Joe Kernan: Dublin in need of Kerry’s team spirit
It has long been my contention that Kerry are the most unselfish team in the country. But now I feel this is an accolade they will have to be prepared to share with the Kilkenny hurling side.
If the All-Ireland championships in both codes have provided some rather mundane fare, then it is equally true that they have built up to tremendous climaxes.
Seldom though have I seen the team ethic so visibly underlined as when Kilkenny overcame Tipperary in last Sunday’s titanic hurling decider.
For me the Kilkenny spirit was encapsulated in one small incident. When Eddie Brennan, perhaps playing his last game for the Cats at the age of 32, was substituted there was not the slightest indication of a reproachful look in the direction of manager Brian Cody or a shake of the head so beloved of players called ashore prematurely.
Instead, Brennan had a smile of welcome and ‘high fives for his replacement T J Reid and his last action on leaving the playing arena to a tumultuous roar of acclaim following his five-star showing was a clenched fist message to his colleagues to finish the job.
To many, this may have been nothing more than an insignificant caveat — to me, it highlighted a towering team spirit, the greater collective good dwarfing individual contributions.
Quite simply, Kilkenny’s attitude was phenomenal. Manager Cody had instilled in his side the kind of hunger, drive and ambition that is precisely what it takes to dethrone reigning All Ireland champions.
In the process, Kilkenny cemented the belief that they can perhaps occupy the hurling throne once again for some years to come.
In reaching a new peak even by their own high standards in terms of commitment, passion and skill, Kilkenny have thrown down the gauntlet to Kerry and Dublin to make the football final equally memorable.
Kilkenny’s unselfishness — they supported each other superbly throughout — was unquestionably one of the cornerstones of their overall strategy.
And this is a trait that Kerry too have perfected over recent years. They may
have marquee players in their side — Colm Cooper (pictured), Tomas Ó Se and Declan O’Sullivan are among the greatest-ever footballers in my book — they are mere components in a well-oiled machine.
Seldom do Kerry players retain possession when they can offload to a better-placed colleague and very rarely will you see them forced to shoot hastily and inaccurately. The work load is shared to such an extent that everyone gets their hands dirty for the good of the team.
And this is perhaps the biggest threat that Dublin will have to counter on Sunday week. Pat Gilroy’s side will have to show an enormous improvement from their anaemic performance against Donegal if they are to have any chance of ending their 16-year title famine.
Kerry will not be in the least fazed should they be confronted by a defensive blockade nor will they panic unduly in relation to the pace and finishing skills that Dublin are capable of offering if they manage to escape from the straitjacket which engulfed them against Donegal.
Kingdom boss Jack O’Connor knows that quick ball into his full-forward line could pay rich dividends with the brilliant Cooper, the hugely effective Kieran Donaghy and the lightning-fast Darran O’Sullivan capable of wreaking havoc.
Yet the Kerry rearguard is not quite a watertight unit. Aidan O’Mahoney and Tom O’Sullivan have been round quite a few corners, Eoin Brosnan has been converted from centrethreequarters to occupy the centre-half-back berth and goalkeeper Brendan Kealy has rarely been tested to date.
In Bernard Brogan, Alan Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly and Bryan Cullen, Dublin have the kind of forwards who can inflict hurt on any team.
Manager Gilroy knows for sure that his damage-limitation plan that just about sufficed against Donegal will flounder against the Kingdom’s aristocrats. That is why he will be spend even more time at the drawing board as he attempts to devise a means of restricting Kerry’s authority.
He will need a massive team performance — this will be an occasion for egos to be buried and the welfare of the team to be given top priority.
Should they decide to take a leaf out of the Kerry manual in every aspect of play, then Dublin will not only bolster their chances of coming good at last but will almost certainly play a major part in what could prove an unforgettable duel.