THERE’S NO DENYING the Dublin footballers have the edge over their great rivals Kerry.
Kerry haven’t beaten the Sky Blues in the championship since 2009, and their four straight defeats to Dublin is their worst ever run in this fixture.
Jonny Cooper and Donnchadh Walsh were at the 2017 Allianz Football League Launch in Croke Park
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
It’s a familiar feeling for Kingdom supporters. Despite reaching seven All-Ireland finals between 2002 and 2009, Kerry endured a poor record against an outstanding Tyrone team during that period.
The Red Hand defeated Kerry in two All-Ireland finals and a semi-final, as they lifted Sam Maguire on three occasions in the naughties. Kerry eventually scratched the itch in 2012 and secured a long-awaited win in the bitter rivalry, although by that stage Tyrone’s powers were on the wane.
Donnchadh Walsh, who played in the 2008 All-Ireland defeat to Tyrone in his debut season, feels catching this current Dublin side may even present a bigger challenge than taking down Mickey Harte’s men did a decade ago.
“It’s a hard one to say,” said Walsh at Monday’s Allianz Football League launch.
“It is tougher maybe. Dublin have reached this level of consistency where maybe Tyrone hadn’t.
“Tyrone would come strong for a year and they wouldn’t do so well the following year, whereas Dublin are consistently winning leagues, winning All-Irelands. So I think you would be right to say that it’s a bigger challenge for Kerry now.”
Eoin Brosnan and Ryan McMenamin battle for possession in the 2008 final
Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
Outside of Dublin, the last team to beat Kerry in the championship was Donegal in 2012. That’s a long time to be playing second fiddle to a county Kerry used to routinely beat.
“It is very easy to become obsessed with them,” Walsh admits. ”Every night you go out for training you could just totally focus on them.
“All their skill and dangerous players we know well. (Stephen) Cluxton, we have him analysed to death at this stage and he’s still producing the goods.
“They’re always going to be at the back of our minds, Dublin, 100 per cent, and they have been since we lost the semi-final to them last year.
“That’s grand, they can stay there at the back of our minds. Until they need to be at the front of our minds, that’s where they’ll stay.”
Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice and a number of players have indicated their disappointment in failing to perform in the 2015 All-Ireland final. They did show up in last year’s semi-final defeat, and had Dublin on the ropes at the end of the first-half, but ultimately fell short again.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
When he considers what needs to be done to get close the gap, Walsh suggests they could look to the physicality Mayo brought to the table last September and October.
“Mayo were phenomenal in those two games. I felt that Dublin played almost a 9/10 to beat us.
“Dublin didn’t play as well in those two All-Ireland finals and that was probably (down to) Mayo not allowing them to play as well as we allowed them. I think there’s something in how Mayo were maybe able to match them for that physicality on both days.
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“If we had that physicality, we might have brought their performance down a peg or two, but I think teams are coming up to their level. I don’t think Dublin’s level is dropping.
“Looking back at the All-Ireland semi-final (and) their ferocity in the tackle. Was it Paul Geaney that was hit early from a tackle from Cian O’Sullivan right under the Hill? It kind of set out their stall.
“They’re able to mix and match all their skills with a ferocity (and) a strength in their tackle. Obviously (with) Peter Crowley getting hit late in the game, they kept that intensity up for the 70 minutes. So that’s one thing that we absolutely need to match them at.”
Keeping tabs with Dublin down the stretch is another issue Kerry must contend with. Dublin have outscored their Munster rivals by 3-17 to 0-8 combined in the last ten minutes of their previous four championship meetings.
“Because we have such a strong panel we believe that we should have as strong a team finishing a game as starting a game. It is something we’re looking at that we want to (rectify).
Donnchadh Walsh celebrates winning a free against Dublin
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
“We should be finishing the game a lot stronger. Dublin seem to have that. They’re able to make changes, they’re bringing on substitutes to impact more on the game than what we’ve been able to do.”
Kerry waved goodbye to defenders Marc O Sé and Aidan O’Mahony since their latest loss to the Dubs, but Walsh, 32, wasn’t tempted to follow them into retirement.
“As long as the body feels good I’ll keep going.
“I made my championship debut in 2008, so I didn’t come in straight off of minors and under-21s. Maybe I haven’t as much mileage or years playing senior inter-county.
“I know coming from a physio background the strength and conditioning side of things and how best to look after my body when I’m not on the field.
“I know it looks like I’d be doing a lot of mileage but it’s all about smart running now rather than trying to put up miles on the clock.”
When Walsh first broke into the Kerry team it was Tyrone who denied them a three-in-a-row. Now, nearing the twilight of his career, the roles have changed.
Dublin have become the beast that needs taming.
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