| 5.7°C Dublin

Early spring teaser in the battle for Sam

Dublin and Kerry are familiar league opener foes

Close

TIGHT MARGIN: Dublin’s Brian Fenton is chased by Kerry’s Paul Geaney during last year’s Allianz Football League Division 1 opener in Tralee. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

TIGHT MARGIN: Dublin’s Brian Fenton is chased by Kerry’s Paul Geaney during last year’s Allianz Football League Division 1 opener in Tralee. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

TIGHT MARGIN: Dublin’s Brian Fenton is chased by Kerry’s Paul Geaney during last year’s Allianz Football League Division 1 opener in Tralee. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Eamon Fennell knows what it's like to go behind enemy lines and give All-Ireland holders Kerry a bloody nose.

It happened in Killarney, a full decade ago, and he loved every minute of it.

Fennell also knows the flip-side: launching into a new Allianz League campaign as freshly-minted All-Ireland champions, as Dublin were in 2012.

In a replica of this Saturday's NFL opener they faced Kerry in Croke Park that February - and lost badly.

Worse still for Fennell, he lasted just 16 minutes as a sub before returning to the same Hogan Stand, head spinning from his only ever red card in Croker.

So the retired midfielder can see what's at stake for Dublin this weekend, with a new manager in Dessie Farrell tasked with replacing their most decorated boss ever in Jim Gavin ... but he can also see it from Kerry's perspective.

"They'll be looking at this similar to 2012: 'How do we get one over on these lads by making a holy show of them in Croke Park?' And give their confidence a bit of a knock," says Fennell.

Unearth

"I'd say they're hopeful it will unearth a few issues, now that Jim's gone, a new manager in. But I don't think that's going to be the case for this crop of Dublin players, no matter what the result is."

As Fennell sees it, given Farrell's late appointment and Dublin's later-still return from their team holiday, passing early judgement on the new Sky Blue regime would be foolish.

But he can appreciate that these early-season Dublin/Kerry collisions still carry significance because of the special rivalry at play. This is arguably even more the case after a seismic showdown the summer before.

Dublin/Kerry league dates tend to happen early. Over the last decade, with the exception of 2017 and '18, it has always come in the first three rounds.

Four times they have met on the opening weekend - each of those satisfied the GAA PR department's thirst for a tasty rematch of a recent SFC duel.

The 2010 clash came after Kerry had crushed Pat Gilroy's "startled earwigs" by 17 points in a 2009 quarter-final.

Fennell, caught in club transfer limbo, had missed the '09 season. Now he was back, hoping to relaunch his career after an O'Byrne Cup audition.

He wasn't the only Dub with a point to prove. "It was the game we needed and the game we wanted at the same time. And it was one where Pat (said) 'Look, if you want to get the monkey off the back about Kerry, this is the game you need to win.'"

So it transpired, a new-look Dublin winning by two points for their first victory on Kerry soil since 1982. "The atmosphere in Killarney was incredible. And there was a lot of Dublin support, which was great coming on the back of a bad year in 2009," says Fennell.

"The significance was heightened for me because I knew that I'd missed so long. I was playing catch-up on the lads; and if I could prove myself against the best players in the country, well then that was a huge stepping stone."

It was a case of role reversal in 2012: now Dublin were sitting pretty (or maybe sitting ducks) after the previous September, when they sickened Kerry with that turbo-charged finish to end a 16-year All-Ireland famine.

"Obviously Kerry had retribution (on their mind) the way we had retribution in 2010," Fennell recalls. "It's well documented how much we enjoyed ourselves after the All-Ireland in 2011, and that probably carried on a bit too late in December.

"So, coming back, I remember January was tough - like really tough - where we were trying to make up for lost time. And I think everyone was a bit tired going into that game, based on just the sheer load of training."

Fennell's contribution off the bench was short and not so sweet, sent off for a late elbow on Bryan Sheehan. Looking back, he blames "frustration" that he couldn't play the game the way he wanted to. "One of my worst moments in a Dublin jersey," he admits.

"It was the loneliest thing walking off the pitch, and going for a meal afterwards, just being around the lads, and everything was just sombre. It was horrible … you feel like you've just let the whole team down."

Weapon

Since then, Dublin have twice hosted Kerry on the opening league night (in 2014 and '16) - and repeated their previous summer success. Proof that revenge isn't always the most reliable weapon.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice was so perturbed by Kerry's relative lack of hunger, when losing to Dublin by six points in 2016, that he was moved to remark: "If you hadn't seen last year's All-Ireland final and you came in and looked at it, you would have maybe said that we had beaten Dublin (in the All-Ireland)."

Whatever about Saturday's result, it's hard to conceive that Kerry will be so passive this time around.