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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Dubs boss Jim Gavin finds it easy to talk up Kerry enemy

Gavin loves to smother the opposition in praise ... but he has a point when waxing lyrical about the Gooch, O'Donoghue & Co

Dublin manager Jim Gavin
Dublin manager Jim Gavin
Kerry’s Anthony Maher and Dublin’s Denis Bastick compete for possession during last March’s Allianz FL Division 1 tie in Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney

Veterans of the Jim Gavin press conference are more than a little familiar with his penchant for lavishing high praise on the opposition … but let's just say it's far easier to talk up Kerry than some Leinster minnow or 'back door' wannabe from Ulster.

The same jaundiced veterans have noted Gavin's particular foible for name-checking the next batch of myriad danger men plotting to take down the Dubs … but let's just say, in the case of Sunday's All-Ireland final, there is very little obscure research required.

That's because the names are of the household variety.

This time the Dublin boss doesn't list the entire Kingdom team - probably because he isn't asked about Éamonn Fitzmaurice's backs - but he gives due recognition to the wide array of Kerry midfield and forward options.

Omitted

Curiously, the one starter omitted from his forward roll call is Johnny Buckley, RTÉ 'Man of the Match' against Tyrone … but then the Dr Crokes man gets honourable mention in the midfield debate.

Suffice to say, Kerry may be the kings of 'plámásing' the enemy but Dublin's boss would give them a good run for their euro.

There are so many intriguing collisions and potentially decisive match-ups that it's hard to know where to start when assessing Sunday's final. Gavin is first asked for his opinion on what is perceived, in many quarters, as the premier midfield pairing in the country - David Moran and Anthony Maher.

"I thought they were outstanding when they played us in Killarney (in the league)," he noted. "The replay game against Cork, they certainly won that midfield battle and they've won every midfield battle since.

"Maher and Moran are two colossal players but Bryan Sheehan can easily step in there, Buckley too. They have a lot of players - Donnchadh Walsh too - who can win that primary possession around the midfield area. It's one of their strengths and nobody's been able to go after it yet, so it's a big challenge for us in that department."

What could make it even more demanding is the likelihood that Kerry will press up on Stephen Cluxton's restarts, restricting his ability to go short, as he repeatedly did against Mayo.

"Certainly it's a challenge," Gavin agrees. But then he adds: "If teams push up, there's other areas to exploit and if teams sit off, there's areas to exploit. One needs to be flexible about how we approach that, the same at the far end of the field as well."

Cue a seamless transition into a debate about the Gooch & Co. "One needs to deny giving the Kerry forwards any opportunity," he warns. "They've obviously demonstrated how lethal they are with their seven goals against Kildare, in a half - that's a phenomenal achievement.

Class

"We know it's a team full of star players, from (Kieran) Donaghy to Colm Cooper, James O'Donoghue, (Darran) O'Sullivan off the bench ... they're all class, class forwards and add in Donnchadh Walsh, (Stephen) O'Brien is having a fine season for them as well and Tommy Walsh is coming in from the bench.

"You know it's not just the starting six that we need to be concerned about, it's the full expanse of their team ... so it's a big, big task."

And yet Dublin have toppled their old nemesis in their last two SFC encounters - the 2011 All-Ireland final and the classic semi-final of two years ago. Now the nemesis, in this fixture, doesn't wear green-and-gold but answers to the name Kevin McManamon.

"Anything they have won is in the past and it's all about the next game for them," Gavin is quick to counter. "In terms of history, since the '50s I think Dublin have only beaten Kerry four times in the championship - two games in the '70s, 2011, 2013 - so we've a lot of catching up to do.

"No, we just take one game at a time and if I can get the players playing on a consistent basis against Kerry, and if they can be the best they can be, the county board and myself can't ask any more from them."

There is, of course, even more recent 'history' - that spiky affair in Killarney at the start of March. Kerry won by 0-15 to 1-10 but just as statistically illuminating was the card count: one red (for Dublin's Michael Fitzsimons), four blacks evenly shared and seven yellows.

"I think it was very intense," Gavin recalls. "Just two teams really going hard at it. They were difficult conditions for both teams, if I remember - there was quite a heavy hail shower just after half-time and quite a strong breeze, which made underfoot conditions very difficult for both sets of players.

"But I thought it was a cracking game of football. It really was and the crowd certainly enjoyed it - I know that. We went home having learned a lot from it."

Even more educational, surely, was that nerve-shredding two-game saga with Mayo. Gavin is keen not to downplay the experience of Dublin's league campaign (cue a third consecutive Division One title) or another Leinster stroll (making it five-in-a-row) but he accepts: "Once you get into the All-Ireland series itself, certainly the intensity moved up to a different level.

"And any lapses in concentration, you saw against Fermanagh, were exploited - and the lapses in concentration we had in those two (Mayo) games and that lack of consistency wouldn't be good enough against this Kerry team.

"We do realise that going down the stretch against Mayo in the replay, that game could have gone either way, if one is honest. I thought the hard questions that were asked of the players, the spirit that I see every day, that resolve, that determination that they have, kind of shone through. And that's what got them over the line."

Only one more line to cross, but surely the hardest too.

froche@independent.ie

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