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Wednesday 20 November 2019

Kerry's 'two in a row' to sow Dublin doubt?

Curveball

Kerry’s Killian Spillane celebrates a point against Dublin last Sunday
Kerry’s Killian Spillane celebrates a point against Dublin last Sunday

That familiar narrative between draw and replay - the underdogs have lost their glorious chance, the faltering favourites will make them suffer in the sequel - has already got a fair airing over the past four days.

It has a rather compelling ring, especially when you highlight the two killer facts about last Sunday's stalemate: Kerry created five goal chances and only converted one of them, while they played against 14 men for half the contest and still almost lost it at the death.

But stats can be used to shape any argument in that uncertain hiatus between a draw that confounds expectation and the looming replay.

Kerry optimists might counter that they indirectly scored 1-3 off those goal openings, if you include a couple of follow-up Seán O'Shea '45s'. So, not a total case of opportunity squandered.

They might also pose the following question, if only to plant a seed of doubt in previously unflappable Dublin minds ... name the only county to go two matches unbeaten in the same season against Jim Gavin's all-conquering collective?

Kerry have actually done it twice: they drew a fractious league battle under the Tralee lights in 2017, then followed up with a one-point win in the Allianz League final.

But this year may be even more significant because after edging a league thriller last February, they have proven they can compete at the far more rarefied level of an All-Ireland final against history-chasing four-in-a-row holders.

In the week of this year's league tie, The Herald spoke to former Kerry captain Dara Ó Cinnéide who highlighted the big elephant in the room. Even then, all the chat in Kerry was "Is there anybody to beat the Dubs?" As a Kerryman, the next obvious question was: "What have we got to rattle the Dubs?"

Ó Cinnéide expanded: "The more Kerry get confidence from this league campaign, the more the sense will grow into the championship that we might be the ones to rattle them. But I think every realistic Kerry person is kind of saying, 'Possibly not this year!'"

As it transpired, Peter Keane's young guns seriously rattled the undercooked champions that night ... and yet Dublin, being Dublin, recovered from five points down in either half to draw level in injury-time. For a few fleeting moments, they looked the more likely winners ... and you wondered what psychological damage that might inflict on this new, emerging Kerry.

Instead, Peter Crowley fisted over to seal a 1-18 to 2-14 win. We even had a post-match melee to reinforce the impression that it wasn't all shadow-boxing.

Austin Stack Park had been rocking for hours before and right through the game itself, and afterwards Keane was clearly enthused by what he had seen, even if his post-match press briefing contained that now-familiar mix of caveats and 'south Kerryisms'.

"I don't think it's that significant," he said of the victory, although he did reference the fact that "you're talking about a team that are going for five-in-a-row this year" and "you want to test yourself against whoever is the top dog."

Here we are, almost seven months later. Dublin can no longer use the excuse of under-preparation going into battle with Kerry; but they were surprisingly under the cosh at different stages. This was especially the case in defence, although that may have been partly attributable to their surprising travails at centrefield.

Sunday has added ballast to the theory that Dublin need to wrap up this Drive for Five in a hurry because Kerry - youthful, gifted and now increasingly emboldened - are coming after them.

The key for the the underdogs is to park any regret about failing to close the deal. Instead, they should accentuate the positive that they've twice gone toe-to-toe with Dublin this season - and remain unbeaten.

As referenced above, Kerry are the only county to achieve this particular 'two in a row' - twice - in the seven years of the Gavin era.

Monaghan are the only county to win back-to-back matches against Dublin - but they were both in the league, in different years (2018-19) and the first of those was something of a dead-rubber, Dublin having already qualified for the final.

For Kerry's latest landmark to embrace an All-Ireland final makes it far more eye-catching.

Enormous

Yet the task for them, statistically and every other which way, is still enormous. Dublin have won 85 of their 106 league and championship games under this manager, drawing ten and losing 11.

More to the point, they have won 43, drawn three and lost just one of their 47 SFC matches on Gavin's watch.

In other words, as events go, last Sunday was rare in the extreme. The challenge for Kerry is to prove it wasn't a mere outlier but the first real sign that the balance of power has shifted back to the Kingdom.

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