Joe Kernan: No case for defence in Croke final
The almost slavish adherence to defensive strategies of late has threatened to nullify many of the perceived virtues of gaelic football.
A stoic reliance on an ability to stop the opposition playing has arguably earned the GAA more bad press than all the refereeing howlers — and there have been many — over the course of the past year or so.
That’s why there is a feeling of apprehension as Sunday’s All-Ireland final between Kerry and Dublin approaches.
There are real fears that the barricades could go up again, that flair could be stifled and that a war of attrition might ensue — again.
I do not come down on the side of this negative stance for two reasons.
The first is that in an All-Ireland final a team wants to win rather than merely avoid losing and the second is that there are too many talented match winners on each side to suggest a turgid contest might form the Croke Park menu on what is supposed to be the biggest day of the year for the GAA.
In terms of scoring aces, both sides are well served. But it’s in the full-forward line that the respective protagonists boast their strongest armoury in this respect. And that’s why I believe that the negativity which has tended to blight the closing stages of the All-Ireland championship will be cast aside with the emphasis instead on enterprise and a sense of adventure.
It is doubtful if there are two better equipped full-forward lines in the country. Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper and Kieran Donaghy form a lethal strike force for Kerry while Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly offer a potent threat for the Dubs.
Obviously, the success of these units will depend to an extent on the quality of ball which is delivered to them particularly from the midfield area.
Cooper was exceptional in Kerry’s semi-final win over Mayo while Connolly stole the show for the Dubs against Tyrone at the quarter-final stage.
But it is doubtful if either player will enjoy the same degree of latitude on Sunday, especially as defensive tactics now appear to govern the overall strategy of so many teams.
Donaghy is the ideal target man — strong, commanding and utterly unselfish.
Brogan is equally effective if from a different standpoint — sharp, elusive, extremely comfortable on the ball and inventive when the occasion arises.
With such attacking quality on view, it’s easy to understand why there is a feeling of optimism that the game could provide a fitting climax to a championship that has been exciting if not spectacular.
Dublin have an aching hunger — they have endured agony through the years and their last All-Ireland triumph was in 1995 when many of the players in the present side were still in short trousers!
But hunger alone does not win titles. Pat Gilroy’s side will need to complement their desire with unceasing commitment, improved cohesion and polished finishing if they are to have any chance of ending their famine.
Dublin can take heart from the fact Mayo created around six goal chances against Kerry — should Gilroy’s men be served with such opportunities, it’s unlikely that they will be spurned.
On the other hand, the Dublin defence, in which half-backs Kevin Nolan and James McCarthy lacked vision and momentum against Donegal, faces its biggest test of the year.
Cooper’s form against Mayo suggests that he is fiercely determined to become the latest Kerry skipper to take delivery of ‘Sam’ — what’s more, his colleagues clearly want to win the final for him since they openly admit that they already have medals largely because of prodigious scoring feats.
Declan O’Sullivan’s artistry, Darran O’Sullivan’s rapier-like thrusts and Donaghy’s imposing presence all lend steel, substance and skill to the front line.
But I suspect that Jack O’Connor may have to follow in the footsteps of his Kilkenny hurling counterpart Brian Cody and spend a sizeable portion of the match exhorting his rearguard not to leave the door ajar.
Early, accurate passes into the Dublin front men could at the very least elicit frees and of course in Bernard Brogan, Connolly and Stephen Cluxton the Dubs have the players to maximise such opportunities just as Cooper and Bryan Sheehan can exact retribution for the Kingdom should the Dubs transgress.
Yet Dublin’s yearning to come good at long last could prove a factor in providing a rare opportunity for a spontaneous outbreak of celebrations on Hill 16 — and then the party to end all parties in the city itself.