Croke Park… doing what it does best
Following U2’s three concerts in GAA HQ from the week just gone, spectators from across the country will get the opportunity to see some much needed action over this May Bank Holiday weekend.
In total, there has only been five senior Championship games played in Croke Park this year – not including the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher finals which took place the day before the Leinster Football Final – so it will be good to see a number of games taking place there this weekend.
What will make the games on Sunday and Monday all the more interesting is the fact that the players from Cork, Donegal, Kildare, Tyrone, Dublin and Kerry will be playing on a completely new surface following the re-laying of the pitch of the past few days. The expense for this was paid by U2, but this hasn’t stop some criticism of the Association for taking this radical step mid-way through a Championship season. The main thing that can be said about this is that it will be the same for all the sides involved and we will just have to wait and see how they cope with it.
Both matches on Sunday look to be quite intriguing, but both seem to be playing second fiddle in terms of media exposure when compared to the one that takes place at 2pm on Monday afternoon. Dublin and Kerry clashes in the past have been talked about in great detail with the many stories related to the teams from the 70s and 80s being relived a few too many times, whether it be on sport shows, chat shows, videos or DVD.
The question has been asked if too much is made of this rivalry between Dublin and Kerry, and it is easy to see why so many people would ask this question. For instance, Dublin haven’t beaten Kerry since the famous clash in 1977, with Dublin losing all bar one of their Championship clashes since then. That match came in 2001 when Tommy Carr’s side narrowly missing out on victory after a wonderful late sideline kick by the legendary Maurice Fitzgerald.
It also should be pointed out that a lot of games between the two sides down through the years have seen quite a few points separating the teams at the end, with only a select few going right down to the wire. For example, in their All-Ireland final wins against Dublin in ’75, ’78 and ’79, Kerry enjoyed comfortable wins over Dublin. Similarly, Dublin beat The Kingdom by eight points in the ’76 decider. Even the ’77 match saw Dublin eventually holding out for a five-point win.
The quarter-final in 2004 saw Kerry winning by seven points in Tommy Lyons’ final match as Dublin boss, though they did squander a number of goal chances in the opening half. However, in their most recent clash just two years ago, in what was a classic encounter, there was only two points between the sides so it could be another close run thing.
In many ways, the Tyrone and Kildare match may well be the best game of the weekend due to the intensity and hard-working nature of both sides, but Dublin and Kerry both tend to play a direct, open style of play, so chances are there won’t be too many dull moments in the game.
Looking at the game itself, despite the fact that both sides have so many marquee players on show, it may well be the players who are willing to scrap and win the dirty ball that could be the difference for their respective sides on the day.
Kerry’s Paul Galvin and Dublin’s Paul Flynn have been in good form in recent games with both winning plenty of balls in the vital middle-third sector. Paul Galvin has reacted in the best way possible to his sending off against Cork by driving his side, who were struggling in so many areas, over the line in the last two games while also contributing handsomely to the scoreboard [he kicked a total of 1-5 between the Sligo and Antrim matches]. Flynn may not be contributing that much to the Dublin’s scoring tally this summer, but he is putting his experience as a midfielder at club level to good use by winning plenty of ball around midfield, and Pat Gilroy will be looking for him to curb the considerable attacking threat of Killian Young on Monday.
The likes of Galvin and Flynn will be just as important to the outcome of this match as the likes of Colm Cooper, Bernard Brogan, Alan Brogan and Declan O’Sullivan will be, and it will take a great team effort in order to win this match.
Despite winning five All-Irelands since Dublin’s last final appearance in 1995, Kerry go into this match without being red-hot favourites and this will tell you a lot about how Kerry are playing at the moment. With five Championship encounters under their belt at this stage, Kerry are yet to produce a truly convincing display and were extremely lucky that they weren’t knocked out by Sligo in the Round Three Qualifier. However, the bottom line is that they are still in the race for Sam and will no doubt raise their game for the meeting of Dublin the next day.
What would be more worrying from a Kerry point of view though is the numerous stories of discontent that have been emanating from the Kerry camp in the past few weeks. The dropping of Colm Cooper and Tomas O’Se for the Antrim game, as well as stories about Marc O’Se being unhappy about his half-time withdrawal against Sligo, would suggest that not everything is rosy.
Jack O’Connor seemed eager to point out that everything was fine in the camp after the game the last day and the very public show of unity looked like an attempt to force this point even further, but doubts will still remain about the happiness of the players until they start to play their potential once again.
They will need big performances from Colm Cooper and Tommy Walsh in particular if they are to be victorious against Dublin, with Cooper needing to rediscover the magic that seems to have been missing from his game in the Championship so far. Walsh will also want to show that he can step into Donaghy’s full-forward role and not look out of place.
His battle with Dublin’s Denis Bastick should make for compelling viewing because Bastick tends to attack the ball if at all possible, while Walsh tends to try and win the ball and then burst past his marker en route to goal. It will be interesting to see if Bastick plays his usual game or whether he decides to stand off the Kerins O’Rahilly man and see if he can take him on that way.
Walsh is a serious talent who is definitely capable of getting a goal for Kerry, but he will need to develop a good understanding with Cooper, because they can’t afford another quiet display from the Dr. Crokes club man.
Both sides feature some top forwards, so both defences will also have a big part to play. It is interesting to note that Dublin don’t have a single player from 1-8 who are in their 30s, whereas Kerry have a total of six. Diarmuid Murphy and Darragh O’Se are both 34, Tomas O’Se is 31, as is Tommy Griffin, while Tom O’Sullivan and the recently returned Mike McCarthy are both 30. Murphy is the only of those players who was not involved when Kerry won the All-Ireland in 2000, so there is a lot of mileage on the clock.
Having said that, though, there are question marks about the Dublin defence as well with Bastick and Paddy Andrews relatively untested at this stage of the competition. David Henry is a very capable player, but may have to curb his sojourns into the opposition half, so that he can keep tabs on the Kerry forward line. The half-back line of Paul Griffin, Bryan Cullen and Barry Cahill looks extremely strong on paper, but they can’t afford to let the Kerry half-forward line run riot like it did two years ago. Gilroy will be hoping the presence of Griffin, formerly a tight-marking corner-back will help in this regard.
Ultimately though, just like in most Championship games, midfield will probably be the making or breaking of this game for either side. Kerry have opted to start their veteran midfielder [Darragh O’Se], while Dublin have decided to keep their man in reserve [Ciaran Whelan]. This can work both ways it would appear. It may well see Kerry dominating aerially early on, but starting O’Se could see him tiring or being substituted towards the end, while at the same time Whelan may be going full throttle in the final quarter.
Of course, if either side is struggling at any point at midfield, there are a number of options that they can look at. Kerry can call on Micheal Quirke, David Moran or even Tadhg Kennelly, while Dublin have Whelan or Shane Ryan to look to in their hour of need.
The evidence of current form would suggest that Dublin may be able to pull through by a couple of points, but in games like this form generally goes out the window, so don’t be too surprised if Kerry have their season back on track come 3.30pm on Monday.