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Dublin: 6 °C Monday 17 December, 2018

6 talking points ahead of Dublin and Kerry's All-Ireland senior football final

The scene is set for another titanic collision between the game’s age-old rivals.

1. Will this be a game for the purists?

Leo McLoone with Johnny Buckley and Stephen O'Brien Last year's Donegal-Kerry final was tense but generally poor fare for neutrals. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Last year’s final between Donegal and Kerry was a turgid affair but with plenty of attacking class on show, the hope today is for an open game of football.

Don’t underestimate the defensive tactical nous of managers Jim Gavin and Eamonn Fitzmaurice, however.

Kerry showed that they can defend, and defend well, last September and there’s a steely streak in the Kingdom that ensures they can batten down the hatches when required.

Kieran Donaghy chats with Eamon Fitzmaurice Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice with skipper Kieran Donaghy. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Kerry are at their most potent on the front foot but Fitzmaurice has flooded his half forward line and midfield primarily with ball winners in recent games.

Dublin too are no slouches in this regard but there are still question marks hanging over the true worth of their defence.

When Mayo got a run on them in the closing stages of the drawn semi-final, Dublin looked extremely vulnerable and while they were more solid in the replay, it was ultimately their scoring ability that saw the Sky Blues home from another tricky position.

2. The middle third battleground

Michael Darragh MacAuley with David Moran Dublin's Michael Darragh MacAuley and Kerry ace David Moran will lock horns. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

This is where today’s game will be won and lost. Dublin boss Jim Gavin will have given plenty of thought to the make-up of his midfield pairing, as they prepare to face Kerry’s formidable duo of Anthony Maher and David Moran.

Both Kingdom high-fielders have been in superb form this year, providing defensive protection and the platform from which to launch attacks.

Throw Stephen O’Brien, Johnny Buckley and Donnchadh Walsh into the mix and Kerry have real dogs of war in this key battlezone.

Donnchadh Walsh and Colm Cavanagh Donnchadh Walsh is now getting the recognition that he deserves. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Dublin wing-forwards Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly won’t be afraid to get stuck in either, along with two from three as Gavin decides between Denis Bastick, Michael Darragh MacAuley and Brian Fenton for two midfield slots.

If both half-back lines decide to get involved, you could have a situation where this game is won between the two 65m lines, with the potential for 16 players to flood this patch of grass at any one time.

3. The Stephen Cluxton influence

Stephen Cluxton and Diarmuid Connolly after the game

Surely Kerry will press up on the Cluxton kickout and force him to go long?

The Kingdom boast Maher and Moran as two of the best midfield catchers in the game and Fitzmaurice will demand that his inside men work hard to ensure that Cluxton isn’t given the licence to work primary possession with short kickouts.

This facet of the game will be one of the more intriguing ones. Given their aerial ability, Kerry will want Cluxton to go longer than he might want to.

Anthony Maher at the end of the game Kerry colossus Anthony Maher. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

In this case, the Parnell’s man will aim to hit a patch of ground rather than a teammate specifically.

Flynn and Connolly will look to make angled runs into space to collect the longer kickouts and this is where their Kerry markers will aim to be as tight as possible.

If Cluxton launches it long into a sea of bodies, Kerry will feel confident that they can at least break even.

4. Leaving a legacy

The rival managers Gavin and Fitzmaurice both took over ahead of the 2013 campaigns.

They clashed on the touchline in championship fare for the first time in the All-Ireland semi-final two years ago, with Gavin gaining the upper hand.

Dublin went on to win the All-Ireland but Kerry claimed a quite stunning win last year, even without retired Tomás Ó Sé and Paul Galvin, and with Colm Cooper out injured.

Source: officialgaa/YouTube

Gavin will win his second All-Ireland title in three seasons today if Dublin can pull it off while Fitzmaurice is aiming to make it two in a row.

Both have experienced the pain of All-Ireland semi-final defeats but the two men renowned as tactically astute have learned huge lessons from both.

Today, one of them will be elevated into the pantheon of modern day managerial greats.

5. Comeback joy for Brogan or Cooper?

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

When Alan Brogan cried bitter tears of disappointment following last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, it was viewed as a sign that he was bowing out.

But the veteran forward decided to stick around for another season and he could be rewarded with a third All-Ireland medal for doing so.

In the green and gold corner, Kerry’s Colm Cooper has his eyes set on another Celtic cross at 32 years of age.

Source: VicMackey0/YouTube

Brogan is slightly older, at 33, and the scene is set for one of these long-serving stars to crown remarkable careers with All-Ireland glory yet again.

Which attacking stalwart will cap the fairytale comeback from the brink?

6. Kerry’s fear of failure

Stephen Cluxton kicks the winning point Stephen Cluxton slots over the winning free in the 2011 All-Ireland senior football final. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The fear of failure is stark for both counties, of course, but a Kerry defeat would represent a third championship setback in a row against Dublin.

The Sky Blues won the 2011 All-Ireland final and when the counties met again at the semi-final stage two years later, the Dubs reigned supreme.

In the modern game, success usually comes with an asterisk. For example, Kerry’s achievements in the noughties, especially those final victories over Mayo in 2004 and 2006, would be frowned upon in Ulster due to big-game defeats against Tyrone in 2003, 2005 and 2008.

Source: VicMackey0/YouTube

Nobody could argue that today’s winners haven’t done it the hard way, however.

If Kerry prevail, they’ll have beaten their old rivals Tyrone and Dublin in their last two outings to lift Sam.

A Dublin win, on the other hand, would see them take out the reigning champions and secure a hat-trick of successive championship victories over the Kingdom. Defeat, for both, is simply not an option.

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