Talk to a certain generation of Kerry footballers and they will tell you one of their sweetest All-Ireland wins was in 1984. After losing the five-in-a-row to Offaly in 1982, then losing to Cork the following year, to come back and win it again 1984 meant an awful lot.
Nothing to prove to anyone other than themselves.
Which is where I see the Dublin football team coming into this championship right now. I think Dublin trained very hard throughout the league, all with the view of the championship in mind, and that is why I think they will be the team to beat. They strike me as the team best prepared to go the distance.
Yes, ahead of Kerry.
Dublin made a habit of winning All-Irelands back to back, but that was not normal. The rule is it’s very, very difficult to win back to back titles. To do so you generally have to be 25 per cent better than the previous year.
Kerry haven’t really found any new players in the league that you could see bringing some of that extra 25 per cent. Dublin definitely have more depth in my opinion.
If anything happens to David Clifford, or Paudie Clifford, or Seanie O’Shea, Kerry couldn’t do without them. I think David Moran is going to be a big loss as well. If you look back at Kerry’s league, the midfield matter hasn’t really been resolved, and that’s a big deal. Jack Barry hasn’t quite stood up, and Barry O’Sullivan has done adequate without shooting the lights out.
With Dessie Farrell getting Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion back, Dublin are a different prospect again. Whatever about Stephen Cluxton, which is a bit like getting the old band getting back together, getting McCaffrey and Mannion back is a big move.
Sometimes, in the past, such decisions have proven to be mistakes. But you could see from the couple of games that McCaffrey has played that he still has that electric pace, and that’s a great asset to any team. He’s a once-in-a-generation player, and to have him back on board is a big, big plus for Dublin.
Whether it came from the management or the players’ side, it doesn’t matter. We had it in Kerry before, when Jack O’Connor brought back the likes of Mike McCarthy in 2009. No matter what manager you are, you’ll pull out stops to get your best players back.
Seamus Moynihan always said to me that once he thought he could bring even one, two or three per cent, then it’s a contribution worth making.
Even if they’re only there in the dressingroom, players looking around and seeing McCaffrey and Mannion, of course that’s going to give you a lift. It also keeps a lot more players on their toes, brings back a little more feeling of invincibility, just seeing these guys back in here. That goes down the line right through the team.
I can’t overstate what a player like McCaffrey brings to a team. He’s one of the few backs who can turn a game on its head with his pace. He’s that good. So I didn’t see it in any way harmful to bring these two back in. If they’re willing and able, and there for the right reasons, it’s a cracking move.
The Cluxton one I’m still trying to figure out. It’s not that it doesn’t sit right – and I’ve said enough times before that he’s one of the greatest of all time – but him coming back in at this stage might just be too much of a reach. He could prove me wrong.
Factor in as well the fact that Dublin, being in Division Two, probably played a lot of their league games after training very hard during the week. I’d say they played 70 per cent of their league games like that. They won out Division Two as well, very much with one eye on the championship.
They were formidable enough coming in this year. Now, with the players they’ve got back, I think they’re definitely the head of the pack again.
When Kerry last won back to back, in 2006/07, they had a very strong panel. Look back at some of our subs at the time: Bryan Sheehan, Eoin Brosnan, Darran O’Sullivan, Éamonn Fitzmaurice at times on the bench too, players of that quality; and McCarthy coming back in.
Moran was just coming on the scene too. So that’s really what wins back to back, the quality of players on the bench, and I just don’t think Kerry have that depth at the moment. Kerry fell over the line in too many of their league games, and in my opinion they are just too similar to last year. They don’t seem to have anything new to offer.
As long as you have fit David Clifford, anything can happen. And they’re not All-Ireland champions without good reason.
Another thing about trying to win back to back. You’re not going to get the same calls again, referees are going to be tougher on you, whether you believe that or not. That was seen in Kerry’s league game against Tyrone, David Clifford is not going to get the same type protection this year.
It’s nothing conscious, it’s just the natural thing, David won’t be getting the frees as easily as he did last year. Things don’t always bounce the same way as they did before.
I remember in 2006, for Kerry, it was like watching Constitution Hill just jumping and pinging the hurdles. Then in 2007, you were hitting the likes of Monaghan in the quarter-final, scrapping just to get over the line. Decisions are going against you. They’re the challenges you seem to face the second time around.
It’s not even a hunger thing. I know Dublin are very savvy when it comes to the media side of things, but one thing I’ve noticed among the established players – and they’re not making any secret of it – is that desire to win another All-Ireland. Some of that team have seven or eight All-Irelands, but even after all they’ve won, to win another would be great.
So if you want my podium order now I’d put Dublin first, Galway second, and Kerry third. Then maybe Mayo in fourth.
Kerry’s run-in will suit them, especially with Cork out of the way. I actually expected Cork might put something up to Kerry in Munster this year. That’s not the case now.
Kerry are training accordingly too. They were away training last week in Portugal with a view to what’s coming down the tracks later in the summer. If, say, they were playing Cork this weekend, they wouldn’t have gone away to train. They’ll play out the Munster championship, but really won’t be hopping off the ground until they get into that round-robin championship.
In fairness, the championship has started off on a positive note. Monaghan and Tyrone at the weekend was a game that had everything. Both teams had played poorly enough in the league, Monaghan more so than Tyrone, and beforehand you wouldn’t have given the game much hope. In the past they’ve been dour and dogged affairs with a bit of history there.
You had to be impressed with the attitude of both teams. They went out to play football, with the bit of freedom, nothing like as negative you might have expected. The winning goal by Ryan O’Toole wrapped it up in style for Monaghan. A real go-for-it goal, on the floor and a great finish. As a spectacle, I really enjoyed it.
A lot of people are still sceptical about the condensed championship format, the GAA traditional doesn’t like change. Last year you might say there were only a few standout games, the Dublin-Kerry game obviously, the final against Galway was a cracking game as well.
Realistically though, looking at the provincial championship I think it is in trouble. If you look at look at Division One and Two of the league, you’re probably getting more quality games there than in the provincial championship. Especially some of the one-sided games. The Derry-Fermanagh game was one of those, no real bite to it. If you look back at some of the Division One or Two games this year, they were a better version of the championship as such.
Looking ahead I think Mayo will still give it a run. They’ve a great level of fitness, a team with a huge engine, were kicking some great scores through the league, just got that little bit stuck against Roscommon. They still have that energy, Tommy Conroy and Jack Carney playing well, and Aidan O’Shea still bringing a lot to the team – a selfless player who is still underrated by many in my opinion.
Galway ran them very close in the league final, and have found a few new players this year, so I’d still put them a little bit ahead of Mayo.
And as good as Monaghan were, I think Tyrone will be more of a threat at the business end of the championship. Too many of their players were off-form on Sunday, but they haven’t gone away. I don’t think the Ulster championship was a priority for them.
In Ulster, after that, Donegal are in free fall at the moment, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Michael Murphy stepping away was the first telltale sign that something wasn’t right. We’re talking about Dessie Farrell bringing back players like McCaffrey and Mannion. But whatever Donegal were doing, Michael Murphy could not be let go. He would not have walked away under any normal laboratory conditions.
There’s excitement on the horizon though. Kerry and Dublin will both pull through comfortably this weekend, but we won’t really see where they are at. There’s no question now the Leinster and Munster championship is a foregone conclusion. The question is what happens after that.