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Monday 24 April 2017

Just how great for Fitzy is an April D-Day with Dublin?

Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Eamonn Fitzmaurice has always been very good at delivering crisp, hard-to-disagree-with statements.

So it was on Sunday in Killarney, after his Kerry thoroughbreds came with a blindside run up the Allianz Football League home straight, speeding from sixth to second place.

"Playing Dublin in Austin Stack Park on a Saturday night and playing them in Croke Park are two very different things," Fitzy reminded. "We will still be down bodies so it will be a big test for us. It is certainly where we want to be."

Then he reiterated: "Playing Dublin in Croke Park is about as tough as it gets and that will be great for us."

But just how great?

This column could be wrong, but part of us wonders how badly Kerry wanted another pre-summer showdown with their new-found nemesis in blue?

They have endured persistent capital punishment this decade; what makes the sensation even less palatable is the fact that they were previously so accustomed to (a) winning when it mattered and (b) simultaneously waxing lyrical about their fabled rivalry with "the auld Dubs".

Today, Dublin are far more than an irritating itch. Kerry are desperate to beat them. But, deep down, do they believe they can?

Dublin's head-to-head record in league/SFC combat against Kerry has tilted heavily in their favour since the infamous 'Startled Earwigs' collapse of 2009. From February, 2010, Dublin won ten of the next 12 meetings.

Their most recent collision, that fractious yet compelling deadlock in Tralee, at least stopped the Kerry rot of four consecutive losses. And yet you can be sure it felt like another defeat. They had thrown everything at Dublin. Twice they looked on the cusp of victory - when four up, and then two clear in stoppage time. But they couldn't close the deal.

Painful

Historically, that was a painful night for the hosts: by dint of rescuing a point, Dublin emulated Kerry's ancient 34-game unbeaten record.

Yet we suspect the real pain lay in the continuation of recent history - Kerry's struggle to beat Dublin. Fitzmaurice has now faced Jim Gavin nine times: the record reads one Kerry win, one draw … and seven defeats.

In the bigger scheme of things, losing another league final in April won't debar them from the race for Sam. Remember last year: it was only in the last ten minutes that they crumbled with 14 men en route to losing the Division 1 decider by 11 points. Come August, they pushed Dublin to the brink of the abyss only to eventually succumb by a couple of points in injury-time.

This spring, albeit like most top-flight contenders, Kerry's form has oscillated wildly. You might even argue they have stumbled into the final. Psychologically, victory next Sunday is far more important to them than to Dublin.

But are they ready to absorb another traumatic loss?

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