Dublin face Kerry on All-Ireland Sunday, looking to become the first side in GAA history to win five All-Ireland titles at senior code. Jim Gavin’s side face a stern test in the Kingdom, and here are the man for man battles that will determine the All-Ireland decider, and where Sam Maguire lies for the coming months.
Tom O’Sullivan on Con O’Callaghan
Two of the form players of the championship at opposite ends of the field, both look certain to receive individual accolades in the coming months – but come Sunday they could well be doing battle with one another for something far more important – All-Ireland glory.
O’Sullivan has been nothing short of outstanding in this year’s championship. He has held all of his markers to no score from play and could well be tasked with shackling an in-form O’Callaghan.
O’Callaghan has proved unmarkable, something O’Donnell will look to change. The three time All-Ireland winner at just 23, saw off Lee Keegan to bury two goals past Mayo. He can drift in an out of ties but when granted opportunities he is simply ruthless, he buried a goal on All-Ireland final day in 2017, but was held scoreless by Tyrone last year, something that will give Kerry & O’Donnell hope.
Tadhg Morley could also be tasked with marking the Cuala forward, but it is arguable that O’Donnell is perhaps better suited. O’Donnell maurades forward on occasion and he has the ability to pull his marker all over the pitch, making them ineffective around the penalty area. It will be interesting to see how this one shakes up but the performance of both men is bound to be key.
Johnny Cooper and Sean O’Sé
O’Sé has been brilliant for Kerry, but going in to his maiden All-Ireland final, who better than Cooper to shadow him around the field.
Cooper’s wealth of experience will prove vital to the Dubs on the day, he has started six All-Ireland’s to date and is a winner at the highest level. The Kenmare youngster has been excellent in driving Kerry forward this year but Cooper can get under his skin early on, refusing to give him an inch and that could well prove the difference.
O’Se and David Clifford will prove vital for Kerry but experience often triumphs the exuberance of youth on All-Ireland final day and Jonny Cooper is no pushover.
Gavin White and Paul Howard
The Kerry captain is likely to return to the fold for the biggest occasion to date. He will be tasked with stifling Howard, who is a hive of creativity for the Dubs.
Howard has again been one of the most consistent footballers in the country in this year’s All-Ireland championship, be it Leinster, the Super 8’s or the latter stages. He needs to be tailed closely in order to stifle Dublin or else they will rack up scores thanks to his vision and creativity.
White seems The Kingdom’s best fit to attempt to do so, holding the physical prowess to compete with the Raheny star in the air, while also having the pace and stamina to match him for seventy minutes, which could prove a conundrum for the reigning champions.
Howard is yet to be really tested this year, and if he is it will be interesting to see how Dublin will be able to respond to it, and if Jim Gavin has a plan B up his sleeve.
Whether or not it will be White or Stephen Cluxton climbing the famed steps of the Hogan Stand to lift Sam Maguire on the first Sunday of September is yet to be seen, but what makes an All-Ireland champion is winning your individual battles, and that will be key this weekend.