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Thursday 8 December 2016

Roche's Point: Forget talk of a classic, the result is all that matters

Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin McManamon, Dublin celebrate at the end of the game
Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin McManamon, Dublin celebrate at the end of the game

ALL-IRELAND final week. Football's most iconic rivalry.

The winners of the last two titles and, by common acclaim, the two most talented collectives in the game.

Two counties who, when last they collided on summer's stage, served up a bona fide classic. All of which means next Sunday will be just as brilliant?

Steady on.

On paper, Dublin/Kerry has all the ingredients to be spectacularly good but that doesn't negate the potential for a dour affair, dominated by defensive caution and permeated by an undercurrent of niggle.

And no, we're not weighed down with pessimism; it's more a case of putting you on warning.

Frequently, the 'saving the best 'til last' adage does not apply to All-Ireland finals.

Most of the recent winners have not actually peaked in September. Take Kerry's last two triumphs: in 2009 they flirted with quarter-final perfection against Dublin's 'startled earwigs' and last year they were at their most fluent for the Munster final against Cork and parts of the Mayo saga.

HORROR-SHOW

Ditto with the Dubs: their finest performance of 2011 came in the quarter-final against Tyrone while, in 2013, their semi-final recovery from an early defensive horror-show against Kerry was the standout memory.

The same rule applies to Cork in 2010 (they arguably peaked a year earlier) and Donegal in 2012.

Even more so than semi-finals, finals are all about the winning. Just ask Éamonn Fitzmaurice, who evidently decided last year that Kerry probably couldn't win by charging, gung-ho, into Donegal's defensive web.

So his half-backs remained in situ, and the unfolding tale of cat-and-mouse developed some of the qualities associated with the observation of slow-drying Dulux … and Kerry, kings of pragmatism, didn't mind one iota.

Fitzmaurice, doubtless, learned a harsh lesson when Kerry went toe-to-toe with Dublin in 2013: you won't win All-Irelands by coughing up 3-18.

MADCAP

And even if they got lucky, to an extent, in last year's madcap semi-final replay against Mayo, they limited Donegal to just 0-12 when it mattered.

Jim Gavin's learning curve, curiously against Donegal, was steeper still. All season long, Dublin have been working on a more structured defensive game-plan to protect the full-back line.

As we speak, neither defence has ironed out all glitches. Dublin will be sweating all week on the fitness of sweeper Cian O'Sullivan (above). Kerry have had almost a month since Tyrone to address what could be their Achilles heel: when you run at the heart of their defence, as Dublin are so eminently equipped to do, they tend to cough up goal chances.

So, given the above and the presence of Messrs Brogan, Cooper, Connolly and O'Donoghue, to name just four attacking maestros, we could have another spectacular scorefest.

But we have our doubts: because it's September, because familiarity foments feistiness (check out this year's Killarney league clash) and because both managements will have been preoccupied not just with scoring strategies, but with plans to stop the enemy.

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