Kerry v Dublin: Where will the key battles take place at Croker on Sunday?

With the destination of Sam Maguire set to be decided on Sunday afternoon at Headquarters, we take a look at the factors that will decide the game…

Bernard Brogan
Bernard Brogan
Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

The midfield stand-off

NEITHER SIDE HAS quite the bite or the character of old in their midfield, especially since the retirements of both Darragh O’Sé and Ciarán Whelan, but Kerry does have the better attacking threat in the shape of Anthony Maher and Bryan Sheehan. The latter’s punts from distance are matched only by goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton in the Dublin ranks. Michael Darragh McAuley and Denis Bastick have had their best season in Dublin shirts but the game does, sometimes, tend to bypass them. Kerry have the edge here.

Bryan Cullen v Tomás O’Sé

The importance of O’Sé to Kerry’s half-back line was illustrated in the semi-final against Mayo, where he played a magnificent game despite having been a serious injury concern only days beforehand. However, in Dublin captain Cullen he faces a man at the top of his game.

Cullen runs himself into the ground for the Dubs whenever he plays and the prospect of lifting Sam will provide even greater motivation. Add the scoring prowess of the half-forward for Pat Gilroy’s team, and O’Sé’s legs will be run off him if previous games provide any indication.

Bernard Brogan v Marc O’Sé

The Dublin star has not been able to make the same impact as last year, with defences quicker to fill up the space around the footballer of the year, his dead balls skills remain undimmed and he has had to become a far less selfish player. With defences focusing on the younger Brogan, Alan has enjoyed his best season for years and Diarmuid Connolly has also reaped the benefits of Bernard’s shackling.

Brogan’s abilities to bring in other players – witness his pass to Cullen in the semi-final against Donegal – are proving as useful as his scoring abilities as he reaches a new level of maturity, and Marc O’Sé will need to have done his homework going into the game.

While he struggled at times to contain Andy Moran in the semi-final, O’Sé has been one of Kerry’s finest defenders in recent times, his resilience in front of his own goal matched by his ability to burst out and create opportunities for those further up the field. Should he dominate Brogan early, the tone for a Kerry win will be set, but if the Dubliner sparks like he did in matches against Tyrone and Donegal, O’Sé will be in for a long afternoon.

The Kerry attack v The Dublin defence

What Kerry may lack in the midfield department, they certainly make up for in an attacking trio that contains Pat Spillane’s vote for the best player in the history of the game. Very few defenders can hope to shackle Colm Cooper, even on his worst day, so Cian O’Sullivan, Rory O’Carroll and Michael Fitzsimons will be excused for not relishing the prospect of The Gooch.

And Kieran O’Leary.

And Kieran Donaghy.

The trio combined for 1-11 against Mayo and Dublin will know that keeping them quiet by bringing their half-backs closer to Cluxton will only free up space for an onslaught from Declan and Darran O’Sullivan, and Donnacha Walsh. Quite the pickle for Pat Gilroy.

The benches

What Kerry lose in going with Donnacha Walsh’s safe pair of hands over Paul Galvin, they gain in the potential explosiveness of their former captain in coming on from the bench. Galvin – so influential when introduced against Mayo – is quite the player to have in reserve and Jack O’Connor’s decision to keep him kicking his heels could prove a masterstroke if the game is tight around the 45-minute mark.

That being said, Eoghan O’Gara fulfills a similar role for the Dubs, who can also hold the likes of Eamonn Fennell and Ross McConnell back for when limbs are tiring. Playing the squad game will be one of the most decisive factors for both Gilroy and O’Connor this Sunday.

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