All Ireland Final Preview: Dublin v Kerry

A rivalry older than time itself, Kerry and Dublin never fails to disappoint and on the 17th occasion in the decider, it is expected to be another dramatic occasion for the GAA purists.

Memories of these two facing one another are always a part of history, a rivalry deeply rooted in the DNA of both counties, when they two face one another, it’s a bruising battle of traditional footballing culture, this year will be the same.

Strangely since their dramatic 2022 Semi Final last year, these two have not squared off since, no better time than an All Ireland Final, as both teams bring their warriors into battle, hoping to be immortalised in All Ireland silver.

When these two battle, it’s always box office, memories forever follow these two, Mikey Sheehy’s quickly taken lobbed free against Paddy Cullen in 78, Stephen Cluxton’s last gasp free in the 2011 Final, Maurice Fitzgerald stunning Thurles in 2001, these two meeting always creates a magic moment, forever enshrined in this magicial sport.

Last year it was Sean O’Shea’s long distance free, on course to ending a famine of eight years where the Kingdom failed to win an All Ireland. However when these too have faced in a final, 1985 is the last time Kerry recorded a win, the Blue Machine have been all conquering since.

Dublin were defeated in the 2021 and 2022 All-Ireland semi-finals, so have that hunger to record a win, they have not been on the top step since 2020, completing their famous six in a row.

In a bid to restore order as they see it, Dublin drafted in Cluxton, Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion back to the senior fold in 2023, 24 All Ireland’s, 12 All Stars, 29 Leinster Championships combined, that’s some experience to be drafted into any team.

That’s serious additions for any team to make, they showed intent early, Cluxton being back sent social media a buzz, while Kerry have not brought anyone back from beyond the retirement grave, but have focused on young talents and experienced players to add to their squad.

Dessie Farell has welcomed them back with open arms, looking to bring back the All Ireland to Dublin, he has previously managed Dublin teams to All-Ireland victories at minor in 2012, U-21 2014 and 2017 and senior in 2020.

Farrell, no stranger to facing Kerry on the field, has yet to beat them in the Championship, he will have confidence off the back of another impressive year for the Dubs, whatever about the players he drafted back in, Pat Gilory joining the backroom team in an advisory capacity is massive.

That also caused a stir and will have no doubt play into how well and focused the Dubs have been this year, returning for a first final in three years, which having won six a row back in 2020, almost seems alien to them.

But like their counterparts down South, Gaelic Football brings a buzz to Dublin, a spirit and culture rooted across a City and County, when they play at headquarters, they bring the noise, the colour, the Hill is a tough adversary to face, they can be hostile and that plays into the Dublin ethos, Kerry faced that head on last year.

David Gough without question was the man chosen to take the whistle for Sunday’s Final, he took charge of the 2019 Final where Kerry and Dublin drew 1-16 a piece, much to the annoyance of Kerry supporters as the Meath referee was living in Dublin at the time, but he was fair and let the game develop, despite Goughgate in full swing ahead of time.

He famously also was chosen to ref the semi-final in 2016, where a late call against Kerry for a foul not awarded to the Kingdom, saw him receive abuse for his role that day, leading of course to the 2019 decider appointment causing outrage, but this year his appointment has been welcomed by all, the best in the business, his linesmen in the day will be Martin McNally from Monaghan and James Molloy from Galway. Longford’s Fergal Kelly will be on the side-line.

This game has all the same qualities and sub plots as the 2015 All Ireland Final, Kerry the Champions, Dublin looking to return to the top step and bring Sam back to the capital, from a Kerry point of view also, their route has been largely the same, a straightforward quarter-final win, a tough test in the semi-finals and now Dublin in the decider.

That Final served as the beginning of the Dubs six year reign as the Kings of Gaelic Football in Ireland, Kerry falling to them every year they faced until last year, a Dub never wants to see a Kerry team win the All Ireland against them especially on home soil, Sunday’s game will be a physical battle, the dream final, the dream rivalry, an exhibition on the hallowed turf of headquarters.

Since Mick O’Dwyer ended his reign as Kerry Bainestoir, no Kerry manager has recorded consecutive All Ireland wins, Jack O’Connor in his third spell as manager has four wins to his name, 2004, 2006, 2009 and also last year, he was also the first manager to take Kerry to three finals since O’Dwyer left, but holding Sam for another year has eluded the Dromid man before.

2004 they triumphed over Mayo, lost to Tyrone the year later, 2006 proved another success over Mayo,, despite Kerry recording wins in 2006 and 2007, O’Connor resigned at the end of 2006. His second term 2009 was fruitful, Kerry thumped Dublin on course to the All Ireland that summer, but 2010 saw Down knock them out in the quarter-finals, the 2011 decider was the last dance for O’Connor making a final as Kerry manager until last year, he departed in 2012, returning ten years later and he will want to keep the winning streak going.

But stats are all numbers and information we use to gauge these games, O’Connor will want to win on Sunday, not for the accolade of doing something others have failed to do since the great Micko, but for a Kerry way of life, this is everything to the culture of the county, no manager wants to fail and Jack is not a man looking to suffer another Final defeat to Dublin.

The Green and Gold Flags and bunting have been up since earlier in the championship, whether people watched games on their TV, Phone, Laptop or listened on the wireless, Kerry football is like a relegation to the County, a heartbeat for people, the thing we most talk about every year, but over on the hill in the horizon, a sea of Blue, the thorn in the side, a team unbeaten since 1985 in Finals against Kerry when Sam is up for grabs, these games have the nerves rattled for weeks ahead, parish priests saying mass the night before and morning off, praying the famous cup tours the area for another year.

No matter where in the world you are, whether you bleed blue, or don the green and gold, the world stops when David Gough throws the ball in for the Final on Sunday at half past three, time zones all over the globe will have different experiences of Sunday, 

For expats in Australia, New Zealand or Tokyo, it will be the early hours of the morning, the adrenaline rush fuelling the body, Dubai you can sit on the bench and enjoy the evening sun as the two battle it out, while in America or Canada, the Irish can wake up at the crack of dawn and have their day decided by 70 minutes of football, provided we do not head for extra time.

Whether you watch the game in Cape Town South Africa, Los Angeles, Vienna, Sydney, Melbourne, Tokyo, Abu Dhabi, this game can bring Irish people around the world to a stop, one of the greatest games in the sport, one of the greatest stadiums, 82500 people expected to walk around the Jones Road venue, walk through the turnstiles, wear their colours with pride and shout on their team.

This is the All Ireland Final, Kerry and Dublin, winner takes all, the Green and Gold against the Sky Blue and Navy, decades of history, decades of rivalry, all coming down to one game, once again on the calendar these two meeting for a spot in the final, the chance to be crowned All Ireland Champions, a tough one to call as to which team can come out on top, will we hear the Rose of Tralee for the second year running or will Molly Malone make her return.

Team News:

Dublin manager Dessie Farrell has named an unchanged team for Sunday’s All Ireland Final against Kerry at Croke Park.

It means that Dublin have plenty of experienced options including Ciarán Kilkenny, Jack McCaffrey, and Dean Rock as substitutes. Seán Bugler, who missed the Monaghan encounter through injury, is also included in the list of replacements.

Kerry boss Jack O’Connor has made one change for the decider, Stephen O’Brien, who contributed massively in his half time substitution in the triumph over Derry, replaces Adrian Spillane.

On the bench a respiratory issue has Tony Brosnan missing from the bench, Kilian Spillane has shaken off recent injury issues to be named in the match day 26.

Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; Eoin Murchan, Michael Fitzsimons, David Byrne; James McCarthy, John Small, Lee Gannon; Brian Fenton, Brian Howard; Paddy Small, Paul Mannion, Niall Scully; Cormac Costello, Con O’Callaghan, Colm Basquel.

Subs: Evan Comerford, Seán Bugler, Ciarán Kilkenny, Tom Lahiff, Seán McMahon, Jack McCaffrey, Ross McGarry, Cian Murphy, Daire Newcombe, Lorcan O’Dell, Dean Rock.

Kerry: Shane Ryan; Graham O’Sullivan, Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan; Paul Murphy, Tadhg Morley, Gavin White; Diarmuid O’Connor, Jack Barry; Dara Moynihan, Seán O’Shea, Stephen O’Brien; Paudie Clifford, David Clifford, Paul Geaney.

Subs: Shane Murphy; Adrian Spillane, Brian Ó Beaglaíoch, Mike Breen, Barry Dan O’Sullivan, Ruairí Murphy, Micheál Burns, Killian Spillane, Dylan Casey, Donal O’Sullivan, Ronan Buckley.

Key Matchups:

Stephen Cluxton v Shane Ryan:

Kickouts, Kickouts, Kickouts, that will be crucial to Sunday’s game plan, both keepers will need to be focused on distributing the ball into their towering midfielders, but alongside that, we have a battle of old school against new school.

41 year old Cluxton who turns 42 later this year, takes on 26 year old Shane Ryan, who is looking for another All Ireland medal and looks to be the All Star keeper this season, Cluxton revolutionised the goalkeeping role, bur Ryan his younger compatriot has been the best in the land this year.

Five clean sheets and some incredible saves at crucial moments of the game, has gotten Kerry out of some sticky situations, while he can also use his experience out the field to come out and offer a supporting role to his teammates, he also has shown his scoring exploits also!

Clucko is royalty however, down in the history as one of the greatest goalkeepers to have ever played the sport, a stretch of 13 championship clean sheets is an incredible stat, Kerry the last to find the net past him in 2019, if either of these two are not firing at full stream, it could prove an issue.

Con O’Callaghan v Jason Foley:

Cuala man Con O’Callaghan is one of the most lethal forwards in the game, but is up against one of the best full-backs in the land in Jason Foley, this going by the team selection would be the obvious choice, unless they move Con further out, he might get a new marker.

Last year the talk was all on O’Callaghan missing the semi final and that loss was felt in Dublin being defeated, he is a super talent, a player who has shone throughout the years with Dublin, 2-23 to his name so far this year, a powerful weapon to Dublin should he get space to score.

Foley meanwhile was one of the anchors in Kerry’s All Ireland winning backline from last year, an All Star he has been in the Kerry camp for numerous years to make himself the first choice name at full-back, he did a terrific man marking job on Damien Comer in the final last year, but against Derry looked a little off form, he is a physical and pacey defender, hoping to keep “King Con” off his throne.

Diarmuid O’Connor v Brian Fenton:

Winning the ball in midfield is crucial to any team, being able to play from kick outs and get fast ball into the forward line is crucial to success, will O’Connor and Fenton be on one another begs to be seen, will Kerry opt for Barry who has been a tough marker for Fenton in the past and let O’Connor move forward, both Na Gaeil men are strong additions, but O’Connor is such an incredible inclusion on all counts of his game.

His black card against Derry left the Kingdom crumbling in the middle, he is athletic and no stranger to getting scores, 1-6 to date in the championship, he is a big game player and will need to be at his best to take on someone like Brian Fenton.

Fenton is unquestionably one of the best midfielders in the business, he has been a star for Dublin since his inclusion in 2015, six All Irelands, like his side he has grown from strength to strength, another pick for an All Star, he has so much quality, this will be interesting to watch, Barry will stick to hin, but out of the two men, Fenton and O’Connor, one will have a huge part to play in an All-Ireland win.

David Clifford v Michael Fitzsimons:

Who better than the eight time All-Ireland winner to mark Clifford, an arduous task for defenders all over Ireland, since Clifford first arrived on the underage ranks to now be one of the best forwards Kerry and Ireland have seen.

The Fossa man is captain this year, looking for his second medal at this grade, he has delivered on the scoring front with 3-31 scored in the Sam Maguire this year. 5-39 in the championship in total, Clifford is a man for the big days also, he delivers well in finals and rarely shows signs of cracking under pressure.

34 years of age, Fitzsimons is back looking to add to his collection of medals and keep up his record of never losing a final, but what a task he has to subdue the Kerry captain, many have tried and many have failed, Chrissy McKaigue struggled in the semi final, but with how Dublin play, the man marking game suits him and he will lick his lips at the chance to mark Clifford, age could factor here and Kerry may exploit him at times, another massive battle to swing the game.

View from the camp:

Sitting in his chair facing the media ahead of the decider, Jack O’Connor cuts a laid back figure, a well mastered student of the game by this stage, he has plenty of mannerisms over his years of management, while he would rather be up a mountain with his dog that deal with media events, ahead of the final, he spoke abuse those memories of the past and the rivalry these two share.

In 2009 Kerry swept aside Dublin in the All-Ireland Quarter-Final, that awoke a sleeping giant, Dublin built something that came out and won the 2011 Final, while they had varied results from then until 2015, they have been involved in a decade of success, Gilory returning further adds to the script of this blockbuster final.

“We were bitterly disappointed after ’11 obviously losing an agonising final with the last kick of the game, very tough loss for us. But even in my disappointment at the time I acknowledged what an achievement it was by Pat Gilroy to bring that team back from where they were in ’09 to winning two years later.

“It was some achievement. That’s one of the reasons why Pat Gilroy has been brought back into the fold in Dublin, that they are well aware of how big a breakthrough that was in ’11. It was a snowball effect, they went from strength to strength and they became a monster then for the six in a row.”

While Jack departed the Kingdom, Dublin were becoming the top bras, dubbed almost invincible for their six in a row run, the confidence and swagger they had was testament to their success, they have momentum, something O’Connor eluded too, he knows all about the big days playing the Dubs, along with the dark cloud over the heads of not beating Dublin in finals since 1985.

“The bottom line is that winning creates an aura around a team and it creates a culture and a sense of invincibility and you win six All-Irelands in a row, and they were tested in a lot of those All-Irelands, they were really tested by Mayo in two or three of those All-Irelands and still they found a way.”

“That gives you a ferocious confidence, so there’s a confidence about Dublin, I won’t call it arrogance and an aura about that can be worth a lot. They have the whole thing with the Hill and the crowd and the atmosphere and all that.”

“Look, Kerry haven’t beaten Dublin in an All-Ireland final since 1985, that’s 38 years ago, so we’re well aware of the gigantic task that’s ahead of us.”

Asked the question about Dublin bringing back their heavy hitters, Cluxton, McCaffrey and Mannion, O’Connor certainly gave his usual colloquial answer in how important these players will be to Dublin come Sunday.

“Well, whatever about surprised it was a signal of intent, I think I said that these boys weren’t coming back for the craic. These boys were coming back to win an All-Ireland.

The likes of Cluxton and those fellas don’t come back after winning eight All-Irelands just to go through motions and say ‘arra we’ll have another go, we’ll tip away from another year.

You come back to win another All-Ireland and separate themselves from the pack of the five Kerry boys that won eight and the slew of Dublin boys who have won eight already. They want to stand out not just as the best team of all time, but also to be clearly among the best players of all time.”

One of Kerry’s Veteran players is Rathmore native Paul Murphy, Gaelic Football is a passion for the defender, two weeks after winning the All-Ireland Club Intermediate title with Rathmore, Murphy was back in League action for Kerry, while on a honeymoon in New Zealand he eagerly watched in a camper van as Rathmore were in Mallow for the provincial final win over Na Piarsaigh.

But he has been a faithful servant to Kerry since his debut year of 2014, looking to always better himself and be one of the standout names in the side, he has been a formality in the half back line for years now, he quickly swapped the red of Rathmore for his green and gold ensemble, a right of passage in his county.

“It felt great, we’d a few great days celebrating, I’d been speaking to Jack before that final and I told him that I’d be in on the Thursday. From my point of view I’d got a break from training in November/December between being away for work and being on honeymoon and things, so I wasn’t overly concerned about having been constantly training for 12 months or anything like that.”

Murphy has been a name in the side for years, but was struggling to nail down a starting role last year, spending a lot of 2022 making appearances off the bench, but he has knuckled down since and wanted to impress manager Jack O’Connor to pick him for the starting side.

“I got a bit of a break there, and from a personal point of view I was keen to try to get back in to stake a claim, and get a starting jersey in the league maybe – to try to nail down a starting position.

For the most part it was fine, towards the end of the league alright I felt a bit tired, found it a little bit of a slog, but maybe that’s because we weren’t playing particularly well.

We’d four away trips, a lot of mileage covered in the league, which contributes to that as well. I was happy enough to get straight back in, and get back into the routine of training with Kerry and stuff like that at that point.”

While he has produced some big performances, he will now once again be on the biggest stage, Kerry v Dublin, the big rivalry, the hard fought encounter that he has been on the winning side of from last year, which gave the side a boost, but he has tasted defeat to Dublin twice in All Ireland Finals.

“Whatever way you look at it, that was a huge victory for us as a group.”

“Particularly from the 2019 game, you’ve a lot of guys involved still from those finals, so for us to have beaten them in a Championship game in Croke Park, that was a big moment for us as a group, and to win a close game in Croke Park similarly was a big sort of step in our development as a group and we did that that day and we did it in the final after.

We know we can beat Dublin in a Championship game in Croke Park, last time we played them we beat them so that’s a real source of confidence for us going into the next day as well.”

Dublin are looking to end the wait for an All Ireland, the lust of silverware still calls to them, after six in a row, they are hungrier than ever to be back winning All Ireland’s Farrell as their leader, who has studied well to take this role, while he has lost games by fine margins, the Dubs boss put his own position under scrutiny, he had self doubt after back to back defeats in semi-finals, but they are now back in town.

“It doesn’t really matter what sport it is or what level it is, when you’re not successful or you lose a big game or you’re knocked out of the competition, it always provides food for thought”

Some of that can be absolutely…it dips into the area of ‘are we good enough? Am I good enough?’ Self-confidence, self-belief, self-doubt is definitely part and parcel of the narrative in any competitor’s head.

Our players are no different. Managers and coaches are no different as well. It’s a time for deep reflection.

But ultimately you have to back yourself, throw your whole self into it, rise and go again. Thankfully we’ve been able to do that this season.”

Farrell has had a big year with Dublin, they can always deliver on the day of days, the experience in their squad is frightening, welcoming back  Cluxton, McCaffrey and Mannion, they also have Ciarán Kilkenny and Dean Rock held in reserve.

A vastly experienced squad, brimming with confidence and overflowing with All Ireland medals, they have the ability and the character says Farell, a combination that has made them invincible in the past.

“They’re a special bunch of players.”

 “It’s been interesting this year, because the one thing about these lads and they’re highly decorated and have done all they’ve done in the game, but appetite is a special ingredient as well.

“While there’s a lot spoken about experience and the lads coming back and that type of thing, I think that was the most curious thing for me. The appetite and the innate hunger and desire, particularly from some of the older players.

“To their eternal credit, they’ve shown that in spades. It’s not easy to keep going year after year, going back to the well. Getting ready for pre-season, getting ready for National League games in the depth of winter.

“They managed to keep the show on the road and keep doing what they do. That can’t be easy at his (McCarthy’s) age or fellas like him. I hold the most admiration for that aspect of it.

“They’re great footballers and everything else. But the ability to continuously motivate yourself to be at your best when it matters most is remarkable.”

Sunday could be a special day for captain James McCarthy, he could walk up the steps of the Hogan Stand, claiming a ninth medal, one of only three in the squad, alongside Cluxton and Fitzsimons, who have played in eight finals and won them all.

McCarthy is a warrior, a leader, the general in this Dublin side, one of if not the best wing back in the country or midfielder if he moves to the centre of the field, he is level headed, not reading into much about a ninth win or the lack of silverware these years, he is focused solely on Sunday and the task at hand.

“I don’t complicate things in my mind. I’m pretty simple in how I go into games. I get myself in the best condition I can, focus on two or three things defensively and offensively and it helps you to perform as best you can.

A few weeks ago people were trying to retire you so things can change very quickly, If you hang your hat on that stuff it’s not going to serve you well.

I’m not going to be staying up at two o’clock at night thinking about it. It’s not going to affect my training. I’ll try to enjoy it with my team-mates around and try to get the best out of ourselves.

The reality of it is that’s what you’re going for but for me it’s an All-Ireland final that you’re going for, a big game against Kerry.They have plenty of players to be worrying about. That’s more where the focus is.”

Coming off the back of those two disappointing campaigns, Dublin more than ever have the desire and motivation to go out and win this weekend, losing in extra time to Mayo in 2021, they lost to a late Sean O’Shea free last year.

Losing games is rare for Dublin, for McCarthy losing an All Ireland final has never happened before, they must now remain focused on Kerry, not letting previous defeats upset them ahead of this showdown of showdowns, they can use that as fuel for Sunday.

“It’s ferociously disappointing to lose the All-Ireland semi-finals, especially the two we did lose when we felt we were in positions to possibly win them.

The best team always wins, that’s the way I always look at it, but we definitely had opportunities both times to possibly win the games ourselves.

So plenty of learning. But I kind of take a step back from it too because there were plenty of matches we won over the years that were so tight and we went the other side of them two games.

It’s what happens, it’s elite sport for you, there’s two serious teams going at it and that can happen, but it was hugely disappointing and it’s a huge motivation for everyone. We have another chance now in the All-Ireland final.”

What The Numbers Say:

Kerry and Dublin have met 32 times in the Championship since the foundation of the sport, 18 wins for the Kingdom, 11 for Dublin, with 3 draws. This the 17th decider between the two, Kerry winning 8, Dublin 6, while on two occasions we have had games end in a stalemate.

Dublin have played a game more this year, 7 than Kerry’s 6, but remain unbeaten in the championship, 6 wins and a draw to Kerry’s 5 wins and 1 defeat.

Clifford tops the scoring charts of the two teams, 5-39 total, 17 frees, two penalties and two marks, while O’Callaghan is Dublin’s top scorer 2-28, 7 of his scores have come from dead ball situations, frees (4) and marks (3).

Colm Basquell has netted the same amount of goals as Clifford, ranked as their second top scorer 5-16 (31 total), Sean O’Shea just pips him with 2-34 scored, his free taking bring 14 of those points with 4 45’s and 2 marks also.

Kerry had failed to beat Dublin since 2009 in the championship, until O’Shea’s free landed over the bar in last year’s final, since then it has been all Dublin, including the famous 2019 draw where they were unable to prevail.

But Dublin were pipped last year, prior to that 2011 Final triumph, it was roles reversed, 1977 the last time the Dubs had beaten the Kingdom in the Championship.

These two have storied rivalries, the number which stands out the most, 1985, the last time Kerry have beaten Dublin in a final, since then, these two have met four times in the final, 2011, 2015 and twice in 2019, three wins and a draw for the Dubs.

Will number 39 be heading to the Kingdom, or will the old foe who tormented them for the last decade, make it four unbeaten finals in a row over Kerry and land a 31st win, to maybe signal another streak and stop Kerry looking for a first consecutive All Ireland win since 2007.

Diarmuid Kearney is a freelance Sports Journalist based in Co Kerry. He has more than 5 years experience covering domestic and international soccer for different media organisations, while also working for local and national print and digital organisations covering GAA.

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