Five more days to go and the countdown to history is on…
Either Dublin are set to break even more records and become the first team to win five successive All-Ireland titles. Or Kerry are going to do to the Dubs what was done to them back in 1982 when Séamus Darby rippled the Kerry net to scupper the ‘drive-for-five’.
Jim Gavin’s side may be raging hot favourites but history clearly dictates that what they are trying to achieve has so far proved impossible. Add to that the fact that Kerry are the hunters rather than the hunted and this is one All-Ireland final not to be missed, even if you do think it’s a foregone conclusion.
Anything can happen…
In the spirit of anything can happen we’ve compiled a list of five possible match-ups that we probably won’t see this Sunday but could prove effective none the less.
Tom O’Sullivan on Con O’Callaghan
Two of the form players in 2019. Whatever the outcome on Sunday you can be sure that both these men will pick-up All-Stars come the end of the year.
O’Sullivan has been rock-solid at the back for Kerry. The Dingle defender has marked Jamie Brennan and Peter Harte to name just a few this season and has conceded 0-0 from open play.
Meanwhile, O’Callaghan has been in blistering form at full-forward for Dublin. Mayo attempted to put Lee Keegan back at full-back to nullify his threat and while it worked to some degree at the start eventually the Cuala man bagged two goals to kill the game as a contest.
O’Sullivan has proven to be a fantastic man-marker but his key strength in that department is how he uses his footballing brain and natural talent to put his marker on the back foot and drive forward. If he was to detail O’Callaghan on Sunday and have the young full-forward tracking him all the way down the field it could cause problems for Dublin.
O’Sullivan may well be tasked to shadow the in-form Paul Mannion but the Kilmacud Crokes player’s ability to chase back as well as his textbook tackling may worry Kerry too much. Tadhg Morley will probably be the man to shadow O’Callaghan all things considered.
Jonny Cooper on Seán O’Shea
Cooper has played his way back into the Dublin side and looks set to start his sixth All-Ireland final on Sunday. The Na Fianna man will probably be stationed inside where he could challenge either Paul Geaney or David Clifford.
However, Cooper has shown down through the years that he is equally adept in the half-back line. For this reason, it could transpire that he is tasked with shadowing the young Kenmare playmaker, Seán O’Shea.
O’Shea has pulled a lot of strings for Kerry in 2019 and right now, looks to be in a two-horse race with David Clifford for the Young Player of the Year award.
Given Cooper’s tendency to really play on the edge plus his experience of All-Ireland final day, it could make sense to have him detail O’Shea around HQ on Sunday. It is the young forward’s first All-Ireland final so there is sure to be nerves and if Cooper can rattle him and get under his skin then it may distract the youngster from his place-kicking duties which have been flawless all season long.
Gavin White on Brian Howard
The Kerry captain has been in and out of the side since returning to the fold following Dr Crokes’ club campaign. Peter Keane has gone horses for courses throughout the season so don’t be surprised if the Kerry skipper gets the nod for Sunday’s decider.
One Dublin player who has been a thorn in every team’s side this season is the ever-impressive Brian Howard. The Raheny man has gotten nowhere near the credit he deserves for his performances in 2019 and very few teams have thought to push somebody upon him.
Howard does tend to track back and play a sweeper/quarterback role for Dublin. He normally collects the ball deep before creating space with his trademark sidestep and setting up a Dublin score before reverting back to the middle third.
Gavin White has the size to compete with Howard in the air. He’s also got the defensive nouse to track him all over the field while also displaying blistering pace that could put the Dubliner on the back foot, something that hasn’t been done so far this season.
This weekend could be the game for Gavin White.
Philly McMahon on David Clifford
The Dublin legend has been in and out of the team this season but should come into the starting XV for Sunday’s final in place of Cian O’Sullivan.
The simple reason for this is that while Dublin possess a litany of forwards who need to be man-marked, Kerry possess similar, if not equal quality up top. O’Sullivan is not known for his ability to be a sticky man-marker, therefore, McMahon should get the nod for the final. Add to this the midfield battle and that Michael Darragh Macauley has to detail David Moran then it becomes increasingly clear that this is a game for the Ballymun Kickhams defender.
The reason behind putting the experience of McMahon on the genius of Clifford is simple. McMahon has proven himself as one of the game’s best spoilers. He’s rendered Colm Cooper null and void on All-Ireland final day while doing the same to Aidan O’Shea. He’s even had his fair share of battles with Kieran Donaghy.
Clifford is a mixture of Cooper and O’Shea in that he possesses all the skill and guile of ‘The Gooch’ matched with the size and power of the big Breaffy man. McMahon won’t give him room to breathe though and could prove to be a perfect match for Clifford on what is the biggest occasion he will have ever played in.
Stephen O’Brien on Jack McCaffrey
The likelihood of this happening is slim to none. Given the performances Stephen O’Brien has turned in this season it’s highly likely that John Small will be tasked with marking him.
It’s also highly-unlikely that Kerry will sacrifice their most consistent forward to nullify the threat of a wing-back but the threat posed by Jack McCaffrey is so big that you need to have someone man-mark him.
McCaffrey was kept relatively quiet by Patrick Durcan against Mayo and will be gunning for a big final as he was on the path to another Footballer of the Year award following an impressive provincial and Super 8s campaign.
O’Brien looks like a legitimate rival for McCaffrey when it comes to the year’s best-performing player. If he does sacrifice his own game to nullify Jack McCaffrey’s influence and it works for Kerry then he will no doubt be a shoo-in for that Footballer of the Year gong. He has the engine and the game to stick with the Clontarf man but will Kerry risk it?
Some of these match-ups might occur while others won’t, none the less, it’s always great to speculate considering the week that’s in it.
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