By PJ Cunningham
I’m convinced there is only one way that Kerry can beat Dublin as the holders drive for five in Sunday’s All-Ireland final – and that is by scoring more goals than their illustrious opponents.
It is a tall order for Peter Keane’s men to even contemplate breaching the Dubs defence in a goal-fest, because the evidence points overwhelmingly to the Kingdom losing out heavily in the event of an old-style shootout.
The following few sentences will on the face of it appear to scupper the thesis I am putting forward re Kerry’s need to get goals.
Dublin have scored 17 goals in championship this summer in seven games, while Kerry have scored only five in their five games.
What’s more Dublin have only conceded two – one each to Meath and Cork – while Sunday’s opponents have conceded four in two fewer games – three against Cork and one against Donegal.
So the lessons from the summer are loud and clear. Play open football against Dublin as Cork did and they will bleed you to death with goals – they scored five in that match.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 11, 2019
Consider also that the same Cork team hit Kerry in the Munster Final for three while only conceding one, and you get a picture that Dublin are far superior both in defending green flags and in ensuring they are waved at the other end.
However, it’s what didn’t happen in the Dubs v Cork game that we should remember.
Cork didn’t have a finishing assassin when they had three clear cut chances to get in for majors while they also withstood the Dubs for 55 minutes before being over-run with three late goals from the remorseless Dublin combine.
It is precisely what happened before the dam burst in this match that should give Keane and his selectors hope that Dublin can be got at, if you have the right personnel to deliver your game plan to go for the scoring jugular at every opportunity.
And in a forward line that contains Stephen O’Brien, Paul Geaney, David Clifford, Seanie O’Shea and possibly James O’Donoghue and Tommy Walsh at some stage, Kerry not only have providers but guys with the instinct to put away chances.
If I were in Keane’s shoes, I would distil what his team needs by looking at one championship moment this year involving a Dublin player.
That took place shortly after half-time in the All-Ireland semi-final when Mayo had dominated the first half and lead by 0-8 to 0-6 at the interval.
Their confidence was on a high, while Dublin were as close to a doubting moment as we’ve seen across the drive for five campaigns.
Con O’Callaghan, still only 22, was the player who turned the game on its head by a moment of true bravery.
Unlike many of the Mayo, Tyrone and yes Kerry forwards who had found themselves in his position of being one-on-one with a defender, he didn’t opt for the soft option by popping over a point.
His case was made all the harder because his direct opponent was Lee Keegan, arguably the best man-marker of them all.
O’Callaghan feigned as if he would keep running across the goal and endeavour to clip over an point but instead braked hard, turned sharply inside Keegan and had the strength to accelerate past his half-tackle before expertly placing the ball low and wide of Rob Hennelly.
You may remember O’Callaghan had burst through in similar fashion in the first half, but the doggedness of Keegan and the fact that he only half-hit his shot meant the ‘keeper easily saved it on that occasion.
Doing the right thing for himself and more importantly for his team is in his DNA and it’s what makes Dublin so hard to beat.
When Keegan slipped for his other goal, O’Callaghan also chose the right option by pulling the trigger instead of firing over the bar.
That is precisely what Kerry need this Sunday if they are to prevent Dublin from leap-frogging them through the portals of immortality by securing the five-in-a-row.
Have you ever wondered how old sayings never seem to be wrong? The answer is simple really because there are always one from each side.
For instance, we are told to ‘look before you leap’ while also being warned that ‘he who hesitates is lost.’
In GAA-speak, there is the old adage which says that you “should take your points and the goals will come’ but there is a counter to this which bluntly states ‘goals win matches’.
In terms of where Kerry are at against this Dublin team of all the talents, they have to be brave beyond recognition and have also to try to deliver knockdown blows with every scoring chance in which they find themselves.
Caitheann GAANOW Rewind súil siar anseo ar Chluiche Ceannais na hÉireann sa bhliain 1985. Fuair @Kerry_Official an ceann is fearr ar @DubGAAOfficial an lá sin. Cé acu a mbeidh an bua Dé Domhnaigh? pic.twitter.com/gGTPWheJK8
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 27, 2019
There is no doubt that Dublin can be vulnerable – remember the league game in Tralee when the long ball in had a big bearing in Kerry’s surprise 1-18 to 2-14 victory on the night.
With the ‘mark’ since eliminated from summer fare, the Cork form-line is perhaps a better guide. Here the Rebels ran down the middle, or issued quick diagonal balls into full-forward Brian Hurley, and caused the Dubs defence all sorts of trouble.
Stephen O’Brien and Seanie O’Shea have the speed to open up a backline with straight running, while Geaney and the elusive Clifford could cause untold damage if they added an O’Callaghan-like mindset to turn their markers and go for goals.
In a sense, it’s as simple and complex as that if Kerry are to make a real fist of beating the Dubs or succumb, as all others have done, by trying to win in a conventional manner.
It will take a superhuman effort because as we saw in the semi-final when Stephen Cluxton saved a shot at one end, it ended up a goal at the other end of the stadium.
4 Days to go until the 2019 GAA Football All-Ireland Championship Final!
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 28, 2019
The remarkable thing about Dublin’s 17 summer goals is not that O’Callaghan has got four of his own, but that midfielders Brian Fenton and Michael Darragh Macauley have scored three each with their marauding runs from midfield.
For the record, five other forwards got goals; Cormac Costello, Dean Rock, Ciarán Kilkenny, Niall Scully and Eoghan O’Gara, while two defenders, Philly McMahon and Jack McCaffrey, also got in on the goal-scoring act.
Geaney leads the way for Kerry with two goals over the five games with James O’Donoghue (v Clare), Tom O’Sullivan (v Cork) and Stephen O’Brien (v Tyrone) weighing in with the Kingdom’s comparatively light goalden moments.
The late Eugene McGee found himself in a similar position to Keane back in ’82 when his less than well-fancied Offaly side came up against the five-in-a-row seeking Kerry team of the time under Mick O’Dwyer.
Only recently in a Seamus Darby book ‘About That Goal’ due out this weekend, did it emerge that McGee had hammered it home to his players that it was vital they practised to get goals.
In 1978, Mick O’Dwyer’s @Kerry_Official side were crowned champions in the All-Ireland Football Final after beating @DubGAAOfficial on a scoreline of 5-11 to 0-09! GAANOW Rewind have the highlights. Will as many scores separate the sides on Sunday? pic.twitter.com/hLTsaMFGCP
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 28, 2019
As it transpired there was only one scored in the game, which substitute Darby claimed three minutes from the end of the game.
However, all the forwards had taken time after training session to sharpen their shooting so that if the chance arose, they would go for a goal rather than a point.
That is the mentality that Kerry must have as they break away from the parade and get ready to wrestle with a moment in history.
They can become the modern day Darbys by preventing the five-in-a-row from becoming a reality, but it will take an upset far greater than what Offaly achieved for Keane’s men to do the same thing.
Only in the past while too have those former Kerry players admitted that the occasion actually got to them and stopped them from playing their normal game.
They were four points up with seven minutes to go and without realising it, slipped back further and further into a defensive shape to preserve their lead.
This allowed Offaly to come onto them and once they were given the puncher’s chance, they caught Kerry on the chin with a haymaker and ended up winning in the most unlikely of ways.