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SHOWTIME: Kerry and Dublin ready to rock Croke Park

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by Adam Moynihan

All-Ireland Football Final

Kerry v Dublin

Sunday at 3.30pm

Croke Park

(Live on RTÉ 2 from 2.30pm)

Some of the most famous rock musicians in the world have played in Croke Park. U2, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones, to name but a few.

This week, hundreds of thousands of people queued online for hours on end, trying (and in most cases failing) to get tickets for Coldplay’s upcoming gigs at GAA headquarters.

Hosting concerts is a major source of income for the Association and it’s wonderful to see these global superstars performing in our nation’s most iconic stadium. But with all due respect to Bono and the Boss and Jagger and Chris Martin, none of them will ever rock Croke Park like Dublin and Kerry do.

The deafening noise at 3.29pm on Sunday beats all their biggest hits. That jumbled up chorus of 'Come on Kerry!' and 'Come on Dublin!' between Amhrán na bhFiann and throw-in is sweeter than Sweetest Thing, more glorious than Glory Days, more satisfying than Satisfaction, and more paradisiacal than Paradise.

The game’s greatest rivals on the main stage in the All-Ireland final. Music to our ears.

BACK TOGETHER

If you’ll bear with the musical metaphors for just a little longer, Dublin really got the band back together for 2023. Stephen Cluxton, Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion, all preposterously decorated players, returned to the panel after some time away. To paraphrase Kerry manager Jack O’Connor, they didn’t come back to make up the numbers.

After coming up short in 2021 and 2022, the Dubs are hungry for another All-Ireland. It would be a flamboyant exclamation point at end of some of their careers, most notably for Cluxton, James McCarthy and Mick Fitzsimons, all of whom are seeking a record-breaking ninth Celtic Cross.

For others, like Con O’Callaghan and Brian Fenton, it would be a communiqué to the rest of the country that they haven’t gone away, and that they’re not going anywhere any time soon.

ARC

Kerry, meanwhile, are at a very different point on their developmental arc. Having secured what was, for the vast majority of the panel, a first All-Ireland last year, they are now hoping to show us they are no one-hit wonders.

In David Clifford they have the sport’s undisputed superstar, a young man who has been in impressive form since around 2004. He was born in 1999.

If Kerry do manage to beat Dublin and go back-to-back, he will go back-to-back with Footballer of the Year awards, there is zero doubt about that.

Jack O’Connor has made one change to his starting line-up ahead of Sunday’s final. Stephen O’Brien played a starring role when he was introduced after half-time in the semi-final win over Derry, and he has been rewarded with the No. 12 jersey. He replaces Adrian Spillane, who drops to the bench.

As for the replacements, Tony Brosnan has sadly been ruled out due to the recurrence of a respiratory issue, but the return of Killian Spillane (ankle) is a boost. The Templenoe sharpshooter scored a goal against Dublin in the drawn 2019 final. Remarkably, Cluxton hasn’t conceded a goal in the championship since.

Listry and East Kerry midfielder Ronan Buckley has also been inserted into the 26.

KERRY TEAM

1. Shane Ryan

2. Graham O’Sullivan

3. Jason Foley

4. Tom O’Sullivan

5. Paul Murphy

6. Tadhg Morley

7. Gavin White

8. Diarmuid O’Connor

9. Jack Barry

10. Dara Moynihan

11. Seánie O’Shea

12. Stephen O’Brien

13. Paudie Clifford

14. David Clifford (captain)

15. Paul Geaney

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

Several high-profile pundits reckon Dublin boss Dessie Farrell should recall talismanic half forward Ciarán Kilkenny to the first 15 but the Castleknock man will start on the bench (that’s if the the official team released on Friday morning is to be believed).

Joining Kilkenny amongst the substitutes is Seán Bugler, who missed the semi-final with a calf injury.

The personnel in Farrell’s starting line-up remain unchanged.

DUBLIN TEAM

1. Stephen Cluxton

2. Eoin Murchan

3. Michael Fitzsimons

4. David Byrne

5. James McCarthy (captain)

6. John Small

7. Lee Gannon

8. Brian Fenton

9. Brian Howard

10. Paddy Small

11. Paul Mannion

12. Niall Scully

13. Cormac Costello

14. Con O’Callaghan

15. 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.

VERDICT

Dublin will provide Kerry with their toughest test to date and their strength in depth is a definite advantage.

However, Kerry have developed a knack of getting over the line in close games and in David Clifford they have a certified match-winner.

Kerry to prevail by a point, or maybe two.

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Kerry will need more intensity, more physicality and more collaboration to bounce back from Dub drubbing

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by Adam Moynihan

In the 22nd minute of last Saturday night’s league match in Croke Park, Lee Gannon collected a pass on his own 65 and carried the ball unchallenged right into the heart of Kerry’s defence. Brian Fenton took over and a tackle by Diarmuid O’Connor slowed the attack.

Then Fenton looked up and saw that Niall Scully was standing at the top of the D, completely unmarked. It was a simple five-metre handpass to the centre, and Scully had all the time in the world to steady himself and shoot. His point made it Dublin 2-8 Kerry 0-5. Ten shots for Dublin. Ten scores. One-way traffic.

The Dubs deserve credit for their accuracy in front of the posts – Con O’Callaghan was particularly excellent – but the ease with which they were creating their openings was startling from a Kerry perspective. For Scully’s score, the resistance was non-existent. If the same thing happened in a training match, the manager would be well within his rights to call off the session and send everyone home.

The cameras may have been trained on Kerry’s full back line and, yes, Jason Foley and Dylan Casey were struggling against O’Callaghan and Paddy Small, but Kerry were found wanting all over the pitch. You could have sailed the Titanic down the centre of their defence and O’Callaghan exploited that space to great effect for his third goal. Foley got hoodwinked by a lovely piece of movement by the Dublin full forward, but where was the help?

Centre back Tadhg Morley was pushing up on Dublin dangerman Seán Bugler but that’s the thing with Dublin: all their forwards are dangerous in one way or another. Maybe Tadhg was following instructions but you wonder if he could have cheated off Bugler when the all-action centre forward was outside the 45.

Whether it’s Morley or someone else, that gap in front of the goal needs to be filled – especially against teams of Dublin’s calibre.

What we saw in Croke Park last Saturday was a far cry from the solid defensive structure that won Kerry an All-Ireland in 2022, that’s for sure. You can be certain that Jack O’Connor will be demanding a far more intense, more physical and more collaborative performance against Tyrone on Sunday (1.15pm).

KICKOUTS

Speaking after the Dublin game, O’Connor said that his side “malfunctioned” on the kickouts. While Dublin keeper David O’Hanlon was firing out his kicks like a machine gun, Shane Ryan was far more measured with his. Dublin’s press was brilliant in fairness to them but you’d have to question Kerry’s appetite for making honest, hard runs and receiving the ball in potentially tight areas.

Graham O’Sullivan and Brian Ó Beaglaoich (who is currently injured) are outstanding when it comes to breaking free and accepting that responsibility. You’d like to see one or two more backs getting in on the act.

As for Ryan himself, could he be a bit quicker and a bit more adventurous with his distribution? Look, if there’s nothing on, there’s nothing on, but I think at times he could back himself more resolutely. He has the range and the accuracy.

Of course, if he takes a risk and it gets intercepted he’ll be in line for even sharper criticism, so you can understand him being cautious when the kick isn’t 100% on.

Whatever the solution, on the evidence of the Dublin and Derry games, Kerry do need to try something a bit different to beat the press. Tyrone are unlikely to be as aggressive as Dublin were but when they do push up, it will be fascinating to see how Kerry deal with it.

Kerry’s midfielders also need to compete aerially against whoever they’re up against when it goes long – even if that’s Brian Fenton or Conor Glass or Brendan Rogers. It’s not easy to get the better of these guys in the air (or to break even, which would do) but that’s the level required.

Joe O’Connor showed that his ball skills have improved markedly by taking his goal and his point so cleanly, and he is doing well in general, but he and his namesake Diarmuid will have to be more impactful both from kickouts and without the ball if Kerry want to be a real force this season.

Personally, I would like to see Seán O’Brien getting some more game time. He has only played six minutes since being taken off early on his debut against Derry five weeks ago. Kerry will need back-up at midfield as the season goes on and O’Brien has a lot of potential.

FORWARDS

Up front, the main positive is that Cillian Burke continues to make his presence felt. Even when his more experienced teammates were faltering the last night, Burke stood tall and played his usual game. And he swung over a great score for good measure.

David Clifford will be disappointed that he didn’t convert one of his goal chances – the first one was definitely there for the taking – but you know that over the course of the season he’ll finish more of those than he misses. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if he comes out and strokes one in on Sunday.

It’s nice to see Tony Brosnan back on the pitch as well. He deserves some kind fortune following a tough spell with illness and injury.

Tyrone coming to Killarney gives the players the perfect opportunity to bounce back quickly and show supporters – and themselves – that the Dublin game was a glitch and nothing more. Improvements are needed all over the pitch but the sight of the Red Hand should bring focus and resolve.

A good performance, a win and two points would put a lot of minds at ease.

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Killarney girls will answer Ireland’s call

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A trio of talented young Killarney rugby players have been called up to the Ireland U18 squad for the upcoming Six Nations festival in Wales.

Ava O’Malley, Fia Whelan and Emma Dunican have all been included in Matt Gill’s panel for the tournament, which will take place between March 29 and April 6. They will link up with their new teammates for three weekend training camps at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin during the month of March.

Gill, the current Women’s Provincial Talent Coach for Leinster, will be assisted by Sana Govender, who has previously coached Munster Women’s teams.

“I’m really looking forward to continuing our Irish U18 Women’s Six Nations preparations and getting our camps underway,” the head coach said. “I’m excited to work with Sana and our management team, and to work with this incredibly talented group of players.”

O’Malley, Whelan and Dunican are products of Killarney RFC’s blossoming youth set-up and all three were on the U18.5 team that recently won the Munster League.

Including the Killarney girls, there are seven Munster-based players on the 35-woman squad with 15 hailing from Leinster, eight from Connacht and five from Ulster.

“It’s a very proud day for the girls, their families, teammates and coaches, and for Killarney RFC,” the club commented. “Best of luck, girls!”

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