Our experts call the big issues ahead of the All-Ireland final

1. Are Dublin and Kerry as classy as they are made out to be or are they just cleverer when it comes to the dark arts?

Aidan O’Shea

(Mayo footballer)

At the moment, I would say that Dublin are a more free-flowing team than Kerry. I know that’s a strange claim to make but Kerry’s defence is definitely their weakness and they’re strategic with how they protect it. If you want to call that dark arts, cleverness or cute hoorism, I don’t know, but we kind of got dragged into it in Limerick last year. On reflection, we shouldn’t have. In the first 20 minutes, the likes of Lee Keegan and Donal Vaughan were getting frustrated with certain aspects when we were trying to attack. It definitely helped Kerry that day. They’re both very good teams. There are certain things they do to protect themselves.

John Hayes

(Cork footballer)

That’s a loaded question! Of course both teams have their tricks. Dublin like to intimidate teams with physicality and getting the Croke Park crowd geed up, while Kerry are past masters at playing the referee like a fiddle. But, first and foremost, they are both serious football teams. Dublin’s athleticism and pace is unmatched, and Kerry have shown themselves to be vulnerable when run at with pace and power. Kerry have natural ball-players all over the pitch, and their accurate kicking can negate the most athletic team. If Kerry can get enough of the ball, they can trouble Dublin.

Eamonn Callaghan 

(Kildare football captain)

A bit of both, but mostly it would be how clever they are. They know the oppositions they play very well and they set up well against opposing teams. They have their own game-plan which tends to counter the game-plan of their opposition. If things aren’t going well, they have the experience on the bench to address any difficulties they may experiencing on the field. 

Johnny Magee 

(Wicklow manager and former Dublin footballer)

It is a combination of both. Both teams are well able play both games - football and otherwise. They can adapt their game-plan to counter whatever way their opposition set-up. They have the players that can execute any sort of a game-plan and that can deal with any situation. Dublin learned from Donegal last year and have been a bit more defensive in 2016. Kerry are a prime example of a team who can change for each match. They had been defensive in certain matches in 2014, attacking in others and then it was their natural football ability that won them the final. They can play football when football needs to be played and can mix in the darks too if required.

Ger Power 

(Former Kerry footballer)

I would agree with the first assertion that they are two classy teams. Both teams play a better brand of football than the rest of the country. They are mixing it constantly. Neither team are too defensive. Both teams are more attack-minded than they are defence-focused. The old Brazilian teams that won all those World Cups worked off the mantra that so long as you score more than you let in, there is no problem. Kerry and Dublin are no different.  

2. Is it as easy as saying Dublin have the better team but Kerry the better panel?

Aidan O’Shea

I would disagree. I think Dublin have the better panel. Kerry have a much better midfield and the efficiency of their forward line is very good; their movement is excellent. Dublin’s panel is more balanced. Kerry’s forward line have an unbelievable amount of riches, but across defence as well Dublin are more balanced. I have a fancy for a draw on Sunday. I think Dublin can go onto eventually win it. Holding Macauley in reserve and bringing him on with (Alan) Brogan and McManamon is going to add real quality in the final third for the last 15 minutes.

John Hayes

That’s probably a true statement, especially if Cian O’Sullivan is ruled out and replaced by Fitzsimons and Michael Dara Macauley is also promoted to start. If Kerry are within touching distance entering the last quarter they will fancy their chances. Dublin will be reliant on Alan Brogan and Kevin McManamon to provide their impetus whereas Kerry, if they line out as they did in the semi-final, can call on Fionn Fitzgerald, Paul Geaney, Bryan Sheehan, Aidan O’Mahony, Darran O’Sullivan, Barry John Keane and maybe Tommy Walsh. It’s a pretty decent arsenal to have in reserve, although Geaney must be in with a shout of starting.

Eamonn Callaghan 

They are similar in terms of one to 15 and in what they possess on the bench. Dublin have two or three really dangerous players on the bench, Alan Brogan and McManamon, who do have the ability to turn a game. Kerry, meanwhile, have a lot of All-Ireland medal-winners on the bench. They have that experience. They have different strengths on the bench, but they balance each other out.

Johnny Magee 

Both panels are equally strong. You have a lot of All-Ireland medal-winners on the Kerry panel itself, on the field and off. They are on par when it comes to strength-in-depth so I don’t think the outcome will be decided by a particular sub or two that comes in. It will be decided by which team can counter more effectively the way their opposition sets up.

Ger Power 

Both teams are equally matched. You couldn’t say one team is stronger than the other or that one panel is stronger than the other. The public perception that the Kerry panel is stronger is down to the number of All-Ireland medal-winners that it holds. How many medals are in the back pocket won’t win it on Sunday. Subs won the game for Dublin last time out. You can’t underestimate their bench.

3. Kevin McManamon has been the thorn in Kerry’s side in their last two championship meetings. How do you deal with him if he’s coming off the bench again?

Aidan O’Shea

A thorn in everyone’s side! He’s coming on in a period of time where lads have done 50 or 55 minutes of hard graft and at this time of the year it is hard going. I would personally have somebody designated to come onto the pitch as soon as Kevin McManamon is. Someone who also has fresh legs and is ready to go toe-to-toe with him. The reality is he mightn’t do anything in the 15 minutes bar two runs but with them he might open up the whole game. It’s not quantity but the quality he provides.

John Hayes

It may be as simple as Eamon Fitzmaurice immediately making a change himself to counteract McManamon. He may look to Aidan O’Mahony and ask him to physically go toe-to-toe with McManamon for 15/20 mins, expecting the likes of Donnchadh Walsh to sweep around behind if McManamon loses O’Mahony with his pace.

Eamonn Callaghan 

Kevin is so explosive and you have to be ready for his introduction. He is so fast and when he is coming on in the last quarter, there are plenty of tired bodies and minds on the field. He capitalises on that with his direct style of play. Kerry might need to have a fresh pair of legs ready to come in when McManamon is sprung and man-mark him for the last 15 minutes. He has caused a lot of damage for a lot of teams and you can’t afford to overlook him.

Johnny Magee 

Eamonn Fitzmaurice is going to have to have a defender on stand-by to man-mark McManamon when he comes in. Games tend to have opened up by the time he comes in. The defenders who have been picking him up when he comes in have been playing for 50 minutes at really high intensity. Kevin is very strong on the ball, very elusive. He is just so direct and it is very hard to stop that when the legs are heavy. I’d man-mark him and tell the Kerry defender to keep him on the outside. Expect at least three Kerry shirts to block his path when he attempts to cut through.

Ger Power 

Kerry wouldn’t want to get too bogged down by Kevin. In 2013, he set up one goal, but the one he scored was from a Kerry mistake. Two Kerry players went for the same ball and McManamon profited. You can’t go out and worry about one player. If he does come in, I am sure Kerry will be ready for him, but I don’t see any panic when he comes in. I don’t see Kerry springing a sub straightaway to pick him up.

4. Who are the opposing players each team should target?

Aidan O’Shea

Cluxton has a key role to play. If he has a good game then Dublin will do well but Kerry have a massive advantage in the middle of the field. If Kerry can force even 50% of kicks to go long then it will suit them. From a Dublin point of view, if Gooch plays at 11 and Cian O’Sullivan isn’t fit and not there to stop his passes and link play Dublin have a right problem.

John Hayes

I’m not sure which individuals will be targeted, there are no ‘plugs’ on these teams. Dublin will target Kerry’s defence in general by running at them, while Kerry will target the midfield battle as crucial. They might need close to 60% of the possession to come out the right side of this game. It’s not original to say Kerry will target Cluxton’s kick-outs, but it’s likely. He hasn’t looked as comfortable and confident kicking as in previous seasons, and Kerry will probably look to ‘hammer the hammer’ by pushing up against him.

Eamonn Callaghan 

For Kerry, they will need to look after Diarmuid Connolly. Maybe all the furore over whether or not he would be involved in the Mayo replay took from his performance on the afternoon, but I think he has been their best player all year. They will need to keep an eye on him. For Dublin, James O’Donoghue needs to be watched. He is a man for the big occasion and you can be sure he will give a big performance on Sunday. He is quality player who can change the game in a couple of minutes. That’s who I’d be looking at anyway.

Johnny Magee 

Bernard Brogan will need to be tracked. He has scored 6-19 from play. That is a huge tally to amass irrespective of who Dublin have played. For Kerry, it would have to be the Gooch. He can change a game in a split-second. That is going to be the clincher. With Cian O’Sullivan’s injury, if the Gooch goes up to centre-forward and Cian isn’t there to watch him, he could wield serious influence. Dublin have a lot of good footballers, but the only man up for the Gooch in the last couple of years has been Cian O’Sullivan, especially in the half-forward line.

Ger Power 

The biggest obstacle for Kerry will be Cluxton. If they can master his kick-outs, they have a great chance. In the semi-final, Mayo were far too content to allow Cluxton hit short kick-outs and then apply the pressure around midfield. Kerry won’t do that. They won’t give away possession that cheaply. I think the Gooch is due a good game and I think he will be man of the match on Sunday. He is the cool head you require on days like Sunday. He set-up a Donnchadh Walsh goal two-years ago and he scored one himself. It will boil down to the player with the coolest head on Sunday and he would be my man.

5. It hasn’t been the best football championship by any shape or means. Is there any particular reason for that?

Aidan O’Shea

Probably the structure. There have been just a few good games. Ulster is a level playing field. Connacht would have disappointed a lot of neutrals because of upcoming teams like Galway and Roscommon not doing so well. There was one good day out in Munster between Kerry and Cork. Leinster is a bit of a dead duck at the moment. I think the structure of the championship hasn’t helped. Like, look how many games Donegal played before we played them (five games as opposed to two). It’s unbalanced.

John Hayes

I don’t go along with the constant negativity surrounding the game. When the championship was straight knock-out, the tension and excitement made up for any lack of quality there might have been. Bar one or two exceptions, the excitement really only begins now at the quarter-finals. I thought all three semi-final matches were absorbing in their own right. Certainly there are teams and games that are no longer attractive to watch, but every time Stoke and West Brom play out a scoreless draw, or a team parks the bus against a better side in The Premier League, you don’t hear crying about tearing it up and starting again. Some commentators could do more to promote Gaelic Football, without the constant need for extreme negativity.

Eamonn Callaghan 

Too many of the provincial championship matches are foregone conclusions. Leinster is too one-sided, as is Connacht. There are two teams in Munster. Maybe the qualifier system needs to be looked at also because the gap is too big between the strong and the not so strong. There is a massive gulf between the Division 3 and 4 teams and the Division 1 and 2 teams. The main reason for that is the money being spent in county football teams in counties like Dublin and Kerry. It is impossible for other counties to compete with the money they are pumping into their set-ups.

Johnny Magee 

The black card and its poor interpretation. It is not fair on either the players or the referees. There needs to be further and greater clarification on the black card. There is still a cloud there in relation to what is a black card and what is not a black card. Every weekend on The Sunday Game the black card is being highlighted. That needs to be sorted out once for all. We need a TMO so a referee can seek clarity on a decision. That will cut out all the messing. Players need to show more respect to referees also. There is bad taste at the moment in the relations between players and match officials.

Ger Power 

The championship doesn’t liven up until the quarter-finals. While the back door is a good system, when you don’t have straight knock-out, the excitement just isn’t there until the later stages of the championship. If a team is beaten, the prevailing attitude is ‘sure, don’t we have another go at it’. The football championship doesn’t start until the quarter-finals. By that stage, three months of the summer are done. The first few games are meaningless really.

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