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Wednesday 29 March 2017

Dubs on a run-in to greatness

Gavin's men can equal Kerry's unbeaten record ... who knows where they will rank when it's all over

Dean Rock of Dublin kicks the equalising point near the end of the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 2 match between Dublin and Tyrone. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Dean Rock of Dublin kicks the equalising point near the end of the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 2 match between Dublin and Tyrone. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Shortly after half-eight this evening - if the bookies are to be believed and history emulated - Dublin will inflict further pain on Kerry in front of their own anguished supporters.

That would suffice for Jim Gavin's 21st century trailblazers to equal an 84-year-old record belonging to a sepia-tinted Kerry team that went 34 league and championship games unbeaten, in the days of Dev's Ireland.

And if you subscribe to an opinion aired by many people who know what it's like to hang around an elite inter-county dressing-room, those Dublin players will scarcely have noticed the significance of it all.

In the countdown to tonight's tantalising collision, we spoke to a former Dublin captain (David Henry) and a one-time skipper and manager of Kerry (Mickey Ned O'Sullivan).

Unprompted, they both expressed almost identical views on Dublin's quest to make it 34 not out - namely that all the pre-match talk would have been about the "process" and meeting goals, not records.

Paul Geaney of Kerry. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Paul Geaney of Kerry. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Moreover, even though Kerry may use the protection of their ancient record as a "motivating factor", O'Sullivan concluded: "These are sideshows, something for the media and for supporters - but not for players."

O'Sullivan is right. On both counts. Players may cocoon themselves in a bubble, but the media keeps writing about Dublin's unbeaten run because supporters lap it up.

We love to rank great teams; to measure their achievements against the gold standard of yesteryear ... albeit it's still far too premature to measure this Dublin against Mick O'Dwyer's record-shredding Kerry with their eight All-Irelands.

Moreover, Gavin himself has always resisted calls to compare his team with the trailblazing Dubs of the '70s. "Nothing will ever match Kevin Heffernan's team and what he did for Dublin GAA," he maintained, in the wake of Dublin's All-Ireland final victory over Kerry in 2015.

But, since then, Gavin's crew have added another Sam Maguire and another league title. And they haven't suffered a single league or championship defeat in the interim.

It seems only fair to take 2011 as the starting point for this Sky Blue collective, even if the manager has changed and six of their All-Ireland starting team that year are either retired or overseas.

They have won four All-Irelands in six seasons, and four Division 1 titles on the spin. They are the first team since Kerry (2006-07) to lift Sam Maguire back-to-back. They can boast three league/All-Ireland doubles. And they haven't lost since March 1, 2015.

Their rule over Leinster has reached a scary level but that is more a sad reflection on the rest than a sign of invincibility.

Iron Mentality

Their All-Ireland winning margins (three by one point, one by three) bely any all-conquering metaphors. However, what those margins show is the iron mentality of a team that has learned to thrive in the tightest of corners.

By our reckoning, only one team since Micko's Kerry can claim some form of parity with the modern Dubs: the Kerry managed by Jack O'Connor, Pat O'Shea and O'Connor again that appeared in six All-Irelands in a row from 2004 to '09, winning four, including a back-to-back, while claiming three league-and-championship doubles ('04, '06 and '09).

And yet they often struggled against Cork in Munster (losing in '06, '08 and '09) and could never get a handle on Tyrone in Croke Park.

Mickey Harte's Red Hand avengers were the other great team of the noughties, eclipsing Kerry in a 2003 semi-final and the finals of '05 and '08. They, too, landed a league and SFC double in '03. But Dublin, by all statistical benchmarks, have now surpassed them.

Enough idle banter. Time for the process to kick in … and if Dublin can replicate the ravenous attitude shown against Mayo two weeks ago, then even a Kerry team that needs a victory over Dublin far more than they need the points may struggle to contain them.

ODDS: Kerry 13/10 Draw 15/2 Dublin 4/5 VERDICT: Dublin

ALLIANZ FL DIV 1: KERRY v DUBLIN (Tralee, Tonight 7.0, live eir Sport X1)

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