Saturday 25 November 2017

Kevin McStay: Strength of the bench to see Dubs to nervy victory

Bernard Brogan, Dublin, in action against Chris Barrett, Mayo
Bernard Brogan, Dublin, in action against Chris Barrett, Mayo

IT'S the final the majority expected way back last October when the championship draw was made.

Kerry and Dublin, the two best teams in the country, on opposite sides of the provincial draws, had an ordained look about it.

While both Tyrone and Mayo might argue they had brief moments when they might have blown that dream pairing apart, and they really had, it is on balance a final that has the best two teams in it.

When Tyrone buried a late penalty in the second half of their All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry a question was posed: do you guys from the South have the stomach for the battle now?

When the equaliser flew over the bar a minute later it appeared to many that Kerry had been sated with the All-Ireland the previous September and would quietly head for home beaten once again, when it mattered, by their great rivals from Ulster.

And then we witnessed the famous Kerry fight back.

Four possessions later and four of the smoothest, most clinical winning points you could imagine.

Not only did Kerry have the heart and stomach for another championship win, they had the football skill and brains to execute that want.

This is the most dangerous weapon they carry into Sunday's final - the best footballers, in terms of skill and know-how, the team with the better decision-makers, wear the green and gold jerseys.

But that may not be enough to beat Dublin.

Dublin possess the greater athleticism, have more pace than Kerry and other than the midfield area, one likely to resemble downtown Calcutta if Dublin have any say in the matter, can point to advantage in most lines of the two teams.


Let's elaborate and examine the respective full-forward lines in more detail - after all these lines will provide the majority of the 18-plus points, or aggregate thereof, to win this final.

Dublin can point to Bernard Brogan (number one ranking as of going to press, for POTY) and Paddy Andrews in the form of their lives.

And crucially, both are there having built confidence on their scoring prowess from play.

Will Diarmuid Connolly move to that line? Unlikely, his contribution will be maximised from further out the field, where he can score from distance, carry the ball into attack and get on the end of goal chances.

So, Dublin will go for a two-man full forward line with a late runner outside the 'D'. Kerry will think long and hard about Kieran Donaghy and his role. Should Paul Geaney start before him? Probably but either way, expect James O'Donoghue to stay close to goal while my call sees 'Gooch' Cooper out around centre-forward looking for breaks and handy ball from the worker bees to slide the perfect passes to the two inside men.

But when you contrast and compare this line alone the advantage is with Dublin in a big way.

Bernard Brogan has learned to be incredibly patient and use every ball to great effect. If he gets it in his hands, it is already too late as the form he is enjoying means he will score or provide a killer pass.

My evaluation is that both teams have average to good defences and so it will be a day, weather dependent, for the forwards.

As ever, the key work by managements will be in ensuring the best match-ups but remember that one manager's medicine is another manager's poison and both will be trying to avoid the stuff that kills you.

Other considerations that must be examined in a final will look at the referee appointed and thankfully the GAA has made the clever play and appointed their best official. Dave Coldrick will mind this final well and ensure the best players get to play ball. And it is good to note that his fellow county man, David Gough, takes charge of the minor game - surely a stepping stone to a senior one some day.

Coldrick will allow the legal tackle and plenty of contact and aggression in the mix too.

But when it comes to showing bottle, he won't shirk. Any examples of such in his recent career were as a direct result of an error, not the balls to make the call.

Favouritism in a final is neither here nor there. I did a piece on this very angle a few years ago and if memory serves me correctly, the underdogs won more finals over the past 25 years than the favourite.

Dublin roll up to headquarters at 5/6 and Kerry are available at 6/5 .... so, nothing in it on that front.

What will be the ultimate difference?

I touched on it in last week's column when we examined the kickout strategy of Stephen Cluxton in the replayed game against Mayo.

He took 19 of them and went short 18 times. Dublin won all 18 of the handy ones and lost the only kick that went beyond the 45-metre line.

And there it is - the key to victory for either side.

Knowing this is one thing, preventing it something much more difficult.

I just cannot envisage a Kerry side coughing up primary possession on any type of ball so they surely will push up with the highest line possible.

This will make Cluxton go for the half-backs or midfielders/Connolly/Flynn moving towards pockets around that 45-metre line.

And Cluxton has the skill, temperament and confidence to pick out these most difficult and pressurised of passes.

And from there Dublin will launch at pace using support runners and short handpasses to open the Kerry defence and avoid their sweeper.

Cluxton then, to hold his nerve and Jim Gavin's Dublin, using their bench to see the game out, to win by two. At least.

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