Bastick key to ending Dublin wait for All Ireland Championship
It is seldom the case that any assessment of the outcome of an All Ireland football final is clouded by grey areas.
After all, the rigours of a demanding championship campaign tend to cast the plus-factors and the perceived flaws of teams in such a light that objective analysis is normally rendered relatively straightforward.
But this is not quite the case when it comes to assessing the merits of the Kerry and Dublin midfield pairings with just over 24 hours to go until this year’s monster showdown at Croke Park.
And given the absolute necessity for the procurement of first-phase possession in the central area in pursuit of victory, it is quite clear that the respective managers, Jack O’Connor and Pat Gilroy, are in for a white-knuckle ride as they observe the action that will unfold there.
Bryan Sheehan, until recently a fixture in the side at half-forward, is currently paired with the rangy but still raw Aidan Maher in the Kerry engine-room while Denis Bastick, who did not burst onto the inter-county scene until the ripe old age of 28, joins the marauding but injury-prone Michael Daragh Macauley in the central furnace for the Dubs.
There may be a quota of the country’s most elite forwards in the two attacks but their contribution to what is expected to be a classic encounter will largely hinge on the ability of their middle men to deliver top-quality possession.
It’s here that both teams have cause for apprehension. While Sheehan is an accomplished footballer, his aerial ability is limited and while Maher boasts an impressive physique, he is still ostensibly lacking in overall technique.
Bastick, robust and pugnacious, plays with all the bravado of a street fighter although occasionally flirting with indiscipline while Macauley’s heart-stopping work-rate makes him something of a bionic man — but perhaps without real finesse.
Yet there is something approaching a mutual admiration society at work. Sheehan, a former Kerry skipper and All Ireland veteran, stresses that Dublin’s hunger and their consistency will bolster their chances tomorrow.
“This is a huge match for them but it’s also a big challenge for us. We have a lot of players who have won All Ireland medals but many of those same guys are still hurting from bad defeats against Ulster teams like Tyrone, Armagh and Down in recent years and
feel they have more to do to atone for that,” points out Sheehan.
If Dublin’s hunger is seen as fuelling their cause, then no one perhaps illustrates this better than Bastick but this does not prevent him taking a pragmatic view of the midfield head-to-head tomorrow.
“When you look at it Bryan Sheehan and Aidan Maher have dominated every midfield pairing they have come up against this year in the championship — what does that tell you?” queries Bastick pointedly.
“I have not come across a bad Kerry footballer yet, so it’s going to be hard to have to cope with them.
“The kick-outs will be a huge part of the game. Maybe there will be something like 30 or 40 kick-outs in the game and we will have to try and win 50 per cent of these if we are to have a chance of coming out on top.”
It’s an assessment that will brook no argument from any quarter and reflects just how crucial the midfield battle could prove.
Indeed, the restricted ability of the midfield quartet will thus impose an additional burden on the two half-back and half-forward divisions.
And here Dublin could benefit from concentrated inputs from their skipper Bryan Cullen and the energetic Paul Flynn, two players who are unafraid to get down and dirty to help their team’s cause and who will willingly run until midnight if requested to do so.
Kerry, like the Dubs, are not lacking in what could prove to be much-needed back-up for their centre-field incumbents.
The wily Tomas Ó Se, playing as well as ever at 32 and with no intention of retiring irrespective of the outcome of tomorrow’s tie, and the abrasive Aidan O’Mahony, who relishes getting up close and personal with opponents, will put their bodies on the line to support Sheehan and Maher while Darran O’Sullivan and Donnacha Walsh will also be expected to do their bit.
It’s hard to see Walsh or left-corner-forward Kieran O’Leary not making way for Paul Galvin, though. The latter is tailor-made to help channel out possession in tight situation and then help transfer this to Colm Cooper, Declan O’Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy to ensure that the scoreboard is kept fully operational.
Similarly, a small platoon of bodies burrowing feverishly in the Dublin midfield could see the Brogan brothers, Alan and Bernard, along with Diarmuid Connolly, provided with the ammunition to shoot down the Kingdom.
The Kerry defence, containing as it does a former centre-half-forward at centre-half-back in Eoin Brosnan and two players on the wrong side of 30, Tom O’Sullivan and O’Mahony, could prove vulnerable should Dublin attack at pace with a no-frills approach and the emphasis very much on pace. Yet Kerry have been able to overcome perceived deficiencies in the past and come out on top.
There may be a groundswell of opinion that Dublin’s wait for an All Ireland title will end tomorrow.
However, this will very much depend on just how Bastick and Macauley respond to the mammoth challenge that confronts them in the vital midfield area.