dublin team will not fold so easily, if at all.

Another Kerryism is the subtle reminder to other lesser skilled counties that the game is called football, with a not so subtle emphasis on the foot part of the word to highlight the ingrained skillset that for many years enabled them to unlock defences with a single kick pass, where a series of hand passes would otherwise be used.

But again, where other teams would be susceptible to such incisive plays, we can expect Dublin to adapt. Yet, this is why it will be such an intriguing encounter. While opponents who have taken on Dublin over the last five years with plans to upset the apple cart have failed, Kerry will add their breed of creativity that may unsettle Dublin at times.

It is easy to be impressed by Peter Keane in his first year at the helm. He presents himself as very self-assured and always appears to stay focused on matters that he can control rather than picking on side issues that may distract from the task at hand. The experience gained through his successful years at underage inter-county management is a lesson to other counties on the importance of succession planning for the top job.

You also get the impression he is a realist and he will be very keen to allow his players to play their game, while also playing down the enormity of the job that lies ahead. That will likely manifest itself in a simple approach to Sunday’s match, built on a very conservative defensive system so that they’re not forced to chase the game from too early on.

Keane will likely combined that with a looser forward set up to move the Dublin defence around the pitch as much as possible.

Their footballing skills may prove to be decisive in getting in behind the Dublin defence, so long as they can make it count if and when it happens, because it is hard to see Dublin falling for the same move more than twice.

There’ll be an expectation that the Kerry young guns will find an extra gear on such an auspicious occasion to spread Dublin more than they’re used to, as they’d love nothing more to return to Killarney on Monday with Sam Maguire in tow.

However, there is an unnerving feeling that this may be the year where Dublin play to their potential in the final match of the season, having bemoaned sub-standard performances on each of their four previous championship winning appearances — against Kerry, Mayo twice and Tyrone respectively. A humbling thought for their vanquished opponents each year who were at full tilt and still fell short.

Such dominance deserves a place in history.

There will be nothing wrong if this decade is remembered for Dublin’s dominance if it results in the game moving to a new standard in the decades that follow. For too long Gaelic football flitted from one fad to the next with no real direction.

What the previous year’s winners did spelled out what next year’s teams would adopt. Finally, the game has an example worth following with visible changes at inter-county level across all codes emerging in recent years.

The craft of coaching is getting its appropriate time and attention across the country like never before. The physical preparation of teams across all codes is improving and charlatans are less prevalent than before as genuinely qualified personnel are finally being appointed to such important positions with respectable salaries attached.

Development academies are now engaging in evidence-based practice to inform their work with the players of tomorrow, so the mistakes of yesteryear can cease to be made time and again.

The list goes on, and it is not to suggest Dublin are the pioneers of all of these practices. But they are the first county to prevail with them in a long-term capacity across their entire GAA family through age and stage and code and gender.

What’s more, their foresight to ensure continuity between management teams is also nothing new, but again, a trademark of their teams across the pathway. An unfortunate habit that continues to be seen across the country. Remarkably, none of these points require masses of money or investment for implementation, just joined-up thinking and a vision for sustainability.

So if this Dublin period of dominance does anything for the progression of the GAA as an association, it will be that it has forced counties to think beyond the next season to safeguard the future of their beloved games.

In summary, this Kerry team has All-Irelands in them, but perhaps not this year, and the lessons being learned by everyone else along the way will make for more competitive seasons ahead, not less. For that we have Dublin to thank, albeit sometimes through gritted teeth.

Quirke's Final Preview: Kerry's matchups. The Fenton factor. Walsh wildcard. Gough controversy


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