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Saturday 18 November 2017

Kingdom anxious to wrest control

A veteran of Kerry’s 2009 Dublin slaughter, Tadhg Kennelly believes his county are close to getting elusive win over their ‘bogey team’

Kerry’s Tadhg Kennelly, Seán O’Sullivan and Paul Galvin celebrate after defeating Dublin
in the 2009 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Kerry’s Tadhg Kennelly, Seán O’Sullivan and Paul Galvin celebrate after defeating Dublin in the 2009 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

You can feel it. Spend a night or two in Kerry and mention the subject of the Dublin footballers and you'll hear plenty of it too.

In Tralee on tomorrow night, you'll see loads of it.

"When I was growing up in Kerry," says Tadhg Kennelly, "we hadn't an All-Ireland between '86 and '97. So from the ages of seven to 17, I hadn't an All-Ireland to celebrate.

"Now," he points out, "you've got kids who, if they've started supporting Kerry over the last five or six years, only know about losing to Dublin."

Ergo, Kerry's attitude towards Dublin has changed so seismically in the past six years, it's as though the plates beneath the counties haven't so much shifted as swapped places.

What started as a sort of frustrated bemusement in 2011 has become a collective exasperation at the unpredicted and unprecedented four-game Championship run of wins Dublin have enjoyed over these past six years-of-plenty.

Naturally, Kennelly thinks, the whip hand will be seized back.

But like plenty of Kerry people, he thought it would have happened by now.

Crave

Indeed, it's the very fact that Dublin's record has become such an issue that Kennelly's not quite sure how Kerry will think their way to the win that their team, management and public so crave.

"The more we talk about it, the more people put it in the press, the more it's on social media - it gets bigger and bigger," the former Kerry and Sydney Swans player told the Herald ahead of tomorrow night's clash between football's most gushed-over rivals.

"You can say you don't look at the media but you don't have a choice these days. It's everywhere you go. Every player in the country has social media.

"I know the Kerry boys and they want to beat Dublin.

"They're every close," he points out.

"There's not a whole lot in them. But at the end of the day, it's Dublin that are winning the All-Irelands.

"They're very close. But until you get that win, they're a bogey team."

Given his lineage, it's natural that Kennelly can attest to the 'mutual respect' and lists off the many and varied links that run between the footballing fraternities of the respective counties.

But there's a hint of desperation in Kerry at the moment about all this Dublin prosperity.

Mostly though, that's because it has come primarily at Kerry's expense.

In each of their four All-Ireland wins since 2011, Dublin have beaten Kerry either in finals or semis and Éamonn Fitzmaurice, a manager hugely admired in the Kingdom for bringing their county team safely through a tactical subversion in football without sacrificing their treasured traditions, has lost to just one county in his four seasons in charge.

Perhaps as a result, Dublin - over the past year or so - have been the subject about which those inside the Kerry camp have spoken most bluntly.

"You almost become obsessed with it and go against what you're supposed to be doing," Kennelly notes, citing his own deeply frustrating experiences with Collingwood throughout his AFL career.

"You're thinking 'we've got to beat them' and you end up going away from the process of winning the game."

Historically, Kerry have never taken well to the thinner end of the trough.

Kennelly's 2009 return to the Kingdom came just a season after Kerry's third and perhaps most sickening Championship loss to Tyrone in succession in the '08 All-Ireland decider.

There may not be the same personal distaste between Dublin and Kerry as there often was with Mickey Harte's team then but the sensation is no less acute.

Superiority

"We ended up turning it around in the latter part of the decade but in the big games, Tyrone really got us," Kennelly recalls.

"A lot of those players did manage to beat Tyrone in a Championship match, so it's not as bad as it is with Dublin at the moment."

The bizarre thing is that there was no great sign this was coming.

A League win in Killarney in February 2010 was seen as an important moment for a young Dublin team but hardly an indication of a more permanent supremacy over a team that had won four of the previous six All-Irelands.

There may never have been a more instructive display of Kerry's traditional primacy over Dublin than their last Championship meeting before 2011; that 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park in which Kennelly played.

Then, Dublin were flying while Kerry had to be checked for a pulse.

A sympathetic death was predicted for Jack O'Connor's side, just as soon as they found some team half-decent enough to put them out of their suffering.

What ensued must have convinced even the most optimistic Dublin supporter that regardless of the relative health of the two teams, Dublin would always lose to Kerry. "We were very lucky," Kennelly recalls.

"We were lucky to get over Antrim and Sligo.

"We played those two and if we had got Meath or someone, they probably would have done us.

"But we knew when we got Dublin that we'd be in front of 80,000 people in Croke Park, all writing us off.

"We hadn't fired a shot all summer.

"There were a lot of guys in that team going for their sixth All-Ireland yet people were writing them off."

Coaching, money, numbers, luck - the theories about the root of Dublin's pre-eminence all contain elements of reason.

Kennelly does a blunt but all-encompassing diagnostic.

"I think for once, Dublin just got their s**t together as a county," he says.

"A lot of people talk about the numbers but I would go the other way. I think it's harder the more you have because there's more dropout and there's other things that people can do, and do.

"I find it's harder with big numbers.

"Whereas in Kerry, it's a real tradition. You grow up and play football and that's it.

"It's easier to hold on to your talent.

"But with Kerry now, for the younger generation and the younger players coming in, what might happen is the minors and the fact that they have won three All-Irelands, they're going in with the attitude: 'we can beat anyone'.

"But," Kennelly continues, "until you start beating them, some teams do become bogey teams.

"So Kerry will want to get on top of them as quick as they can."

Quality

Meanwhile, he adds, "the Dubs and their management team, they're building a dynasty.

"One All-Ireland isn't good enough. And that's down to the management team and what they've been able to do with the quality of footballers they have," adds the Listowel native.

"They've driven them almost like an All Blacks outfit. They have really high standards.

"And I think it's great for the competition, to tell you the truth.

"They're setting the standard, which is going to increase the level of football."

For now, the settings have switched at football's top table.

Kerry are at least as preoccupied with beating Dublin as they are with winning an All-Ireland senior football title.

"I have no doubt that it will turn," Kennelly stresses.

"But for the players that are playing that have lost to Dublin for the last five years, you're dreaming about that all the time.

"But at the moment, it's constantly in your head and you're obsessing about it: 'we have to beat Dublin'.

"And in a mad way," Kennelly concludes, "I think if Kerry did beat Dublin in a semi-final, there's a huge chance they would be beaten in the final.

"Because it would take so much out of them."

Until you get that win, they're a bogey team - Tadhg Kennelly

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