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Kerry poised to take Dubs' title

Kingdom in 'much better place': Canavan

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Sky Sports GAA football analyst Peter Canavan

Sky Sports GAA football analyst Peter Canavan

SPORTSFILE

Sky Sports GAA football analyst Peter Canavan

One year on from pushing Dublin to the brink in the drawn final, Kerry are now even better positioned to challenge the Sky Blues' unbroken reign of All-Ireland dominance.

That's the belief of Peter Canavan, who reckons the most likely conclusion to this year's straight knockout championship is a repeat of last year's final pairing.

In a sporting world convulsed by the myriad uncertainties of Covid, the Tyrone legend isn't rushing to call such a showdown just yet.

Yet it's clear that he views the Kingdom as far stronger physically and mentally than their 2019 version.

"Kerry should be in a much better place now. Peter Keane has come in and he brought in a lot of those younger lads from successful minor teams. So, there is a bit of consistency there," the Sky Sports pundit said.

"Those lads have filled out. You heard Kieran Donaghy talking about Seán O'Shea, the shape that he is in physically; it can be seen that David Clifford has got stronger as well. So, Kerry should be in a better position now than this time last year.

"I had suggested before the start of last year's championship, at the Sky launch, that Kerry would be the one team maybe that could break in. Some people laughed at that and said, 'What are you basing that on?' A lot of Kerry people didn't even believe that Kerry were up to that level.

"Whereas now Kerry are approaching the championship in a different mindset. They're not happy to give Dublin a good game now. They will approach this year's championship knowing that they've got two of the best players in the country, one of them by far the best and most exciting player who, if he is at the races, is capable of leading Kerry to great things.

"I think they are in a much better position mentally and definitely physically than they were this time last year. So, to answer your question, if Kerry are in an All-Ireland final, yes, they are in a great position to take on Dublin or whoever is in it."

For all that, the collective inherited by Dessie Farrell remains the team to beat. Canavan ponders some of the marquee names gone since 2019 - Bernard Brogan, Jack McCaffrey and, most recently, Diarmuid Connolly - but still rates the loss of manager Jim Gavin as the biggest imponderable.

"That's the unknown one," he reflected. "How many times have you heard people saying the loss of some Dublin player is going to be a big blow to them, when it reality it hasn't been a blow to them.

"But they haven't lost a manager this past five years. Even though Dessie may try to implement things identically, or to carry on things in a similar vein, he's a different man, he's a different personality, so it is a different Dublin camp.

"That, added to the fact that they haven't been together all summer, they're now playing championship football in October or November ... it is a strange mix and it does give other teams an opportunity.

"The one thing in their favour has been that we've gone back to the knockout system," he continued. "Realistically, Meath will give them a game but would be doing well to get within seven or eight points.

"So it means Dublin will have two games to get really finely tuned to win an All-Ireland again. The first one will be against the Ulster champions, then an All-Ireland final you would expect against Kerry.

"I'd say the Gavin factor is a bigger one, the unknown of him not being there more so than any other players, such is their strength in depth.

"I've said before that players that didn't even make the Dubs bench this last two or three years would have been automatics on the majority of county teams. But we live in hope."

Canavan views Conor McKenna's Aussie Rules retirement as the only recent positive for Tyrone - but he's not expecting an immediate impact.

"It depends what he's doing at training," he said. "I think it will be very difficult for him to come back and go straight in to make that panel.

"Fitness-wise, I have no doubt after two or three weeks back training with the boys he'll show up well in terms of his physicality and movement and that. It's just getting up to match speed. I don't care how good he was ... it takes a lot of games before you feel you have it cracked.

"It's the one good news story in Tyrone on the back of Cathal McShane not making it and Colm Cavanagh retiring. But, to be honest, am I expecting big things of Conor McKenna this year? I'm not. I think if he makes the championship panel he's doing really well."