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6 players to watch as Dublin and Kerry battle it out for National Football League glory

This sextet will have a big say as Gaelic Football’s heavyweights contest for national silverware again.

1. Stephen Cluxton (Dublin)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

As usual, Cluxton will be one of the central figures at Croke Park on Sunday.

How Kerry cope with his kick-out strategy will make for fascinating viewing and Kingdom boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice has a decision to make.

Does he ask his players to press Dublin high and force Cluxton to bomb the ball into the centre of the field, where Kerry pair Kieran Donaghy and David Moran have formed a potent midfield combination?

Or does he go with the same system that stifled Roscommon in the semi-final, when Kerry quickly funnelled players back into defensive positions when they lost possession?

Former Kerry selector Ger O’Keeffe believes that Fitzmaurice should adopt a brave approach and attack the Cluxton kick-out, a move that could stop Dublin building momentum from the back.

2. Kieran Donaghy (Kerry)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Donaghy is enjoying a footballing renaissance in 2016, and appears to be fresher than he has been for a long time.

A noted former basketball player in his own right, ex-Mayo star and current Roscommon selector Liam McHale believes that playing for St Brendan’s Tralee has reinvigorated Donaghy.

Donaghy was named MVP when St Brendan’s won the men’s national intermediate club final in January and he’s been excellent throughout the Allianz Football League campaign.

The Austin Stacks player mulled over his inter-county future during the winter after he was dropped for last year’s All-Ireland final against Dublin but decided to soldier on.

As team captain in 2015, losing his place was a bitter pill to swallow and when he came on, Donaghy was involved in a controversial incident involving Philly McMahon, later claiming that the Dublin player gouged his eye. 

3. Cormac Costello (Dublin)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

At the start of the year, forcing a way into the Dublin attack looked a tall order for Cormac Costello, son of county board CEO John.

In such a competitive sector of the pitch, Costello was up against a host of established stars while Eoghan O’Gara and Paul Mannion had also returned to hand boss Jim Gavin even more forward options.

2015 was an injury-interrupted campaign for Costello but he was up and running early this year, scoring 2-6 against IT Carlow in an O’Byrne Cup clash.

Costello has won All-Ireland minor, U21 and senior medals with the Dubs and while he’s still battling to nail down a regular starting place, the Whitehall Colmcilles player is now beginning to emerge as a forward of consistent quality.

He’s still only 21 but has racked up a tally of 1-21 in the 2016 League campaign, a haul that’s second only to Dean Rock.

And Costello will look to increase his figures against Kerry in a starting role or off the bench.

4. Mark Griffin (Kerry)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

It’s over three years since we earmarked Kerry’s Mark Griffin as a potential star of the future.

Later that summer, the St Michael’s/Foilmore player made his senior championship debut as a sub against Tipperary, before starting against Cork and Dublin.

Griffin went on to make two substitute appearances in the 2014 championship and while he had more game time last year, he hasn’t yet established himself as a consistent summer campaigner.

But Griffin has time on his side and he’s done exceptionally well this year, emerging as arguably Kerry’s most consistent performer in their recent winning streak.

A former minor who captained the Kerry U21s in 2011, full-back Griffin won a 2009 All-Ireland intermediate medal with his club.

5. Philly McMahon (Dublin)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The man that opposition fans love to hate – but a cult hero on Hill 16.

Philly McMahon hit the headlines last summer after a couple of headline incidents against fellow big guns Mayo and Kerry but no matter what people think of him, the Ballymun Kickhams player is a man you’d want in the trenches with you when the heat comes on.

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He’s well capable of bombing forward to take a score and his ability to do so is a key weapon in the Dublin armoury.

A Footballer of the Year nominee last year, and unlucky not to win the accolade outright, McMahon’s roving commission has a positive two-fold effect for Dublin.

Not only does it provide them with a highly-charged runner when moving forward, but McMahon’s inclination to attack forces the forward that he’s marking into unwanted defensive duties.

McMahon declared before last September’s All-Ireland final that Dublin don’t fear Kerry, and that pre-match confidence was backed up with another big performance as he put the shackles on Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper.

6. Colm Cooper (Kerry)

Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

That leads us nicely onto the man himself, the Gooch.

Like Donaghy, the Dr. Crokes player is enjoying an Indian summer and is now hitting top form again after recovering from a cruciate knee ligament injury last year.

Cooper has enjoyed some of his highest highs but also his lowest lows against Dublin and if 2016 does prove to be his swan song season, he’ll want to bow out on a high against the Sky Blues and Kerry’s traditional rivals.

Cooper was Kerry’s leading scorer with 1-5 as they ran riot in the League semi-final victory over Roscommon but he may struggle to find that kind of space against Dublin.

But Cooper remains the kind of player who can unlock the tightest of defences and he looks set to be deployed on the edge of the square for maximum impact.

It will be a landmark afternoon for Cooper as he makes his 60th League appearance in the green and gold – and he’ll hope to mark it by lifting some silverware.

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