The morning of last September’s All- Ireland SFC final, a newspaper ran the story of how they had unearthed Kerry’s secret code, which purported to encourage them to be sly and cunning to beat Dublin.
It carried a photograph of a poster, alleged to have been hung in the Kerry dressing room, featuring the Spanish word “picardia”, meaning sharpness or craftiness.
The newspaper’s claim it was revealing news of the poster for the first time would have startled those who first read of it in Conor McCarthy’s Irish Examiner piece on the eve of last July’s Munster final replay. Just as the timing of that piece was interesting, so too was the re-emergence of the “picardia” claims hours before All-Ireland final.
Going back to the man in the tree prior to the 2014 All-Ireland final, Kerry have been used to 11th hour nuisances. On that occasion, the Donegal Peeping Tom didn’t see enough of their behind-closed-doors training session in Killarney to upset them.
Similarly, it wasn’t connotations of cynicism that cost the Kingdom seven months ago but their own failings.
The authenticity of the poster has never been substantiated or dismissed. Even if it didn’t offer much insight into Kerry’s thinking, there was a perception that they could be got at. It also brought to mind Dublin’s 2008 Blue Book, some of the contents of which were published in a newspaper after Paul Caffrey had stepped down. Just as “Kerry 2015 champions” was emblazoned on the poster, so too did “Dublin — All-Ireland champions 2008” feature on the front and at the top of every page of the Blue Book. Kerry’s key phrases resembled buzz words in the Dubs’ manual. “Picardia” was akin to Dublin’s “We will do whatever it takes” mantra from seven years ealier.
Attempts to tar Kerry as a cynical team are off the mark, says Caffrey, when he knows Dublin too have players capable of being necessary evils.
“They are the two best footballing teams in the country at the moment but I also think they possess their fair share of players who go to the line and cross it. Winning teams need players who can do that. If you look at the job Aidan O’Mahony did on Michael Murphy two years ago — it was one of the most physical and brilliant man-marking jobs I’ve ever witnessed. He eliminated the best forward in the country that year. O’Mahony, to my mind, won Kerry that All-Ireland.
“Last year, Philly McMahon did jobs on Aidan O’Shea in the semi-finals and then Colm Cooper in the final. Every team needs a couple of players who are prepared to do those types of jobs. There are players who walk the line sometimes but when you’re walking the line so often it would be naive for people to think you won’t cross it. These players know the risks they’re taking but they’re worth taking.”
Caffrey has noticed how Kerry speak differently about Dublin. Now there is genuine respect. Before, there were platitudes and plamás.
“When Dublin went all those years without beating Kerry, we were regaled with stories about the love-in between the teams in the ’70s. It infuriated everybody on those Dublin teams in the ’80s, ’90s and Noughties. It’s very easy to talk like that when you have the upper hand. Kerry had an edge over us for 30 years but once it broke, it smashed. Down in Kerry, you don’t hear them gloat about the ones they have won but they do talk about the ones they left behind them.
“In one or two of the last few championship games, they felt they would have played well enough to win but last year’s All-Ireland final wasn’t one of them.”
Caffrey, a sub when Dublin beat Kerry in the 1987 Division 1 final, holidays in the Kingdom most years. He notices how supporters drink deep with the mention of Dublin. Another All-Ireland title this season and the team of the decade crown will likely be theirs.
“In a few years’ time, I believe we will be talking about this being the greatest Dublin team ever. I don’t think anyone is arrogant enough to say that now. Until this cycle of fantastic players passes, only then will you able to count up the number of titles they’ve won. In titles alone, they will then be recognised as the best and Jim Gavin as the great Dublin manager ever.
“That will irk Kerry. Football is all about eras and Dublin are dominating this one. Kieran McGeeney wouldn’t talk about the one All-Ireland Armagh won but the two or three they let slip. Great teams back up an All-Ireland with another or more. That’s why Tyrone have to be recognised as one of the great teams.
“Teams like that get five or six attempts over a period of time and they won three. Dublin, for me, are only in the middle of their great cycle and that should be a scary thought for Kerry and others.”
Kerry have lost some of their fear factor too, claims Caffrey. Previously, Dublin knew only one means of beating teams. Under Caffrey, they blews teams out of the water. Under Pat Gilroy, victories came more considered. Under Gavin, they can come either way but they come.
“I look at the Kerry team for Sunday and I don’t see where they’re going to beat Dublin — and rarely would you say that,” Caffrey states. “Even without Jack McCaffrey and Rory O’Carroll, Dublin are in a different place now.”
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