To curve or to swerve — that is the question. A curve ball is not something Dublin are known for and given their last one in the 2017 All-Ireland final — Eoghan O’Gara’s inclusion — was unsuccessful it’s something Jim Gavin may be keen to avoid.
That being said, even if they were all hurling phenomenons, the examples of Walter Walsh (2012), Shane O’Donnell (’13) and Kieran Joyce (’14) as successful All-Ireland final replay bolters are too frequent to ignore. Indeed, Michael Fitzsimons was also the man of the match in the last football final replay three years ago having not started the first day out.
Dublin only made one and three changes in their 2015 and ’16 replays against Mayo respectively. Gavin usually doesn’t let his pride get in the way but he will have reviewed just how well 14 of his starting team performed as a unit the last day out. Yes, he could have been quicker on the sideline but with those 14 players Dublin held a four-point lead by the 53rd minute.
Injury concerns about John Small, Cian O’Sullivan and a lesser worry about Brian Fenton might mean Gavin’s hand is forced, though. Fast-tracked into the Dublin panel when he was halted at US pre-clearance in Dublin airport in late June, a start for Diarmuid Connolly would be the type of spinner Kerry would be forced to respect.
Now two months back in the set-up, he should be up to speed to begin a game even though Alan Brogan’s point that his return “goes against what Jim preaches about commitment” is well made. It could be argued that Dublin now find themselves in a similar situation to what Kerry found themselves in for their 2017 All-Ireland semi-final replay.
In the drawn game, it was Mayo who had pushed the envelope and like Kerry last Sunday week missed an abundance of first-half scoring chances. Back then, Kerry also had an outside chance of winning that affair with a late free but it was a game remembered for how Stephen Rochford’s Mayo had continued their run of tactical masterstrokes with Aidan O’Shea tagging Kieran Donaghy and Lee Keegan moving into the half-forward line.
In the replay, Éamonn Fitzmaurice chose to go with seven defenders, stationing Paul Murphy as sweeper and introducing Tom O’Sullivan and Jonathan Lyne as late changes. Jack Barry was another call up.
Fitzmaurice might have anticipated Mayo were going to fling another curve ball but they went with the same personnel as the first match, O’Shea continuing his tracking of Donaghy. Eight points down at half-time, Fitzmaurice jettisoned the sweeper but the damage was already done.
Fast forward two years and (depending on how you view it) it was ingenuity on Kerry’s part or inertia on Dublin’s that made a mockery of almost everyone’s pre-match assessments nine days ago. By drafting in Barry to give Kerry more of a foothold in the middle of the field, it was Peter Keane who showed more flexibility. Just as Gavin shouldn’t be persuaded to take a scalpel to his team, something as subtle as Killian Spillane or Jack Sherwood in for Gavin White would be appropriate.
Neither Gavin nor Keane will be listening to anyone outside their circles of trust. Gavin’s philosophy about taking what Kerry pundits say with “a pinch of salt”. Expect one or two former Dublin players to strike back this week but to this point it has been largely harmless stuff.
It says everything and little about the GAA’s announcement of teams now that the only thing trustworthy about the match programme line-ups is the 26 players and it’s in the squads that there could be more scope for each manager to make alterations.
There is an abundance of talent that could now join the replay party - Seán Bugler, Bernard Brogan, Eric Lowndes, O’Gara, Micheál Burns, James O’Donoghue and David Shaw.
After eight SFC games this summer and 36 these last five seasons, Dublin remain unbeaten. Kerry are without a Championship defeat in nine games themselves. In that regard, it is the purest final pairing possibly ever. They’ve done it under their own steam but there is no shortage of people believing they know what’s right for them, ourselves included.
Dublin still have the upper hand in replay
Perhaps it’s a back-handed compliment to Dublin that so many people are considering their draw last Sunday week a loss.
Or maybe it’s that those not from the capital are enjoying the fun while it lasts because the chances are they will right themselves this weekend.
With headlines like “Dublin are men, not machines”, “Dublin were complacent” and “has spontaneity been coached out of Dublin forwards”, you’d swear Dublin didn’t lead by five points with 14 men at one stage or play the final 44 minutes of action a man down.
Indeed, on our podcast last week it was former Kildare manager Cian O’Neill who at least cooled the jets on Mike Quirke and Diarmuid Murphy talking up the Kerry performance. Consider also that Kerry didn’t have a shot on goal for the last 12 minutes.
By claiming it to be the “greatest dozen minutes of football that this mighty Dublin team has ever played”, Charlie Redmond may have over-egged just how good his county were in that spell but they were pretty good.
Chasing the five in a row has predominantly been about knowing how to win but on the odd occasion forgetting how to lose.
Kerry haven’t missed their opportunity — their inside line won’t be as quiet scoringwise for a second game in a row — and in Peter Keane they have a manager who has shown great tactical nous in his last two matches. He may also have a bench he can trust more than Jim Gavin.
But Dublin are so self-policed that those who didn’t perform last week will not hesitate in putting their hands up. It’s no longer about completing the five in a row but making amends for tripping up.
Capital bye is not favouritism
Having failed to garner enough support so as to introduce a round-robin structure in their senior football championship three years ago, the Leinster Council are now seeking again to award a semi-final bye to the previous year’s victors.
The idea was put forward by then Leinster chairman, now current GAA president John Horan but didn’t receive enough support from counties although a motion was passed to introduce a group phase for the early part of the competition, which was shot down by Congress.
Obviously, this new proposal, which will be voted on by Leinster county secretaries tomorrow evening, pertains to Dublin much like the semi-final bye in Munster largely relates to Cork and Kerry.
However, the suggestion that it extends to favouritism is not accurate. Rather, it is more of a reflection of just how much Dublin have monopolised the competition and one less team being humiliated mightn’t be such a bad thing.
It’s understandable, though, that such a bye would be viewed dimly without the introduction of a round-robin element so that by the time a team face Dublin they will at least have a running start on them and the chances of catching them a little colder than usual would be greater.
The Leinster Council had such a mechanism in place for the Leinster SHC when Kilkenny were winning all around them. When Galway claimed the Bob O’Keeffe Cup in 2012, selector Mattie Kenny wasn’t too keen on the semi-final bye that went with it. As stark as it is, Leinster are just acknowledging their football landscape.