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Big guns all set for final battle

By Peter Canavan

The morning of an All-Ireland final is not pleasant for a footballer. It brings a serious level of pressure and for weeks beforehand you experience a nervous energy which makes it hard to relax.

It's important to take your mind off it. If that means having a bit of craic and playing a hand of cards, going for a walk or reading a book, you do whatever you can.

On the morning of my first final, in 1995, we were staying in Finnstown Castle Hotel and I played nine holes of golf. The idea of that now seems madness, walking a few miles around a course, but our Four-ball that morning included our manager, Art McRory!

By 2003, it had tapered into a light walk around the golf course. You also had the usual round of meetings, mass and, in some cases, physio treatment.

In 2005, we were staying in Castleknock and myself and Chris Lawn walked around the course, trying to wring every last drop out of the experience. We both knew this was the last time we would be in this position.

Any thoughts of the game need to serve a purpose.

Nowadays, players know that psychological preparation is every bit as important as the physical side. You have to equip yourself for different eventualities.

Players have been taught methods to deal with the anxiety and coping with stress, therefore they can view the game in a more positive light, rather than in fear or dread.

You learn that regardless of all the hype and all the buzz, it's still only a game. The simple things will decide the outcome. That's all.

Kerry and Dublin have nothing to learn about how to prepare for a final. The Dublin players have no travel worries while the Kingdom squad could tell you every pothole on the road on the way up.

Make no mistake, this game will lie in the hands of Eamonn Fitzmaurice.

How he plays his hand will decide where Sam Maguire spends the winter.

Take it for granted that Dublin's style of play is not going to change. Some feel that Jim Gavin has crucial decisions to make in terms of players who are pushing hard to get into the starting XV.

But he will want players coming off the bench to have a serious impact and he knows Kevin McManamon provides that. When the game opens up, and he has no problem immediately getting used to the pace, he is lethal.

Imagine the temptation at this point to start Michael Darragh Macauley ahead of Paul Flynn, who appears to be struggling with injury. Macauley deserves a starting berth, but Gavin has to tread that line between having something in his hand and keeping Kerry in suspense.

The Kingdom management have a greater range of questions to answer.

I don't believe they will participate in a shootout. The hallmark of Fitzmaurice's tenure has been his pragmatism. He is not in it to nurture a stylish brand of football, he is in it for Kerry to win, regardless of how they get there.

He knows what makes life difficult for Dublin, observing that in the National League they had trouble encountering teams who put bodies behind the ball. Like they did last year, the Kingdom will enter this final with a conservative approach.

Another thing he might try is to push up on Dublin's kickouts. Mayo did this only half-heartedly. They always gave the Dubs one or two choices. Not only did they win 18 out of 19, but they created scoring chances out of the majority of those kickouts.

Tyrone proved that when you don't kick the ball out to them, you rob David Moran and Anthony Maher of their effectiveness in midfield. Kerry need to go the whole hog to make it effective.

One other huge element comes in Fitzmaurice's selection dilemma.

If he goes with a defensive approach elsewhere, can you really afford to have Colm Cooper as a creative force operating deeper? That was a role he struggled with against Cork.

The other big question is, do you start Kieran Donaghy? He is the captain of the team. An inspirational figure who has done it on the big stage time and time again.

But still… it hasn't come as easy for him this year. It was clear from their second-half performance against Tyrone that they no longer rely on him.

Does Paul Geaney get the nod here?

Every one of the Dublin subs will be well and truly scrutinised by the Kerry management.

It's the same for Dublin. Gavin will have considered what Tommy Walsh can bring Kerry in a pressurised situation. He will already have plans drawn up for that eventuality.

Quite often on All-Ireland final day, the performance of one player can make a huge difference. This time around, it could be Jack McCaffrey.

He has the speed to open up the Kerry defence and cause a lot of trouble. If Kerry do concede space to Dublin and drop men behind the ball to limit the space for Bernard Brogan and Paddy Andrews, there will be more ground around the middle for Diarmuid Connolly and McCaffrey to use their cutting edge to cause problems for Kerry.

So, the old question. Who will win?

It has to be Dublin.

I think Kerry have had one stiff examination in nine weeks, since the Cork replay, whereas Dublin, in a short space of time, have had two really physical, competitive games.

In both showdowns, the character of the Dublin players was questioned and they weren't found wanting.

They have watched as Tyrone - with a forward line they would see as inferior to theirs - opened up Kerry for four goal-scoring chances.

If you consider how the two games against Mayo brought the Kingdom on last year, you can make exactly the same case for Dublin on this occasion.

That will be enough to take them over the line to be crowned All-Ireland kings.

Belfast Telegraph


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