All week long we’ve been speaking to some of the stars of the inter-county game to get their thoughts on tomorrow’s All-Ireland football final involving Dublin and Kerry.
Dublin are attempting to achieve and unprecedented fifth successive title while Kerry look to stop Jim Gavin’s side and extend their place atop the roll of honour with 38 titles.
We also asked these current players for their thoughts on the current talking points around Gaelic football.
Here are the thoughts of Michael Quinlivan, Rory Grugan, Emlyn Mulligan and Mickey Burke.
1) Who will be Dublin’s key man on Sunday and why?
Michael Quinlivan: James McCarthy – It will either be him or John Small who will pick up Stephen O’Brien. If they can get on top against Kerry’s key man and make him retreat with those hard runs from the half-back line then it’s a big step towards victory.
Rory Grugan: Dublin have lots of danger men but for me, the key man is Brian Fenton. He plays a huge role in setting up attacks, winning his own kick-outs and pressing the opposition. Can score goals and points of both feet. He has it all.
Emlyn Mulligan: Dublin defenders will need a few big performances but for me, I think Con O’Callaghan. He is so direct in his play, his movement along with his power, he will cause the Kerry full-back line a lot of problems. His first touch is top class too which makes it very hard for any defender. I think he has the potential to cause havoc on Sunday.
Mickey Burke: If I was asked this question a couple of years ago I would have said James McCarthy or Ciarán Kilkenny straight away, two of Jim Gavin’s on-field lieutenants. But this year I’ll say, Paul Mannion, he has carried his club form from last year into the 2019 season and is now one of Dublin’s leaders.
2) Who will be Kerry’s key man on Sunday and why?
MQ: Adrian Spillane/Jack Barry – Basically whoever is detailed to pick up Brian Fenton from Kerry’s midfield. I think it will be a job Adrian Spillane will have from the start with Jack Barry having a role later in the game. If Kerry are to have any chance they will have to negate Fenton’s influence in the air and driving through the middle.
RG: Lots of attention will go to Clifford, but one of Kerry’s main leaders is Stephen O’Brien. He takes the game to the opposition, wins frees, and chips in with big scores. If Kerry manage to win, he’ll be Footballer Of The Year.
EM: David Moran. If he can disrupt the influence of Brian Fenton it will go along way to keeping Kerry in this game. Moran is a phenomenal athlete, super fielder of the ball and a brilliant kick passer of the ball. He’s the real leader of this team and he needs to step up more than ever which I believe he can.
MB: David Moran. Kerry will need their big midfielder to play really well and provide inspiration if they are to be in with a chance. He will be needed to win primary possession around the middle, use his array of foot passing to unlock the Dubs defence and chip in with a long-distance score or two.
3) Prediction time – Who’s going to win Sam Maguire?
MQ: Dublin by seven.
RG: As a neutral, I hope the tradition of the two teams and the pressure of five-in-a-row will make it into a close game right up until the end, but I can’t look past Dublin. Dublin by six.
EM: Dublin by seven or eight points.
MB: There’s no real logic to say anything but a Dublin win. However, in one-off games, anything can happen.
Sport is littered with great upsets.
- No one expected Offaly to beat Kerry in 1982.
- No one expected Buster Douglas to knock out the baddest man on the planet, Mike Tyson, to win the World Heavyweight Championship.
- No one expected Wimbledon to beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final.
It’s the reason we watch sport. In saying all this, though, it’s hard to look past a Dublin win.
4) Who’s your Footballer of the Year and Young Footballer of the Year?
MQ: It will depend on who has a good final really, any one of Fenton, O’Callaghan, Mannion or, on the Kerry side, O’Brien or Clifford. Clifford or Sean O’Shea will lead the way in the Young Footballer of the Year, though, Rian O’Neill deserves a huge mention here too.
RG: Footballer of the Year – Brian Fenton or Con O’Callaghan (if he has a big final). Young Footballer of the Year – Sean O’Shea.
EM: I think after the final whistle blows on Sunday, Footballer of the Year will be Con O’Callaghan with David Clifford Young Footballer of the Year.
MB: Cathal McShane, Stephen O’Brien and my own teammate Dónal Keogan have all given outstanding individual performances this season. But I’ll go with Paul Mannion, I marked him in the 2013 Leinster Final but since then he’s added so many layers to his game. He’s kicking points now off both feet, he’s got physically stronger and is one of the most underrated tacklers in the game.
Young Player of the Year is very difficult to choose. Con O’Callaghan and David Clifford could well take home both awards but given the league campaign he had and how he’s carried that through and performed in the championship I’m going to go with Seán O’Shea.
5) What is your moment of the year?
MQ: Tipp beating Kilkenny by 14 points in an All-Ireland Hurling final. No comparison.
RG: James Carr’s goal against Mayo in the Gaelic Grounds.
EM: Moment of the year for me was Leitrim getting promoted from Division 4 and getting the opportunity to play in Croker Park. Also to see Tom Parsons wearing the green and red of Mayo again. A huge achievement after what he went through.
MB: I think it warmed the whole country seeing Tom Parsons return to play with Mayo this year. I broke my leg in both places and damaged knee ligaments (2010), so I know how many lonely hours of tedious physio Tom would have had to put in, especially on those dark nights when nobody is watching.
It takes unbelievable dedication, commitment and drive to be back playing in little over a year at that level.
6) Two years down, one to go in the Super 8s! Do you think they’ve been a success and are there any changes you would make?
MQ: The key success of the Super 8s so far has been the wonderful games at provincial venues with brilliant atmospheres (Mayo Vs Donegal in 2019, Kerry Vs Monaghan in 2018). But ultimately it hasn’t fixed the problem of the unequal amounts of teams playing at provincial level. It may be the first draft of change though, through which we might find the right structure.
RG: The first year was fairly disappointing, but they’ve improved slightly this year with the provincial winners getting a home game first and a few big games in round two.
It’s also madness that one team gets to play two games at their home ground. For next year, Dublin’s ‘Croke Park/Neutral’ game should be played at an actual neutral venue.
Also, the nature of a round-robin is that there is the potential for dead rubbers, and that’s what most people didn’t like this year, especially Dublin vs Tyrone in Omagh. Any competition structure that goes from knock out to round-robin back to knock out is wrong in my book.
EM: A few changes needed, firstly take the group stage games out of Croke Park.
The two teams that win both their first games should play each other in round two, likewise the two losers. This should get rid of any dead rubber games.
There has to be a two-week break between the last round of group games and the semi-final.
MB: Overall, probably not. There are too many dead rubber games, the concept needs a slight bit of tweaking. All games need to be competitive.
7) The talk of a tiered-championship is constantly bubbling below the surface. Do you think it is the way forward? Any changes to the current structure you’d personally like to see?
MQ: I’m not so sure, it has its merits if it’s promoted properly, but previous history (The Tommy Murphy Cup) has shown that if players are cast aside then it won’t be a success. It would make sense to form a working group of people from teams who would historically have been in the second tier and see what their solutions might be, as all the decisions seem to be top-down rather than bottom-up.
RG: I would like to see a total overhaul, as opposed to small changes every couple of years.
Play the national league at the start of the year (no pre-season competitions). The provincials will most likely be retained, so run them off quicker and grant the winners some form of seeding for the All-Ireland Championship in the summer.
For the championship, I believe every team needs to have the possibility of playing for Sam Maguire initially if people are going to give the massive commitment. This could be done in a round-robin format, and then go into a tiered A and B straight knockout championship. One thing is for sure in the GAA, you’ll never please everyone!
EM: I think the Champions League format is the best approach, groups of four with a team from each division in each group.
Top two in each group through to last 16, bottom two into another competition. Both finals on the one day in September. Holidays/All-Stars for both competitions to keep teams interested.
MB: Yes! We need to develop the game in every county. The two-tiered championship needs to be promoted and marketed properly by the GAA. It cannot just be lip service. It needs to be named properly for e.g. The Páidí Ó Sé Cup. The final needs to be on before a big game in Croke Park and on TV. Also, there has to be a carrot for winning it like re-entering the All-Ireland race.
Traditionally the GAA are slow to move and don’t do change easily. I’d leave the provincials as is, they are part of our fabric. I think a two-tiered championship is so important, two games for a county in the championship is not enough for the so-called weaker counties to develop. I would love a Champions League-style format of 6 teams where every county is guaranteed 5 games every summer, but this won’t happen.