Shane Stapleton previews the All Ireland SFC final with Dublin facing Kerry at Croke Park.
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A curious quirk of the famed Dublin-Kerry rivalry is that the latter county has not beaten the former in an All-Ireland final since 1985.
To older folk, that game 38 years ago was obviously neither today nor yesterday, but it is galling to think that one of the two managers and both captains are no longer with us.
Kevin Heffernan and Brian Mullins on the Sky Blue side, along with Páidí Ó Sé of the Green and Gold, have all passed away and who could have believed none would again see Kerry beat Dublin on the biggest day.
Interestingly, the morning of that final, the Kingdom footballers and manager Mick O’Dwyer appeared in an advertisement on the Sunday papers stripped off for a photo beside a Bendix washing machine, raising £5,000 for the team’s holiday fund.
That caused a ruckus at the time due to the GAA’s strict policy around its amateur status, and of course it is something still being wrestled with to this day.
The teams have met in 16 finals with an 8-7 advantage in Kerry’s favour and one draw, meaning this is a chance for The Dubs to level matters.
The Munster side have a 38-30 lead when it comes to All-Ireland titles over the years, and it is amazing to think that there were 14 crowns between them just a dozen years ago. While we began focusing on how the Kingdom are waiting generations for a final win over Dublin, back in 2011 the Dubs beat their old rivals in a decider for the first time in 35 years.
It’s amazing how these storied foes could have such famines against each other on the big day but such is life, and it will be of little concern to the gamut of star players lining out on Sunday.
David Clifford is the headline act of the GAA, and in last year’s final delivered a virtuoso display culminating in maiden All-Ireland and a Footballer of the Year wins.
Should he shoot the lights out at Croke Park, he will likely retain both. Never in the history of Gaelic football has holding a forward to five points from play been seen as a good day’s work by a defender and a defence, but such are his talents.
While Clifford duked it out with Shane Walsh of Galway this time last year in their video game-esque bout, it may well be Con O’Callaghan entering the game as player two on Sunday.
The Cuala man couldn’t partake in last year’s epic semi-final clash due to injury, and his return along with the presence of the Prodigal trio — Paul Mannion, Jack McCaffrey and Stephen Cluxton — suggest that this is a stronger Dubs unit.
Calling a spade a spade, Kerry should have been out of sight during the first half of that game, and it took a magnificent goal from Cormac Costello to revive Dublin’s chances.
Dark arts from then goalkeeper Evan Comerford and the slowing down of the game while John Small sat in the sin bin also changed proceedings, in the midst of which Kerry missed a penalty.
Because of what happened in 2022, this game should be a tetchy affair. The Dubs will have a chip on their shoulder, Kerry will want to prove that they were not simply soldiers of fortune against a weakened rival, and of course there’s the Sam Maguire Cup at stake.
In a rivalry rich in history, there’s also the matter of James Mccarthy, Mick Fitzsimons and Cluxton overtaking Pat Spillane and Co by winning their ninth All-Ireland SFC title.
When Tomás Ó Sé handed the ball to the iconic goalkeeper before he kicked the winning score in the 2011 final, little did the wing-back realise he was also handing over the baton as standard-bearers.
His uncle Páidí is another of those set to be overtaken by this Dublin three, and that surely can’t sit well with Jack O’Connor’s troops. Should they go down, it must be with a fight.
If Dublin jump the fence to victory, it may well be the bench that carries the blue wave into shore. Substitutes Ciaran Kilkenny, Jack McCaffrey and Dean Rock understand the pressure of big moments, and each have delivered when it has mattered most.
For the game to be level at half-time and Dublin to win, it is a tasty 16/1, while in 70 minutes it is 3/1 if you fancy Dessie Farrell to collect his second All-Ireland as manager.
Clifford is 9/2 for the first goal, though it must be noted that he is facing a side that has conceded only two goals in their eight championship games this year. In fact, Kerry have not been breached in five of their seven outings, so it’s worth pointing out that it is 5/1 for no green flag.
David Gough of Meath takes charge of an All-Ireland senior final for the second time, with his first appointment being that drawn clash between these teams four years ago. If you see this as an omen for what promises to be a tight game, you’ll get that outcome at 7/1.
No matter who comes out on top and how it happens, this should be one for the ages. Whenever Dublin and Kerry meet, it is just that.