THIS weekend sees the showpiece in our football calendar: the All-Ireland SFC final and what is perceived to be the rivalry of all rivalries, 30-time winners Dublin versus 38-time winners Kerry.
There are so many facets to this game that make it intriguing and we will have the usual preview talk of key match ups, potential match winners, how both teams will set up, the kick-out strategies etc.
There are two players in this game who are genuine GAA superstars, Con O’Callaghan and David Clifford. I don’t think the GAA has ever had a player like Clifford. Particularly in the modern game with so much media and social media, the influence this man has on young people and the marketing capabilities he has is limitless. He is a genuine GAA superstar.
Where will this game be won and lost will be debated all this week right up until 3.30pm on Sunday, with many discussions about match-ups and who will pick up who. The most significant battles being Mick Fitz on Clifford, John Small on Seanie O’Shea and at the other end Jason Foley who will likely pick up Con O’Callaghan.
But the big question will be, will Dublin do what Derry did and deny Kerry their effective sweeper namely Tadhg Morley?
Dublin will likely back themselves to go man to man all over the park which for me could play into the hands of Kerry, who have such devastating forward movement and the wide open space of Croke Park also favours them when they can get their kickpassing style motoring. They are a joy to behold when they are in full flow.
This is a Dublin team that have had to call on the old guard this year. Cluxton, McCaffery, Mannion have returned and they still lean heavily on the reliability of James McCarthy and Mick Fitz. It has been seen as some as desperation but these are some of the best footballers to have played the game in their respective positions and their experience back around the camp has obviously helped some of the relatively younger players like Lee Gannon, Lorcan O’Dell and Sean Bugler, even though the latter has been around the panel for a few years .
When you cut through it all, this is a hugely experienced Dublin side who are just so well-conditioned hence the longevity in a lot of bodies, and that’s testament to the way these players have looked after themselves.
For me personally there are two very similar traits in how both teams have reached the final. Aside from the dogged defending, impressive running power of their half backs, the marquee forwards, both teams love to aggressively press a kick out when the opportunity arises.
Dublin are the forefather of the famous 44 call, the 4-4-4 zonal press, first seen around 2017. They back their size, physicality and in-game management to make this zone work. Kerry went a step further in 2019, going to a 4-5-5 formation, including bringing the goalkeeper out to the 45 and sometimes leaving opposition forwards unmarked inside. This was exposed ironically against Dublin when Howard isolated himself on the sideline. Cluxton picked him out, McCaffery took off and the ball was in the back of the net inside 12 seconds.
It’s the risk and reward of this system, but both teams are tending to get a lot of joy later in games with this strategy recently and part of the reason for that is teams are more fatigued and less likely to make as many runs for the goalkeeper.
The third quarter bltiz Dublin produced against Mayo in the quarter final didn’t happen v Monaghan but it was the final quarter where a full court press on a Beggan kick out really got Dublin that small safety net where they scored scoring 1-4 out of the last 6 scores.
Kerry were the same in their semi final. Against Derry they got a fortunate free in the 64th minute where there was a very soft incidental contact on Stephen O’Brien and this allowed Kerry to get their full court zonal press on. It resulted in them outscoring Derry by 0-5 to 0-1 in this period to win the game by two.
This is the intriguing area for me. Who backs their press the most, because if it fails, with the quality of forward like Con or Clifford left isolated up front in acres of space, you could be punished with a crucially match defining goal. Sunday will tell the tale.