Two years ago, ten Kerry players who are picked to play against Dublin in this afternoon’s All-Ireland senior football semi-final started in the final victory over Donegal at Croke Park.
The other five – Marc Ó Sé, Aidan O’Mahony, Fionn Fitzgerald, Anthony Maher and Anthony Maher – are on the bench today and still very much involved.
Colm Cooper missed the 2014 season through injury and if he had been fit, we could probably assume that the number of starting survivors from two years ago would total eleven.
You can look at this in one of two ways. One, manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s loyalty to long-serving players is to be admired or two, that aforementioned loyalty is the rock he will perish on.
Two years isn’t that long in relative terms but when you’re in the business of evolution and trying to shake the Dublin monkey off your back, it’s a virtual lifetime. Startled earwigs no more, Dublin have Kerry’s number and what’s more, both counties know it.
Dublin’s recent rate of flux isn’t that much different but they’re the champions and have still managed to freshen things up along the way.
Michael Fitzsimons, Michael Darragh MacAuley, Cormac Costello, Alan Brogan and Eoghan O’Gara all started the semi-final defeat to Donegal in 2014.
Brogan’s retired but the other four won’t start today. Rory O’Carroll and Jack McCaffrey are absent too, of their own volition, but it’s fair to say that in the two years since, Dublin have improved more than Kerry have.
If the definition of insanity applies to Kerry, doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results, well then it certainly applies to them when it comes to taking on Dublin.
New blood has been infused in a defensive sense with the introductions of Mark Griffin, Brian Ó Beaglaoich and Tadhg Morley but from midfield up, it’s still many of the same familiar faces.
Why, suddenly, will some of these guys be good enough to beat Dublin when they weren’t in 2011, 2013 and 2015, and when they lost by 11 points as recently as April in a League final?
From midfield up, the Kerry team contains three players the wrong side of 30.
Dublin have 35-year-old Denis Bastick in the middle of the field, Bernard Brogan is 32 and while Paul Flynn is 30, he only reached that milestone in July.
Dublin’s attacking unit screams energy, pace and scoring power but Kerry’s has far more question marks hovering over it.
Can 33-year-old Colm Cooper recreate some of the old magic in a high-octane environment? Not impossible but debatable. At 32 years of age, can Donnchadh Walsh’s legs get him around the pitch like they used to? Further back, at midfield, is there 70 minutes in Kieran Donaghy, who’s also 33? Will he even start there or be utilised at full-forward? While we’re at it, we’d be amazed if both teams line out as selected.
Dublin may be without Rory O’Carroll and Jack McCaffrey from last year’s All-Ireland winning team but they’ve still moved on. Alan Brogan retired after last year and Kerry’s Paul Galvin followed suit but in Galvin’s case, he’d come out of retirement before retiring again, if you follow.
Incidentally, what kind of message did it send out to aspiring younger players when Galvin, who was 35 at the time, was welcomed back into the Kerry fold with open arms?
Taking the case of the Tipperary hurlers as a comparison, when Michael Ryan took charge last year, he realised that what had happened in previous seasons was good, but not good enough.
And so four players – Conor O’Mahony, Lar Corbett, James Woodlock and Shane McGrath – retired. The feeling on the ground was that they were given the choice to retire themselves, in the knowledge that they were surplus to requirements.
A bit like Kerry chasing Dublin, Ryan realised that a new, fresh approach was required to bridge the gap between Tipp and Kilkenny.
Given the service they’d given to their county; it was right that those players had the opportunity to announce their retirements themselves but it doesn’t appear that any tough conversations took place in Kerry over the winter months.
And so, in Kerry’s case, it’s ‘once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.’ The big fear for the Kingdom is that it’s once too many, when that needn’t have been the case. Bar the odd exception, it’s very much a young man’s game and today, Dublin will look to emphasise that point.
Jackie Cahill, Pundit Arena