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All-Ireland final: Kerry relish their free hit with Dublin on a hiding to nothing

 

Special talent: David Clifford, Kerry’s brightest young star, is out to tear up the form book in tomorrow’s All-Ireland Final against Dublin at Croke Park
Special talent: David Clifford, Kerry’s brightest young star, is out to tear up the form book in tomorrow’s All-Ireland Final against Dublin at Croke Park
Jim Gavin, right, with Tyrone boss Mickey Harte after last year's final
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Bank Holiday Monday, August 3, 2009.

In the previous weekend, U2's tour had fetched up in Croke Park, but even it failed to create the giddy anticipation that was buzzing around the crowd of 81,890 as Dublin prepared to take on Kerry in an All-Ireland quarter-final.

Kerry were at their most vulnerable. They had lost a Munster semi-final replay to Cork by eight points. Only a fluffed penalty by Sligo's David Kelly kept them in the competition in round three.

Two players, Tomás Ó Sé and Colm Cooper, broke drink bans after that game and were banished to the bench for the next game by manager Jack O'Connor.

But then Antrim were giving Kerry their absolute fill of it in Tullamore and they had to be summoned.

They looked like the weakest Kerry side in 15 years. Dublin had only beaten them three times in 75 years of Championship football.

Dublin won the toss and elected that they would be playing into Hill 16 for the second half. Referee Pat McEnaney threw the ball up and Diarmuid Connolly, of the present day, kicked forward only for his pass to be cut out by current Kerry coach Tommy Griffin.

The ball was worked up the pitch with an Ó Sé pass. After 40 seconds, Cooper had the ball in the net.

Declan O'Sullivan boomed one over from his left foot.

Dublin couldn't catch a break. Alan Brogan had a sight of goal from distance but Diarmuid Murphy pushed it onto the crossbar. By half-time, it was 1-14 to 0-3. Dublin were demolished and humiliated.

"I think the big factor was that we seemed to be like startled earwigs in the first 15 minutes, all over the pitch," said manager Pat Gilroy in a quote that stands the test of time.

Ten years on, the relationship couldn't be any more different. Kerry cannot buy a win over Dublin. Worse still, they have been on the end of a few trimmings, when Dublin have piled on the goals as the clock inches into injury-time.

No wonder that Kerry's league victory over Dublin in Tralee on February 9 was greeted with such outright glee.

It was armed with that evidence that Dublin manager Jim Gavin made sure to point out at Dublin's press briefing that - forget the future - this is a Kerry team to be reckoned with in the here and now.

"For God's sake, what do you think he's going to say?" shot back Kerry boss Peter Keane when that was put to him a few days later.

"Of course, he's saying that. Sure, he's going for five-in-a-row. Sure, we haven't been in a final since '15, with a team that has no resemblance to this year's team. Sure, what else is he going to do?"

What else would you expect from Keane too, in fairness. While the guard has changed utterly, he has been in the engine room of Kerry football, winning five consecutive All-Ireland minor titles.

He put the case that his team are only finding their feet at this level, as well as throwing bouquets at the feet of the Dublin squad after they rattled through Mayo's challenge in the semi-final.

"I thought they were hugely impressive," said the St Mary's clubman.

"There is nothing else you can say. These guys are going for five-in-a-row and unlucky in 2014 to be beaten in the semi-final by Donegal as they were up five or six points 20 minutes into the game. This is probably the team of the ages and all we are doing is trying to go against them.

"I suppose the big thing we wanted to do was to put experience into the team. If you look at our team, you have a lot of lads, 15 or 16, who have been given debuts with Kerry over the past say 15 months.

"Fellows retired before the start of this year and more had walked away the previous year.

"Allied to that you had Jonathon Lyne and Jack Sherwood who came back in as did Tommy Walsh. So there has been a huge transformation in the personnel in the group. While it might not be huge from my perspective because I wasn't with them before, there is a lot of learning gone on there. We are going into an All-Ireland Final with a team that does not contain a lot of experienced players."

It seems a remarkable and incredible thing to say, but Dublin are on a hiding to nothing with this game. Win an All-Ireland Final and the narrative will be driven about financial and population advantages anyway.

It's like they cannot catch a break at all. This is a county that spent decades being mocked for their inability to turn potential into success. If there is a motivating factor, it comes in the year that Gavin as a player spent in frustrating teams.

He said: "I have never looked in the past for any motivation, and that's even internally."

You can choose what viewpoint to take on that yourself.

All we do know for certain is what is in the hugely enjoyable 'Dublin - The Chaos Years' book, which detailed the often shambolic set-up of Dublin when Gavin was a player himself.

"The team is very humble and has its two feet on the ground and understands what its purpose is. The players have great drive that way to represent their county and clubs and communities and parishes and families and mums and dads to the best of their ability and to try and build on the legacy left by the teams of '58 or '63, the '70s or '83 or '95," he said.

For someone appearing to not care all that much about history, he can rattle out Dublin's winning years off the top of his head.

"They are just trying to add to that and that's whose shoulders they stand upon. Some day it will all be finished for them and they pass it on to someone else," he said. "If you're looking back, you are looking back to reference the people who have forged this path for them and we are only stepping in the footprints they have left."

The talking's done. Get the ball in.

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