It certainly is the final we’ve all been waiting for – since 1985 for many people, as the Dubs and the Kingdom face off in the All-Ireland final on Sunday. The media have gone bananas over this one and there isn’t a ticket to be had as supporters clamour to get into the most eagerly awaited final in a generation.
In many ways, this is the ultimate final. The traditional powers pairing off, the jackeens against the culchies, the modern way of playing the game (Dublin) against the more traditional catch and kick (Kerry). But that is just glossing over the surface of the game as this game is intriguing at almost every level and one can imagine that the atmosphere in Croke Park will be at fever pitch come 3:30 on Sunday evening. Whoever responds best after that will win the game and be remembered for years to come as the winner on this day of days.
Seldom have more column inches been devoted to an All-Ireland football final but with Dublin involved that was always going to be the case. Much of what has been written to date has focussed on whether the relative defences will be able to hold the respective forward lines. There is no doubt that there is a plethora of talent in each forward line with Declan O’Sullivan, Darran O’Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy and Colm Cooper at one end and the two Brogan’s along with Diarmuid Connolly on the other side.
In analysing this game as a match rather than an occasion, we have to mention these players and the contribution they are likely to have. There is no doubt that at least one of these players will have a final to forget and this may well be crucial to the outcome. Who would have thought that Lar Corbett would have such a quiet day in the hurling final and this is likely to happen to someone on Sunday? Of all the players mentioned, my best guess is that it will be Connolly who is the most likely to be stopped as most of the others have that extra touch of class that sets them apart from other mere mortals.
Connolly had an unforgettable game in the quarter-final against Tyrone but he showed the other side of his character on the semi-final, getting sent off at a crucial juncture. Luckily for him, it did not influence the result of the game, and even luckier he managed to get a reprieve in order to take his place.
We know what we are going to get from the Brogans for Dublin and Cooper and Donaghy for Kerry but that doesn’t make them any easier to deal with. Bernard Brogan and Donaghy have not been as electric as in recent seasons but there were signs in the semi-final that they were somewhere near top form and the final often brings out the best in top class players.
Since his semi-final heroics, Cooper has been lauded as one of the greatest of all time. Hand on heart, I don’t know if he is in the same class as Mikey Sheehy, Jack O’Shea or Mick O’Connell but he is not far off. He may look like a slip of a lad but this man is awesome and has often reserved his best form for the final in the past.
The midfield clash used to be the all important one in football but in recent years as teams have opted to crowd this sector, it is the battle of the middle third that is likely to be critical. It does not appear as if any of the midfield four will be able to dominate the skies and therefore one can only surmise that there will be a world of dirty, breaking ball. Here is where Kerry would appear to have an advantage as this is where experience can be absolutely vital.
Donncha Walsh and Declan O’Sullivan are particularly at picking up breaking ball as is Paul Galvin who is likely to have a major bearing on this final even though he is not picked to start. That could change between now and Sunday and don’t be surprised if Galvin starts at the expense of Donncha Walsh.
Another critical element of the game is the strength of the relative defences. Dublin’s method appears to be to get as many numbers back there as possible to blot out the danger and then break upfield in large numbers while Kerry rely on more traditional ways of man-marking. This may well be because unlike other teams, the Kerry defenders actually know how to mark with Tom O’Sullivan and Mark O’Se raising it to an art form. One wonders whether Rory O’Carroll can hold Donaghy but I do acknowledge that Cian O’Sullivan is better equipped than most to hold Cooper.
In a lot of All-Ireland finals, it is often an unsung hero that proves to be the match-winner. In this regard, we would be looking at a Paul Flynn or a Bryan Cullen for Dublin. Most of the Kerry team have so many medals at this stage that it is almost impossible to pick out an unsung hero, but I’ll throw Kieran O’Leary and Donncha Walsh into this category.
If I was Jack O’Connor, I would be praying that the squad does not pick up any more injuries before Sunday. There are already serious question marks over Eoin Brosnan’s ability to play at centre-back but he is obviously the best bet for O’Connor in that position. If he doesn’t recover in time for Sunday, Kerry will have to re-jig their entire team as a glance down through the list of substitutes would not fill Kerry supporters with confidence.
In finals, the substitutes can be as important as the players that start and here, Dublin have an advantage. I also feel that Dublin are on a roll at the moment and I think that this and Bernard Brogan may propel them to victory.
Kerry: Brendan Kealy, Killian Young, Marc Ó Sé, Tom O’Sullivan, Tomas Ó Sé, Eoin Brosnan, Aidan O’Mahony, Anthony Maher, Bryan Sheehan, Darran O’Sullivan, Declan O’Sullivan, Donnchadh Walsh, Colm Cooper, Kieran Donaghy, Kieran O’Leary.
Subs – Tomas Mac a’tSaoir, Daniel Bohan, Paul Galvin, Shane Enright, James O’Donoghue, Barry John Keane, Padraig Reidy, Peter Crowley, Tommy Griffin, Johnny Buckley, Brian McGuire, Seamus Scanlon, Niall O’Mahony, Daithí Ó Geibheannaigh, Adrian O’Connell, Daithí Casey.