Kieran Duff: ‘It’s always sweeter when you beat Kerry in a final’

Dublin's Kieran Duff on the attack in the 1987 league final against Kerry. Picture: Billy Stickland

The man whose early goal 29 years ago proved to be the difference between Dublin and Kerry in a Division 1 final has warned another defeat for the Kingdom this Sunday will leave them “in a little rut” against their great rivals.

Kieran Duff, who was part of Paul Caffrey’s Dublin management set-up, is aware that, but for a relatively clean bill of health, Dublin may not have been so successful against Kerry in their 2011 and 2015 All-Ireland finals and 2013 semi-final.

However, he believes Dublin have the mental edge.

“Kerry have lost the last three big games to Dublin, two All-Ireland finals and a semi-final. Almost all of this Dublin team haven’t lost to this group of Kerry players, so they’re going to be mad keen and well up for it. Dublin will just have to match their enthusiasm.

“I’m always one who looks at games realistically. I’m not one who says, ‘Dublin can’t be beaten and all this craic’. Kerry are on a good old swing of games at the moment and they’re still hurting from 2011 and then last year they lost again and the talk from them was ‘we didn’t do ourselves justice, we didn’t play’.

“They will be more determined this weekend than ever (to defeat Dublin), because the more times Dublin keep beating them, like Kerry kept beating us in the 80s, the harder it will be for Kerry to beat them.

“If Dublin win again, you’re starting to think Kerry are in that little rut Dublin were in a few years ago. I’d never back against Dublin and they should have enough in the tank to beat them.”

News from the Dublin camp that Jim Gavin has almost a full hand to pick from gives Duff a sense of security. Injuries, as well as counter-tactics, are what most worries him from a fan’s perspective. “This Dublin team can deal with most things, but when they go out onto the field they have to make decisions and, if Kerry come out with a tactic, as they’ve done before, pushing up on Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs and closing lads down, things will be difficult. Dublin have gone well over the last five or six years, but they’ve had very few injuries, very few key players missing in big games. They haven’t had to face a crisis yet.”

As a player, Duff never managed to get one over on Kerry in the championship. Even when they did pick them off in 1987’s corresponding fixture, the Fingallians man sensed that it was only a small blip for the Kingdom.

“You never write Kerry off. You thought they were finishing in ’84 and ’85 after missing out in ’82 and ’83, then they come back and win another three. In 1986, they beat Tyrone and you think after doing another three-in-a-row this was the end of them. Then they get to a league final and you’re thinking: ‘Aw, Jaysus, they’re going to be here again for the summer.’

“Maybe the team we had at the time, we finished them off as they were on their last legs. Cork beat them in Munster later that year. We wouldn’t have been thinking at the time that they were nearly finished. They were always blooding two or three players every year.”

Dublin’s class of ’87 never tasted the success the current batch are enjoying, though they share the same philosophy of football.

“They’re moving the ball quickly, playing it short and delivering it long. They’re combining both games well. If you go back to our era, we were similar in the sense we wanted to get the ball into the full-forward line as quickly as possible and then the half-forwards running in to take it on the burst.”

Duff would jump at the chance to be part of Gavin’s group. “You’d love to play in this era, because of the way players are looked after, the way they are eating and drinking and the rest they have. As a player who was totally committed when I had my time, I would love to be playing now. Knowing what you know now what you didn’t 20 years ago, you would love to be part of it. People say it was tougher in those days and there’s looser play now, because there isn’t as much man-marking. Every era is different. I wouldn’t change my time with the Dubs either.”

Gavin may, disagree, but Sunday feels more than a Division 1 final for Duff. “There are only two national finals. It’s always sweeter when you beat Kerry in a final.”

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