Bitter rivals with a big score to settle
The football world as we knew it has turned fully on its axis when a Kerry demigod like Jack O’Shea talks about his county “striking a psychological blow” in a League match, just as he did this week.
There are a million reasons, though why Kerry must win tomorrow’s last public appearance of the All-Ireland favourites before both retire to begin to plot what is likely a straight route back to each other in Croke Park in this year’s semi-final.
Fewer for Dublin.
That doesn’t mean that they’ll try any less or that they’ll cede victory any easier but it does mean that the consequences of defeat, or at least the perception of those repercussions, are potentially much more damaging for Kerry.
Should Kerry saunter up to Croke Park tomorrow and win a tight game (let’s face it, it’s not going to be any other way) the chattering classes will note that they owed Dublin one and sure, what better stick for Jim Gavin to beat his team with than a loss in a major final ahead of their latest back-to-back bid?
If Kerry lose, they may have to block out as much of that sort of ambient noise as they can during the early part of summer for all the talk of their seemingly constant inferiority to the team they let out of the bag themselves.
Because yes, while the notion of one team having it over another is in itself a very GAA concept, it’s also much more apparent and noteworthy when the team that has the sway in the relationship is historically the oppressed rather than oppressor.
“It’s not a case of looking back and saying ‘we got one up’ or ‘we’re better than them at the moment,’ says Dublin midfielder, Denis Bastick of the team’s psychology.
“It’s not like that at all. It’s nice to have won those games. But it doesn’t really mean anything.”
Bastick was the square peg in the round hole playing full-back for Dublin in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final so he pre-dates the team mates who have only good experiences against Kerry and his perception of them is understandably more cautious.
“And in 2009 you’d have said that you couldn’t foresee that happening because of the position we found ourselves in.
“But the bit of hurt is still there from that,” Bastick admits. “That’s still there.
“No matter how many times we were to beat Kerry, you still remember those defeats.”
“And I’m sure they remember the ones we’ve inflicted on them,” Bastick adds.
“So this is a new game now at the weekend. It’s ’87 since we met (in a League final).
“It’s a new team. It’s a new game, a new competition. A new event.”
Predictably, the noise coming from Kerry this week is that the trophy, rather than the opposition, is the primary focus but that’s not entirely persuasive either.
At the launch of the League final, Bryan Sheehan sat happily beside Bastick fielding questions and even got a good laugh out of the Dublin midfielder dubbing Kerry “the best team in the country”.
Later, in more private conversation with the media, Sheehan attempted to articulate Kerry’s priorities.
“I won’t lie...” he began, “but I don’t think it’s the be all or end all for us that we have to beat them, or if we don’t win on Sunday that that’s us gone for the Championship, or that’s a massive dent in our preparations.
“It’s not. If you win it, fantastic. Number one, you are kind of setting down a marker,” Sheehan admitted.
“Number two, on a personal level, we are keeping up this winning momentum.
“But, for me it’s a League final. There’s silverware at the end of the day. That’s what it’s about.
“When you go to Croke Park you want to win games. We have always said that down in Kerry. That’s the priority.
“They are the significant games for Kerry, when you are in Croke Park, and we want to win.
The Kerry captain added: “The fact it is Dublin probably does add the extra bit of spice because they beat us in last year’s All-Ireland final.”
Whether Kerry feel Dublin have it over them at the moment or not isn’t entirely discernible either, though their thoughts on the Tyrone team of the last decade were always fairly loud and crystal clear.
Mickey Harte’s men beat them in three important Championship matches in 2003, ‘05 and ‘08, though the Tyrone manager was adamant the idea of being somehow permanently superior to Kerry was never a belief that penetrated his dressing-room.
“No, I think that was more a construct from other people,” Harte explained.
“People are quick to go by results only. But I never took it that we had any Indian sign over Kerry,” he elaborated.
“We ambushed them in 2003, and 2005 and 2008 could have gone either way.
“We got the scores when it mattered, but I don’t think that at all, it was never in my mind.”
Whether it was in Kerry’s mind is another question and Harte saw first hand in 2012 in a qualifier match how much beating Tyrone meant to so many Kerry players and supporters, even if his own side – the one which had tormented the Kingdom through the previous decade – were very much past their prime at that stage.
“I do think Kerry do have a greater desire to beat Dublin than any other team at the minute,” Harte pointed out, “because they see this as a stepping stone to take back their position of superiority, of the last 20 years.
“So I think there is a greater need for Kerry to win.”
Which may well be true.
But Dublin are enjoying their little flourish over Kerry and their pre-eminence this decade has been partly constructed on wins in matches a bit like tomorrow’s.
Bastick was too cautious in his words to suggest that beating Kerry so often had given Dublin a surperiority complex though he admitted it had “changed our confidence in our own ability”.
“But our perception ..we never underestimate them, they are a great team,” Bastick added.
“They’ve got great players so our perception definitely hasn’t changed.
“We don’t think we are better than them at any stage, we know that if we don’t play well we will lose and that’s a guaranteed factor.
“From our point of view, we have confidence from some of our wins and we bring that to the game but we don’t underestimate them at all.”