The final that most neutrals anticipated and one that the historic occasion deserves takes place on Sunday afternoon in Croke Park. The team of the decade, Dublin, aim to make it five All-Irelands in a row when they take on the undisputed best of the rest, Kerry.
The mythical five in a row is an achievement than no team in the history of the game has achieved, and it is fitting that it may happen against a county who have gone closest to the honour in the past. Kerry have twice been denied at this stage before, their last four in a row side beaten in the 1982 final.
Dublin have made light work of their opponents in the championship so far this year. They followed up their ninth Leinster title in a row by easily dismissing Cork, Roscommon and Tyrone in the Super 8s. Their only minor concern being a flat, first half performance against Mayo in the semi-final. That problem was addressed by a 15 point display of power in the 3rd Quarter to end the tie in a matter of minutes. Diarmuid Connelly and paddy andrews coming off the bench for the last couple of minutes that day was another ominous sign from a side that now dominates intercounty football.
The next best team in the country, and probably the only side to match the champions in terms of natural talent. Kerry have taken a huge step forward this year under first term manager Peter Keane. A good league campaign was followed up by a championship run which has included some excellent results along the way. A dominant victory over Mayo in Killarney was followed by a high scoring draw against Donegal and a valiant win over Meath in the Super 8s. That set up a semi-final with a tough and experienced Tyrone team. Kerry won that day with a bit in hand and they answered some legitimate questions regarding their maturity.
Expect Kerry to start fast, with Dublin taking their usual twenty minutes to figure out the opposition. The champions have so much confidence in their process that trailing in the early stages is not a matter of concern. What will be of importance in the first quarter is figuring out the man to man matchups and combatting Kerry’s plan for the Dublin kickouts.
Kerry will look to single out members of the Dublin attack for special attention. The most likely targets will be Paul Manion, Con O’Callaghan and Ciaran Kilkenny. Dublin meanwhile will look to nullify the effects of a Kerry forward line headed by the talents of Sean O’Shea, David Clifford and Paul Geaney.
Keeping Dublin’s key forwards quiet won’t be enough in itself to keep the champions below 20 points. if Kerry are to win this they will need a big score themselves, and that will have to start with winning the midfield battle, an area where Dublin are very strong. Kerry are not short in midfield either though, and it not likely to be in the head to head battles that Kerry will lose this.
In the end, the result is likely to be down to the difference in professionalism between the two counties. The Dublin process is simply operating at a higher level than anyone else’s at the moment. This reality is likely to manifest in the last 20 minutes where conditioning and depth of benches will be tested. Dublin are dominant in both areas.
Strong preference is for Dublin to win an enthralling encounter and take their place in Gaelic football history.
Dublin by 4-6 points – 7/2
Kerry/Dublin – Halftime/full time – 9/2
First Score – Kerry point from play – 5/2