Paul Murphy, unsurprisingly, didn’t enjoy how Tyrone set themselves up in the All-Ireland semi-final earlier this month. With Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly the only two Tyrone forwards taking up permanent residence in the Kerry half, Murphy found himself having to carry out the role of sweeper.
The problem developed, however, that Murphy was, time and again, stationed too high up the field and so the necessary cover wasn’t being provided to an under-fire Jason Foley who was finding McShane far too hot to handle.
There’ll be no such conundrum on Sunday: the six Dublin forwards will each take a Kerry defender and that is exactly how Murphy prefers it. Man-on-man, six separate duels, and may the best player win.
Murphy rated their defensive effort against Tyrone as “fair”, a somewhat generous assessment given their difficulties in the opening half, but did concede that the 0-18 Tyrone kicked was “too high”.
Kerry fans would be thrilled to keep Jim Gavin’s men to that tally given the champions are averaging close to 2-20 per game this summer. The 28-year old Rathmore man, who is facing into his third All-Ireland, knows the challenge ahead.
“Whatever team you’d be facing, you’d be doing a fair amount of homework on them. With Dublin, it is going to be tougher to find chinks in their armour than with any other team, such is the quality they have,” Murphy admitted.
Murphy is a central cog in a Kerry rearguard which is somewhat light on experience and has had various stumbles throughout the summer, particularly against Cork in the Munster final and the aforementioned first-half against Tyrone, while there were times during the second-half of their Super 8 stalemate against Donegal where they were far too porous.
Beside Murphy in the half-back line is Gavin Crowley, the Templenoe man with just six championship starts to his name in his debut summer in the green and gold. Tom O’Sullivan and Jason Foley aren’t that far ahead with 10 championship appearances each.
These three, along with full-back Tadhg Morley, have never before been involved with a Kerry senior panel on All-Ireland final Sunday.
The 2014 All-Ireland final man of the match puts a different spin on this lack of experience. “You are talking about a more experienced back-line this year in that you had a lot of guys last year getting their first run, the likes of Gavin White, Jason Foley, while Tom O’Sullivan came in at the end of 2017. Gavin Crowley has come in this year after playing a lot of games in the league.
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“You are looking at guys who are a year further down in their development. They are more comfortable in their roles, they are more confident.
“Donie Buckley brings an awful lot to it. At times, he is labelled as a tackling expert, but he’s an all-round coach. We do a nice bit of work on tackling.
“It is probably for people watching on to say if our techniques have improved. At times, we are still giving away cheap frees. That is something which we need to work on.”
“You prefer man-on-man, but if you get caught with a hard one-on-one, you are crying for cover. You adapt yourself to whatever way the opposition set up and hope for the best from there.”
Just as his manager did, the 2014 All-Star was keen to downplay the significance of it being Kerry — the county who failed to achieve the five-in-a-row back in 1982 — who are tasked with bringing a halt to Dublin’s drive for five.
“We are just looking to win one and if you get bogged down on that, you are probably wasting energy on something that Dublin has to be focusing on. Our focus is on winning one All-Ireland, which would be a first for this group. As for pressure from the Kerry public, possibly with the older generation, yeah, they are hoping that we can stop the five in a row, but we can’t waste too much energy on that side of it.”
Murphy featured in the 2015 final and 2016 semi-final reverses to Sunday’s opponents. Does it gnaw away at him that the Kingdom had chances, particularly in 2016, to prevent Dublin from becoming the all-conquering beast they are today?
“In 2016, we were three points up in the last 10 minutes and you would be very happy to be in that position. You would have regrets about those games but, on the other hand, credit has to go to Dublin because they were two tight games they managed to win. They have continued on winning since so you would have to put your hand up to what they have achieved rather than look back with any regrets.
"They have rarely let their performance slip over the four years and they have been incredibly consistent through league and championship. It’s really been the cornerstone; it’s that consistency that has carried them through.”