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Saturday 16 December 2017

Dub/Kerry no March

THEY call it the "magic" of Dublin/Kerry. This spellbinding quality has been created by epic events in Croke Park. Rollercoaster All-Ireland finals. Semi-finals that were dubbed all-time classics within minutes of the final whistle. Even All-Ireland quarter-final horror shows have added to the myth.

The "magic" of Dublin/Kerry doesn't stem from regulation league meetings in Killarney, which tend to be about a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

What we are saying, essentially, is that whoever loses tomorrow's latest encounter in Fitzgerald Stadium won't walk away in a totally traumatised state, fearing an unbridgeable gap that cannot be closed between now and August/September.

The last time Dublin visited Killarney, Jim Gavin and Éamonn Fitzmaurice were both overseeing their second league match and it ended in a ten-point cakewalk for the visitors.

Dublin were decent; Kerry utterly toothless.

Fast-forward to that year's All-Ireland semi-final, and Kerry unleashed a first half attacking masterclass that had Dublin's defence at sixes and sevens, with Colm Cooper pulling the strings, Donnchadh Walsh plundering through gaps and James O'Donoghue running amok.

Dublin rolled with the punches and, incredibly, only trailed by two points at the break. Their defence gradually got to grips with the Gooch & Co, and the game was level before a late 2-1 shellburst propelled the Dubs to a famous victory by a totally incongruous seven-point margin.

Our point is this: Kerry were minus some heavyweight forward artillery for that year's spring encounter and their initial league form was beyond ropey ... but their rookie manager never panicked because he had a long-term plan that came tantalisingly close to glorious summer fruition. And last September, at the second attempt, it did.

Tomorrow, Éamonn Fitz will be without Cooper, Donnchada Walsh and O'Donoghue, the three men who wreaked most havoc in that 2013 semi-final.

The Kerry attack, as selected, doesn't seem likely to terrify (whatever about terrorise) the Dublin defence.

X-FACTOR

But they do have Kieran Donaghy back, from club duty with Austin Stacks, and that towering X-factor alone will have occupied Jim Gavin's thinking. Rory O'Carroll's full-back form was patchy during the O'Byrne Cup; he gave away three converted frees in Cork; and he didn't feature against Donegal.

Notwithstanding last night's 'official' selection, it will be intriguing to see how Gavin sets up his defence and especially how he goes about coping with Donaghy's aerial threat.

That said, Dublin's revamped rearguard generally coped well against Donegal, and there were further signs that a more cautious (and stable) defensive set-up is starting to take root. John Small's initial auditions have suggested a player who has the physique for centre-back but also the savvy to know when to stick ... so much so that he claimed Setanta's 'Man of the Match' award three weeks ago.

At the end of March, though, we'll be in a much better position to judge.

Against Donegal, Gavin only began with four players who had started that ill-fated All-Ireland semi-final against the same opposition. They were raw in places, but what impressed most (apart from Jack McCaffrey's wonder goal) was their tenacity to embrace the physical battle and then their mental toughness when reduced to 14 men.

Those qualities augur positively for this road trip even if Kerry (despite some high-profile absentees) still retain eight of their All-Ireland team.

Picking a winner here is fraught with peril - but, we repeat, don't judge Dublin/Kerry on March meetings. Kerry have lost six of their last seven Sky Blue encounters. They'll want to correct the record.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Kerry 11/10, Draw 15/2, Dublin evens

VERDICT: Kerry

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