McCaffrey is in the form of his life. The enhanced defensive support deployed by Dublin has given him the freedom to attack at will and without the worry of leaving the defence exposed.
Likely to be tracked by the under-rated Donnacha Walsh, it will be interesting to see if Jack has learned from the 2013 encounter where Walsh got the better of him. However, as a clearly rejuvenated player, Jack has improved on the timing and frequency of his runs, his passing and scoring from both feet. Tyrone’s Aiden McCrory, while marking Donnacha Walsh, had a number of convertible chances in the first half of the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry but failed to maximise his return. If Jack gets these opportunities expect him to return a goal and two points.
Ciaran Kilkenny is the most consistent performer in the Dublin team. Since returning from injury he appears stronger and more assertive in his actions and regularly contributes two to three points in the big games.
Ciaran, while appearing to be one-paced, is extremely adept at gaining space and is the one Dublin player who holds his shape in the half forward line, hence being available for outlet ball from the defence. This results from his high work rate, constant movement and general football intelligence. While Peter Crowley is undoubtedly strong enough and has marked bigger players he will find the challenge posed by Kilkenny a complex one to solve. Does he follow him religiously and leave the middle exposed or does he allow Kilkenny the freedom to express himself and live with the consequences? What is clear is that someone needs to pay Kilkenny attention.
This is the first year in many that Cian O’Sullivan has been given a prolonged run in his favourite position of centre half back. Often the man who ‘plugs a hole’ for Dublin he has enjoyed and excelled at this holding/sweeping role and is the genesis for many of Dublin’s attacks. Ironically his influence may be in his absence, if injury concerns prevent him from playing. It may mean that Philip McMahon is moved to number six which would give Michael Fitzsimons a starting role in the corner. McMahon would clearly relish the role especially the attacking potential of it whereby he could build on the goal and two points in the semi-final.
However in attacking mode he often neglects his principal duty of defending and risks exposure by the more intelligent Johnny Buckley or Colm Cooper. If Cian is injured how could you envy his replacement?
Shane Enright’s rise to top class corner back was confirmed when he kept Cork’s Brian Hurley scoreless over two matches in this year’s Munster final and replay. Though less efficient against Tyrone he may be man-mark Bernard Brogan and, crucially, will be switched onto Kevin McManamon when he replaces Dean Rock after 50 minutes.
There are no bells and whistles with Shane, he doesn’t wish to attack and his name doesn’t appear on the score sheet – I doubt if he even has an assist. But what he can do is prevent forwards getting easy primary possession and, thus far, has prevented forwards from getting past him. He is quiet and unassuming but when All Stars are being handed out he is a nailed on cert for corner back. Don’t expect anyone to get the better of him on Sunday.
There are few players who you can always rely on. Johnny Buckley is one of these. Whether he plays as a centre half forward or on the wing his influence on the game is massive. Once defenders come close to his considerable wing span he will get a hand in somewhere, spill the ball, turnover possession and set up a counter attack.
His ability to swivel off either foot is clearly a basketball skill and his general contribution from open play and enhanced scoring potential has turned him into one of the first names on Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s team-sheet. Even against a defensive system in Tyrone, Johnny managed to score four points. This ability to find space will be crucial against Dublin and I have a feeling that he will get more space than he requires. One thing for sure is that he will give all he can for as long as he is playing.
Rightly criticised for his performances throughout the year, Kieran Donaghy has a chance to replicate his 2014 fortunes. Expect Kieran to start and expect him to challenge Rory O’Carroll not just in the square but to also question his positional play. Kerry’s attacking strength is in their ability to disrupt defences and find gaps where others cannot. In moving O’Carroll off the square and by varying the distribution to the inside forward line Kerry will opt to expose Dublin’s Johnny Cooper and create goal-scoring chances. The enigma with Donaghy is his apparent reduced work rate and general inertia. Playing to a game plan he should have an influence on how the game is played regardless of whether he is in possession or not. Kieran is not a match-winning sub in the mould of Dublin’s McManamon, he is Kerry’s leader and it is time he played to his potential.