Kingdom holds no fear for Gavin's players
Kerry will have to pull off something very special to beat this Dublin outfit
In the build up to the 2009 All- Ireland quarter-final against Kerry, I had already made up my mind that I was going to retire that summer. My second child was born that week, three days before the game. Playing inter-county football with one young child was a challenge, with two was going to be a lot tougher.
Training and preparation had moved to another level altogether. Hours were been spent on the training field. I had also spent that year with splinters in my backside sitting on the bench at 33 years of age. Older, crankier and frustrated, I was playing at full forward in training games. Pat Gilroy had written me off as a midfielder and his plan was to spring me at full forward for the Kerry game. He had told after the Leinster Final against Kildare that if we drew Kerry in the quarter-finals, I would definitely start the game at full forward.
That never came to pass and I was thrown into my old hunting ground of midfield with our team nine points down after 20 minutes. The rest is history and the term "startled earwigs" was coined that day in headquarters.
Whilst Kerry were struggling for form in 2009 coming into that game, they had a huge psychological edge on Dublin at that time. They were in their element playing the Dubs.
Talk up the Dubs, arrive in Croke to dish out the good oul' hammering and then invite them down for a weekend in Kerry. That was the Kerry way. That had been the Kerry way for nearly three decades against the Dubs.
As much I may not have believed in Gilroy's method in 2009, he was planning something different. Gilroy had anticipated that my arrival on the edge of the square with 20 minutes to go was something that Kerry would not expect. Dublin needed to do something different to turn over the Kerry machine.
My Sunday Game colleague, Tomás ó Sé, expressed the view last weekend that in order for Kerry to beat Dublin, they needed to do something different tactically.
You see the pendulum has now swung the other way. That Kerry swagger has been missing in recent years. Before you think I am writing Kerry off, far from it. However, the make-up and the culture of this Dublin team is very different and they now hold no fear of Kerry.
I would not question whether Eamon Fitzmaurice will come up with something different on Sunday. I expect he will.
However, looking at the system Kerry have employed this year, to be honest, I am struggling to see how his plan is evolving for the Dubs. Quite frankly, it is a difficult challenge to pull a rabbit from the hat to beat this Dublin team.
Kerry have certainly gone more defensive in their approach and their entire forward line at times will drift off their men and retreat to the midfield area before they press their opponents. While this tactic might slow down Dublin's attack, it will invite Dublin onto them and Dublin will be very comfortable in that regard.
Dublin now have the experience to control a game against teams who implement a defensive strategy and in doing so, they have also learnt how to protect their own goal.
Taking a different approach, a review of last year's All-Ireland final indicates that when Kerry pressed up on Dublin's kick-out, they caused them some difficulties. Dublin lost their first five kick-outs in last year's All Ireland final and also came under pressure for a period early in the second half.
The problem with pressing Cluxton's kick-out is that it is impossible to sustain a full press for 70 minutes. Once any element of fatigue kicks in, there is always a break in the chain and Cluxton will find his man and Kerry will then be out of position.
I would envisage that Fitzmaurice might break down his game plan into various sections and look to work his way through the game mixing up their approach at different times.
One definitive approach right throughout the game will not work against Dublin. A period where they press high up on kick-outs, a period where they might bombard the Dublin full-back line with quality direct ball or a period where they concede space up front and drop bodies back to slow down the Dublin attack. All these aspects need to be thought out in detail, positioning the right personnel in the key positions, at the right times.
Team selection for Kerry will be critical also. They will have to match Dublin's pace throughout the field and Fitzmaurice cannot afford to go with six or seven lads who have lost that yard of pace. A couple of primary ball-winners in midfield will have to be surrounded by younger legs who can cope with the pace in the Dublin team.
Darren O'Sullivan, Paul Geaney, Stephen O'Brien and James O'Donoghue will all have attacking roles to pull the Dublin full-back line out of position. Donaghy will no doubt have a long spell at full forward if selected or brought on.
The other key area for Kerry will be how they deal with Cian O'Sullivan as sweeper. The positioning of Johnny Buckley at centre forward in last years final was a bad call by the Kerry management. Buckley had a natural tendency to drift into midfield, which allowed O'Sullivan to pass off his man and drop back to protect the goal.
Paul Murphy has played the role of a defensive half forward in this year's campaign but that could change on Sunday. Again, Murphy dropping deep will suit O'Sullivan and I expect Kerry will position someone like Darren O'Sullivan in that space to occupy O'Sullivan, with Murphy possibly relocating to the half back line to do a man-marking job for Kerry.
The debate around the positioning of Bryan Sheehan will create a lot of debate this weekend. Kerry need a free-taker with a good score ratio. For that reason Sheehan may very well start. If he did play in goal, the logic would be understandable but I doubt he will.
For Dublin, it is about focusing on their own performance and ensuring their concentration levels are right for the full 70 minutes. A fit James McCarthy will give Jim Gavin some positive selection dilemmas. Will he revert to the wing back position or will he start at midfield, which will allow Fenton to take up a more offensive position? Dublin also have more versatility to dictate the terms of the key man-to-man match-ups, leaving Fitzmaurice playing Russian roulette with his defence when he pairs them with the Dublin forwards.
The pedigree and talent within this Kerry team means they can be never written off. They hate losing to the Dubs and have competed very well in defeat in recent years. The National League final as a barometer should be dismissed. Dublin hold all the aces and as the wise man did say, Kerry will have to do something different to win. Dublin to progress.