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Is the wheel turning again for football's biggest rivals?

As the new decade dawns, the Kingdom are hot on Dubs' tails

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Stephen Cluxton lifts the Sam Maguire after victory over Kerry in the 2015 All-Ireland final

Stephen Cluxton lifts the Sam Maguire after victory over Kerry in the 2015 All-Ireland final

SPORTSFILE

Stephen Cluxton lifts the Sam Maguire after victory over Kerry in the 2015 All-Ireland final

The embers had only cooled on the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final when debate sparked as to whether now, finally, we had a worthy successor to the 1977 semi-final for the title of Greatest Football Match Ever Played.

In Kerry, it prompted the not unreasonable question: did they have to lose before matches with the Dubs were regarded as classics?

If the 2011 All-Ireland final was the day Kerry let the Dublin genie out of the bottle, the '13 semi-final confirmed the polarity of their roles in the new relationship.

That pulsating afternoon marked the first time Dublin had recorded back-to-back championship wins over Kerry since '77.

In between, they quietly seethed as the 'rivalry' was espoused as one of the GAA's great monuments while smirking tributes were paid by their once-fierce rivals as Dublin went 34 years without winning a championship match against Kerry.

If the story of Dublin/Kerry is football's defining grudge match, it's also one where the balance of power tends to jolt unexpectedly.

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To fully appreciate how seismic a change in dynamic the Dublin/Kerry relationship underwent in the decade just finished, it's pertinent to first investigate how it was before.

If the fuse of the rivalry was lit in 1955, when Kerry broke Kevin Heffernan's heart ("that formed a large part of what I became as a person," he later admitted) it didn't explode until the 1970s.

The counties met just three times in the 1960s; Kerry won both Championship clashes to Dublin's lone 1964 National League semi-final victory in Croke Park.

Yet in the next decade, the one that would be defined by Heffernan and Mick O'Dwyer and their contrasting but equally compelling teams, they played a total of 16 times between league and championship.

Oddly, they also played occasional challenge matches against each other and one bloodbath exhibition game in Gaelic Park in the Bronx in May 1978.

Of the 'official' games though, Kerry won ten, Dublin just five.

During the 1980s, as Dublin's heroes of the '70s faded from view, they crossed paths on nine occasions.

Dublin won just two - both league matches - while Kerry won five.

Vitally, they prevailed in both championship meetings of the counties during that decade, both All-Ireland finals in 1984 and '85.

The latter would be Heffernan's final championship match as Dublin manager.

Technically, the 1990s was the decade in which Dublin exerted greatest supremacy over Kerry.

In all, the counties played seven times. Dublin won six of those games, yet remarkably, they never met in the Championship, as Kerry went into a post-Micko lull, winning just one Munster championship between 1986 and '96.

The 2000s prompted a flip in the relationship completely. Kerry won eight of the ten meetings, with two draws - one of which was the now iconic All-Ireland quarter-final in Thurles, when Dublin launched a rousing comeback before Maurice Fitzgerald's impeccably-struck sideline.

By the time Kerry crushed Pat Gilroy's 'startled earwigs' in 2009, Dublin looked more inferior to Kerry than they had been in living memory, yet the turn of the decade elicited another huge swing of the pendulum.

In total, the counties met in either league or championship on 18 occasions between 2010 and 2019.

Dublin won 12 to Kerry's four with two draws.

Their five championship victories in six games (plus one draw) represents easily their most productive decade against Kerry in what was the most successful decade of any county in championship football history.

The devil, though, was in the detail.

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A lot happened between Dublin and Kerry during the decade just passed.

There were the big Dublin Championship wins, each a spear through Kerry hearts, and the fraught, tetchy league meetings - most of which took place on Kingdom soil.

In Dublin, each Championship victory over their former oppressors was celebrated as further proof of their new-found superiority.

In Kerry, each one was lamented with a cadence of regret.

"I'll go on record: they stole that one off us," said Bryan Sheehan of the 2011 All-Ireland final.

"We let it slip through our hands ... 2013 I thought was probably one of the best games of football ever played. Came down to McManamon going for a point more so than a goal.

"Just slipped in. They won it.

"Then I think 2015 we just didn't perform to our capabilities."

That was before the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final, another instant-classic that Kerry lost narrowly and long harboured recriminations over due to a couple of disagreeable late refereeing decisions.

Then there was last year's drawn All-Ireland final, when they had a one-point lead, an extra man and possession of the ball in the 71st minute.

When Dublin won the replay, it took their historic record against Kerry in the Championship to: Played 21, Won 11, Drawn 3, Lost 17.

Not precisely an even split, but far less lopsided than it looked at the beginning of the decade.

It also gave them the distinction of winning a fifth All-Ireland in a row, an achievement that for obvious reasons, carried more sombre resonance in Kerry than anywhere else.

Attempting to prevent Dublin winning the five-in-a-row was an unfortunate and unwanted burden for Peter Keane to inherit.

Now that it's done, his young Kerry team can grow into their jerseys a bit more. Jim Gavin has gone and some of Dublin's most decorated footballers are currently in cold storage.

Kerry, meanwhile, have a new captain, a footballer with the talent to become one of their finest.

Tomorrow they meet again in a match in which, the scheduling decrees, the result will carry little real significance.

But if history is a reliable gauge, a new decade presents the chance for a fresh dynamic to be established.