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Ideal final needs Dubs to shine

By John Campbell

It has already been branded the dream final. Yet could the eagerly-anticipated meeting of Dublin and Kerry in tomorrow week's All-Ireland football decider prove another nightmare?

With the chorus of criticism still reverberating following that depressingly sterile Dublin v Donegal semi-final, the notion that the Leinster and Munster champions will now provide redemption day is gathering considerable currency.

If Donegal shipped the lion's share of the brickbats for their exceedingly cautious input into their semi-final tie, this was because they spurned a golden opportunity to mount a strong victory push when they led by 0-5 to 0-2 with the second-half still in its infancy and Pat Gilroy's side clearly at odds with themselves mentally.

Dublin's own hands were far from clean when it came to adopting an ultra-protective approach to their citadel and their limited vision and spirit of adventure will surely have already been dissected by a Kerry management who are past-masters not just at plotting scoreboard defeats of opponents but of out-psyching them completely.

While Dublin will surely be boosted by the fact that Diarmuid Connolly's red card has been rescinded and that Paul Flynn and Rory O'Carroll should make the cut after injuries, their overall strategy will require some substantial surgery if the team is to counter Kerry's many-sided attributes.

Donegal's slavish adherence to lateral hand-passing, their almost total reliance on a one-man forward line and their entrenched defensive cordon had initially threatened Dublin with death through strangulation.

Ultimately, this was the rock on which the game all but perished.

Dublin's feisty onslaught in the last 15 minutes following the dismissal of Connolly and the earlier arrival of inspirational substitute Kevin McManamon carried them over the line with a total - eight points to Donegal's six - that Manchester United had matched against Arsenal that same afternoon!

When Jim McGuinness assumed command of Donegal in January, he did so against the backdrop of an ignominious situation - no Ulster title since 1992, morale-shattering defeats in the provincial deciders of 2002, '04 and '06 and a squad that included a substantial number of players who had brought the drowning of sorrows to something approaching an art form.

Thus, claiming a first Ulster crown in 19 years and lifting the National League Division Two title largely via a defensive mechanism that was at best unappealing and at worst utterly depressing provided McGuinness with all the encouragement he required to adhere to his preferred formation for the clash with the Dubs.

And since Gilroy's side had limited vision and no Plan B, a turgid encounter that left a sour taste in the mouth ensued.

Now Dublin must seek to rekindle the flair, poise and finishing artistry of which they are capable against Kerry - a fixation with a one-dimensional safety-first policy will not, of course, discomfit the Kingdom in the least.

They are masters of route one, clever in hoovering up at breakdowns, deceptively razor-sharp in their tackling and - in Paul Galvin, Tomas O Se, Aidan O'Mahoney and Tom O'Sullivan - boast a number of players who merge steel and skill to considerable effect.

Throw in the magic of Colm Cooper, the subtle touches of Declan O'Sullivan and the searing pace of Darran O'Sullivan and you have the complete package.

The big question now is - can Kerry and Dublin deliver an offering that will represent value for money for the 82,000 fans at Croke Park each of whom will part with a hard-earned €80 for the privilege of being able to say 'I was there'?

The GAA certainly hopes so, otherwise it will be left with considerably more egg on its already red face.

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